In 1981, a nun by the name of Tadea Benz was brutally raped and murdered on Halloween night. A mentally handicapped young man by the name of Johnny Frank Garrett was convicted and executed for the crime. All during the trial and his incarceration Garrett proclaimed his innocence and on the night before he died by lethal injection, he proclaimed his innocence one last time in a letter that also said that those who wrongly accused him would pay…
This is from an actual real-life murder case that occurred in Texas in 1981 and serves as the basis for this horror film that takes the all-true story and portrays the effects of Garrett’s ominous last words as folks involved with the case and their loved ones, start to die mysteriously. Former juror Adam Redman (Mike Doyle) begins to investigate and finds they may have indeed sent an innocent man to his death and his revenge may now be coming to bare!
It’s hard to decide whether it’s daring or in bad taste that writer Ben Ketai and director Simon Rumley made a horror film out of a real life murder case…and not just based on it, like many films…but use actual events and names and all, adding a supernatural element to turn it into a horror flick. Whatever one decides, it is an effective horror and the fact that a lot of the events we are watching are true…such as later revelations that Jarrett may have indeed been innocent…adds a very unsettling element. The supernatural additions to the story are a bit disturbing, too, as Garrett’s “curse” target’s Redman’s son and he races to save him, as others from the case die around him. There are some creepy moments here, though turning the possibly innocent Garrett into a vengeful specter is a bit odd as you should want to feel sorry for him, yet he is preying on innocent children to make his point from beyond the grave. Obviously, the prosecutor (Sean Patrick Flanery) is the real bad guy here, but Jarrett is the “Freddy Krueger” of the flick and it’s still hard to feel bad for his cinematic incarnation and we should. The film was still effective enough and it makes one want to catch up on Jesse Quackenbush’s documentary The Last Word, which is about the actual events including the discovery of evidence years later that Garrett might possibly have been a victim of a justice system at it’s worst.
This was an effective and atmospheric horror film, even if the use of so many of the real facts from the case makes one uneasy about their use. Whether the filmmakers were being daring or exploitive is probably up to the viewer. The end credits also proclaim that there were indeed a number of mysterious deaths concerning individuals close to the case, but, so far, my online research has not confirmed this. Courageous or crass, Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word is if anything an unnerving little horror flick that does inspire one to find out more about what really happened on October 31st, 1981 in Texas. 6.5/10