The Last Winter (2006) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw video series looks at Larry Fessenden’s film The Last Winter, starring Ron Perlman and Connie Britton

I’ve been on a bit of a Larry Fessenden kick lately either intentionally or by circumstance. I really wanted to talk about the movie Late Phases which has a cameo from the man and his name in the produced by section. This led to one of our favorites in Danielle Harris wishing that more people knew about a movie she did called Stake Land. While this had a six degrees of separation angle attached to it with Late Phases star Nick Damichi also starring and writing Stake Land, it also brought back Fessenden in his comfortable producer role, oh and another cameo. We’ve gone down another rabbit hole and heard from the man himself that The Last Winter (watch it HERE) is a movie of his that he wishes had been seen by more people. This movie see’s Larry in not only his producing and cameo roles that he is known for but also in the hats of Director, Writer, and Editor. We here at JoBlo Horror Originals happen to agree with the man that The Last Winter in one of the Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

Larry Fessenden is a wonderful writer and director even if by far and away he has the most credits in acting and producing. He started out with short films as early as the late 70s and in 1982 made a short vampire film called The Habit. 3 years later, he would create his own production company called Glass Eye Pix that is still around today and churning out movies from both Fessenden himself and the young directors he mentors. Jim Mickle of Stake Land and Ti West of House of the Devil amongst others are two of the directors he has mentored and taken a chance on. On the acting side, he has worked with high profile directors such as Jim Jarmusch and the legendary Martin Scorsese. As one of the big gamer guys here at JoBlo, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention his role in one of the greatest horror games that also plays out like a choose your own adventure horror movie, Until Dawn. Why are we talking about Larry so much before we get into today’s movie you ask? Let me explain.

Larry may be the closest thing we have to a modern-day Roger Corman, and I say that with all due respect. Low budget movies that take on lives of their own? Check. Giving aspiring directors a chance that end up having nice careers of their own? Check. Being much more known as a producer than writer and director which he is more than capable of? Check. Check. Check. While the comparison is a clear one, Fessenden doesn’t just hold Corman’s torch, he took it and lit his own fire that still burns brightly today. The Last Winter is only his fifth feature film as a director, but it takes everything he has learned from producing and working with other creators and works perfectly. While it is an environmental horror at heart, it takes the Wendigo lore from his previous movie starring Jake Weber called, appropriately, Wendigo.

The Last Winter was partially inspired by the true story of the Shackelton expedition but has enough yelling and paranoia that you can see the influence from The Thing as well in all the right ways. It was originally conceived as a group consisting of Muslim and non-Muslim factions having to work together. As politically charged as that would have been, Fessenden and co-writer Robert Leaver turned it into big corporate vs the environmentalists which works great. The movie falls under the little seen and rarely executed well environmental horror category that includes such wonders as The Bay and Prophecy. Leaver has only written this and 2015’s Amok but his skill from this movie alone is clear.

The movie opens with one of the employees from the K.I.K Corporation getting ready to head out into the frozen tundra of Alaska as he has a promotional video of his own company rolling in the background. This employee, Max, is played by Zach Gilford which I didn’t notice back in the halcyon days of Blockbuster but is unmistakable now. Not only is he one of our favorite quarterbacks from Friday Night Lights, but he has also inserted himself nicely in the Mike Flanagan troop of actors starting with his wonderful turn in Midnight Mass. The next morning, a very small plane lands to drop off site boss Ed Pollack who is played by the great Ron Perlman. Perlman was sought out by Fessenden after seeing him light up the big screen as unconventional superhero Hellboy. Perlman is not new to horror in both the main and indie scenes with roles in things like Blade 2 and Cronos among many, many others.

Pollack is on site to make sure both operations are going smoothly and to check out his government liaisons who he has both some control over but also would rather be able to play nice with. We get to meet the rest of the crew which include Elliot and Hoffman who are the environmental team, as well as Abby, Motor, Lee, and Dawn. They seem to get along like a team stuck together in a place that feels like it has no escape. There is a clear division between the work crew and environmental team, well, except for Hoffman and Abby who are sleeping together. We get some built in tension as we quickly learn that Abby and Pollack also used to be romantically involved. Abby is played by Connie Britton who, coincidentally, is also a main character from Friday Night Lights but her horror output also includes the Nightmare on Elm Street remake and a run on American Horror Story. Hoffman is played by James LeGros who Fessenden was a big fan of. He has been around since the early 80s and I first noticed him as Roach in Point Break, but he has also done horror like Phantasm 2 and the Psycho remake.

Strange things start to happen as members of the team start seeing or hearing strange things out on the frozen tundra including what looks and sounds like galloping hooves. Hoffman seems tired and on edge and won’t sign off on Pollacks plan as it will hurt the surrounding area even though the company pushes its own agenda. Max goes missing during the day and when they are about to go out and get him, he shows up back at base with his tracker clocking an outlandish 300 miles. Pollack has pulled his political strings to get Hoffman removed from his post and the tension continues. What the movie does incredibly well is use its character building and slow burn atmosphere to catch you off guard when it seemingly decides to change genres from political intrigue to flat out horror. The catalyst is the finding of what is essentially found footage followed by a body that nobody expects to look like it does.

The close quarters of the base juxtaposed with the blinding white and seemingly endless outdoor areas create a sense of confusion, claustrophobia, and even an overwhelming sense of loss in all the right ways. While most of the horror is seen on screen be it from characters going crazy and killing each other or horrific accidents like a plane crash, the real horror is seen in the mind of one man. Hoffman, who is supposed to be a world-renowned brain on all things environment and what we are doing to the earth, has clearly broken. His partner finds his journal and its an erratic mess of scribbles, fear, and paranoia that warn of the titular last winter where mother nature has decided to fight back and clean its surface for good. This ties into the Wendigo angle of the film too as that is a spirit manifestation of fighting back. While Fessenden aimed for it to be seen as not literal monsters and all in Hoffman’s head, the other events that happen are too physical and real for it to only exist inside Hoffman.

The Last Winter Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

The last third of the movie plays out at a much more brisk pace than before and we get a combination of the paranoia, beliefs, and selfishness that usually ends up being the downfall of mankind. Is it just the arctic base and the surrounding area or is this truly the last winter? The score, cinematography, and, yes, editing from Fessenden himself all stand out from start to finish and the cast excels with great acting performances all the way around. The movie came out in 2007 though and that was a busy year for both mainstream horror and smaller scale fare as well. You had things like I Am Legend, 28 Weeks Later, The Mist, and new entries in both the Saw and Hostel franchises on the bigger side and even smaller entries like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Rogue, and Feast that seemed to last longer on the independent side.

The movie was released in theaters on the festival circuit in September of 2006 and then received a small wider release in September of the following year. Its budget was 7 million dollars which is not bad when you include the actors in it and all of the places, they shot but sadly it only made 33 thousand domestically and an additional 64 thousand internationally. That sub 100k total would seem like a failure but it received great reviews from those that saw it and I remember being a huge proponent of this movie when we got our 4 copies at blockbuster. It was an easy recommend and I was happy when people came back and found it to be fun and different.

Fun and different seems to be Larry’s stock and trade. Even when he makes vampire or werewolf movies which he was heavily inspired by with the Universal monsters or two straight horror movies involving the tale of the Wendigo, you will still get something a little bit different each time. While it’s easy to recommend nearly anything he puts his name on, The Last Winter fell through the cracks more than most. Give Larry a little more peace of mind and check this movie out and cross it off your list of Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

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