The Last Hunter (1980)

After the success of APOCALYPSE NOW and THE DEER HUNTER Italian cinema decided it had to catch up and Antonio Margheriti jumped into the Vietnam war flick genre with  both feet.  Also known as HUNTER OF THE APOCALYPSE (subtle huh?) Margheriti honestly establishes his influences and what he is trying to accomplish with this film.  He followed in the footsteps of Francis Ford Coppola (no…he really did) and shot on location in the Philippines and utilized many of the same locations and sets as the previously plagued film.  David Warbeck (THE BEYOND) channels shades of Martin Sheen as he plays Captain Harry Morris.  Morris appears disaffected and borderline shell-shocked as he sits in a Saigon bar and watches one of his friends kill himself in spectacular fashion during a rocket attack.  He later accepts a mission that will take him deep behind enemy lines to help buoy a struggling war effort and to settle a personal score.  

It’s 1973 and the war is going badly for the Americans.  The troops are demoralized and slog through the jungle in their own private madness waiting for the booby trap or the bullet to end their misery.  No one talks about going home because they know it’s not in the cards for them.  The malaise of the U.S. GI in Vietnam tinged with Italian nihilism is a sight to behold.  Captain Morris is given a top secret mission and must hitch a ride with a squadron of Hueys heading to the Gao River.  It’s a hot bed of VC activity and he has to jump in from a moving chopper.  Not only are the natives trying to kill him but the country itself is doing its damndest with poison snakes and rats.  An encounter with an aggressive snake forces him to abandon his kit and M-16 leaving armed solely with a .45 ACP for the duration of the film.  He meets up with a crayola squad (because it has all the colors of the rainbow) including Sgt. George Washington (Tony King), Carlos the Cuban defector (Bobby Rhodes), the white guy named Stinker Smith (Edoardo Margheriti), and an ARVN regular as a pathfinder.  Tagging along is the feisty and luscious journalist Jane Foster (Tisa Farrow).

Morris heads upriver in search the forward base from which he will launch his operation.  En route they come across a burned out village.  In one of the more horrifying scenes from any war film that I’ve ever seen, a distraught mother approaches the G.I.s for help with her sick baby.  At the last minute she hurls the baby and it explodes in the face of one of the soldiers leaving his body a smoldering ruin that collapses as gunfire erupts all around.  Eventually they make it to Major Cash’s (John Steiner from Tenebre) base set deep in a system of caves.  All of the men seem to be looney tunes as the doldrums of their situation have set in.  They are surrounded and cut off from supplies and reinforcements.  They have plenty of defoliant and napalm but don’t have any helicopters to drop it with and the VC take pot shots at them all day and night.  The base is manned by shells and ghosts and is soon attacked and overrun sending Morris out into the wild alone again.  He eventually finds two survivors from his squad but loses them in an ill conceived raid on a sampan manned by G.I. deserters.  

Finally his mission brings him face to face with a voice from his past.  He must stop the broadcast of anti-American propaganda that is crushing already demoralized troops by destroying the transmitter and the voice behind it.  The close of THE LAST HUNTER is gut wrenching as a man who has turned against his principles became a part of the machine he hated and now has no other purpose than to act as ordered.  As the war draws to a close he comes to realize that he must do so as well.  Margheriti is damn near pitch perfect with this brutal and action packed combat film.  It has genuine equipment and vehicles and there are plenty of explosions to keep the viewer riveted.  The kills are gruesome and brutal brining every bit of talent and expertise that can be expected from Italian special effects artists.  PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW have nothing on these grisly and nasty wounds.  David Warbeck is great as the conflicted Captain.  If you pay attention you may notice that there are many iconic images in THE LAST HUNTER that will appear in later films depicting the horrors of the Vietnam War.

The Dark Sky release is presented in widescreen and has a trailer and Margheriti and THE LAST HUNTER featurette included as special features.  There is also a stills gallery.  The film includes the credit sequence from the French release and the closing credits are in English.  This is a must see and a must own for Italian film aficionados and fans of war films in general. 

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