You may be wondering, what does Rambo have to do with horror? If you think about it though John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) is an unstoppable killing machine who spends a lot of time stalking unsuspecting victims in forested areas and then dispatching them with bladed weapons. So, he has a quite a bit in common with Jason Voorhees. Plus, he’s a master of guerilla warfare and can build traps that would make Jigsaw envious. Rambo: Last Blood really leans into those aspects of the character, offering a fascinating (but likely unintentional) twist on the Slasher sub-genre that’s full of creative kills and impressive gore. Unfortunately, the bulk of those kills come at the end of an action movie that’s mostly dreary and dull.
Last Blood picks up at the end of 2008’s Rambo, where the title character heads home to his family’s ranch in Arizona. When we’re reintroduced to John at the beginning of this movie we see he’s managed to eek out a quiet existence on the ranch. We also meet Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), a hispanic teenager who calls Rambo “Uncle John”. She’ll be going off to college soon and John is struggling with what he’ll do when she’s gone.
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“[A] twist on the Slasher sub-genre that’s full of creative kills and impressive gore.”
Shortly after we meet everybody, Gabrielle decides to go looking for her missing father even after her uncle and grandma offer several examples of why her dad is a garbage fire of person but her mind is made up and she disappears into the Mexican underworld. Rambo, of course, follows her and the film starts to feel like an oppressive and tedious Taken. Making this portion of the movie even worse is the grim portrayal of Mexico as a corrupt country in the grips of utterly evil cartels.
All that said, Last Blood still has some entertaining and intriguing moments, the bulk of them coming from Stallone’s portrayal of an aged Rambo. What’s always fascinated me about the character is that he was the traumatized action hero. In each Rambo film, Stallone showed there was an emotional cost for the violent actions of his character and in this movie, that’s on display more than ever. The expressions, body language, and way of speaking Stallone gives his famous character shows that he’s barely holding onto his humanity. There’s a particularly chilling scene in the film where he threatens to hurt and kill a girl responsible for Gabrielle’s disappearance. The scene is effective because Stallone makes you believe that Rambo would follow through on those threats and wouldn’t care what his audience might think.
The really fun parts of this movie though are when Rambo let’s his monster out. We, of course, see him use guns and explosives but he also gets creative in some truly over the top scenes. At one point, he conducts a raid on a cartel operation armed only with a hammer! It’s brutal, but also viscerally satisfying.
The film’s climax is especially nuts, and it’s where we really get to see the idea of Rambo as a mash up of action and horror movie anti-hero. That’s because he uses his guerilla warfare skills to stalk, terrorize, and brutally slaughter a Cartel army that invades his land. Those invaders meet their ends in a number of creative and excessively gory ways. And, the main villain? That kill has to be seen to be believed! No American franchise action hero has ever eliminated a villain in such a gruesome, but pleasing manner.
“No American franchise action hero has ever eliminated a villain in such a gruesome, but pleasing manner.”
That thrilling climax unfortunately comes too late in the movie, which is sad because Rambo: Last Blood will probably be the last film in the franchise. Part of me wishes we get one last film that truly embraces the idea of an action/slasher hybrid, where we see things from the villains’ point of view as Rambo terrorizes and massacres them in such a degree that audiences start to wonder who they should be rooting for. That would be a hell of a film, and the type of final film an icon like Rambo deserves.
Rambo: Last Blood is out in thatres now. If you’ve had a chance to take in the deranged madness of Stallone’s Rambo, let us know what you thought on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.