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Final Terror, The (Blu-ray / DVD)

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The Final Terror (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrien Zmed, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Metcalf, Lewis Smith

Directed by Andrew Davis

Distributed by Scream Factory


Horror has long been fertile ground for young, rising stars to use as a launching pad to (hopefully) kick-start a promising career. Many of today’s biggest names started off as fodder for machete-wielding maniacs or creatures run amuck. Because of the pedigree those stars achieved, many of their early efforts have been resurrected and given new life, but there are still numerous titles that have yet to receive proper releases on home video.

Director Andrew Davis’ The Final Terror (1983) did manage to receive a DVD release nearly a decade ago, but it was by all accounts a horrendous offering with the most ungodly ugly cover art ever touting a few of the film’s most notable cast members. Scream Factory to the rescue…

The film is a rather unique entry in the pantheon of slasher fare, though you wouldn’t guess it from the onset. The setup is fairly typical: Young people enter the forest for a camping trip; a maniac is on the loose; people die. It seems rather uncomplicated… until you get to the film’s third act, which sees the survivors band together and go all Predator (1987) on the unhinged lunatics attacking them. When it’s all said and done, The Final Terror proves itself to be a commendable effort full of uncommon characters and some fairly strong performances.

A brutal opening kill in the woods, complete with homemade booby traps, sets the tone for the film before we meet our group of Youth Corps, who are heading out into the wilderness for a weekend of clearing brush and camping. Led by Mike (Mark “A PLEDGE PIN?? ON YOUR UNIFORM?!?” Metcalf), the group sets off on a bus driven by Eggar (a completely unrecognizable Joe Pantoliano), a mentally unstable nutcase who doesn’t take criticism very well.

They arrive at their destination and set up camp, planning to raft down the river in the morning. As they huddle around the campfire, one of the guys regales them with the requisite scary story, recounting a local legend involving a nearby sanitarium and an escaped crazy woman, who had borne a son nearly twenty years earlier and is rumored to inhabit these very woods! Well, soon enough members of the group begin to disappear into the ether, one of them being Eggar. While out searching for their missing members, two of the guys come across an old abandoned cabin, which is filled with disturbing items that include a severed wolf’s head and a human hand preserved in a jar. Everyone is convinced this is where Eggar must live and that he’s also responsible for the disappearances that have been occurring. Rather than take the standard approach of splitting up and searching on their own, the survivors band together and outfit themselves with whatever weaponry they can find with the intent to find Eggar, or whoever is responsible for killing their friends, and execute them with extreme prejudice.

Despite being released in 1983, when slasher films were beginning to wane, The Final Terror was actually shot in 1981, when that subgenre was at its apex. Director Andrew Davis (who was also responsible for 1993’s massive hit The Fugitive) wanted to present an atypical slasher film that eschewed constant gore for something that slowly built tension. The film’s producers didn’t see the same vision, however, and as a result the project sat on a shelf for a couple years until some of the cast members’ stars began rising.

What’s also interesting is the film opens with your standard pre-credits kill, where a motorcycling couple meets a grisly fate, and it wasn’t even directed by Davis. The producers had someone else come in to shoot this opening and give the picture a more impactful first impression. Once we delve into the film that Davis was wholly responsible for, you can get a greater sense of what he was trying to accomplish. Kills occur sporadically with most of the run time eaten up by searching for missing group members or bickering amongst the players.

As mentioned, the cast of former nobodies turned into a lot of somebodies, with notable names like Darryl Hannah, Adrian Zmed, Mark Metcalf (who had success from Animal House (1978) by this point), Lewis Smith, and Joe Pantoliano. There’s nothing notable about the work any of these actors delivers, though it’s all good enough, but Pantoliano is the standout here. As Eggar, he’s this greasy, warped, fragile backwoods bumpkin with a hair trigger and serious maternal issues. Even knowing it was him in the role, I could barely recognize his face. Considering how everyone treats him, he’s somewhat sympathetic and practically justified in wanting to seek revenge. Assuming of course, it’s he who is responsible for the deaths. Personally, my favorite character is the dude who decides to eat a handful of magic mushrooms he found earlier right when everyone is gearing up for the big final fight. Talk about questionable timing…

Speaking of which, The Final Terror is rather ambiguous as to what exactly is stalking the Youth Corps. The theatrical key art makes it look like some kind of nefarious alien invaders are on the prowl, but the tagline – Without Knowing They Have Awakened An Unknown Force… Can Anyone Survive? – implies there’s something ancient and evil that is unearthed. Once you’re shown the reality, it’s nearly just as confusing until the film’s final moments, when all is (naturally) revealed.

Slasher fans – I mean serious aficionados of the subgenre – will likely have fun with this one despite the obvious shortcomings. Davis’ direction is pretty solid with some great handheld camera work, even if the film isn’t all that exciting. Horror isn’t just an easy way for actors to break into the business, and Davis used this opportunity as a springboard for projects he clearly cared more about. What The Final Terror lacks in actual terror, it makes up for it with… well, not much aside from a gorgeous woodsy setting and a killer that is certainly unique to the genre in some respects.

Scream Factory’s release of The Final Terror features a 1.78:1 1080p image that has been culled from the best possible existing elements, which is explained in an opening text that reads:

“Unfortunately, all of the original film elements for THE FINAL TERROR – the negative, the inter-positive – are all lost. Scream Factory went through six film prints, lent to us by film collectors, to find the best looking reels to do the transfer you are about to watch. We hope you enjoy this presentation. Special thanks to Lee Shoquist and Joshua Gravel.”

Now that expectations have been put in check, the resulting effort looks about as good as a “lost” film stitched together from six surviving reels can be expected to appear. In fact, I’d argue it looks even better than one might expect given that caveat, since the deficiencies present are no worse than many other films of this vintage that weren’t Frankenstein-ed together from differing prints. The image is very grainy, and there are plenty of flecks, specks, and lines that occur with some frequency. Colors look natural, perhaps a tad less saturated than they should be, but there are also a handful of moments when they fluctuate between shades. Blame it on the prints. The palette here is all earth tones, and the disc handles these darker shades effectively. Definition is weak, with close-ups the only time any real level of detail is present; wide and medium shots are just soft and completely lacking in sharpness. Black levels aren’t the strongest, though they are relatively consistent. It’s not going to win any awards, but this is undoubtedly the best The Final Terror is ever going to look.

Normally, Scream Factory would knock this English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track out of the park – they’ve got a great track record with mono tracks – but, once again, considering how this was cobbled together – and the inherent problems stemming from the source – it’s passable without being remarkable. Dialogue levels are a little low, requiring a boost in volume to hear clearly, and some of the ADR and on-location audio is weak. But the fidelity is rather good, and sparse moments of immersion do occur when the canopy of the forest comes alive with the sound of wildlife. And the opening song is just all kinds of ‘80s awesome. Plus, composer Susan Justin, who killed it with her score to Forbidden World (1982), delivers her usual synth-heavy style here. The themes aren’t as memorable as Forbidden World, but her cues are just as unmistakable. Subtitles are included in English.

Director Davis, who is self-deprecating about his obvious stutter, dives in earnestly once his commentary track gets going, regaling listeners with some great behind-the-scenes anecdotes. For instance, when the production had another director film the opening, without Davis’ approval, the producers were fined by the DGA for breaking the rules. The money Davis received from that incident allowed him to pay for his wedding. After a while, however, Davis loses steam and the track becomes a bit of a snoozer.

Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror features Davis talking about how he got his big break on this film after working with famed B-movie jack-of-all-trades Roger Corman. His ideas for the film differed from that of the producers, which led to some disagreements on set. Susan Justin also pops in to talk about her work on the score. The First Terror with Adrian Zmed & Lewis Smith features interviews with both actors. Zmed starts off by saying how horror was an easy entry into the film business, so he took on his role despite not liking the genre and never having done another horror film since. Both actors agree that filming in isolation up in Oregon helped them all get close. Very close.

The film’s theatrical trailer and a reel of behind-the-scenes stills (both in HD) finish off the set. A DVD copy is also included in the package.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Andrew Davis
  • Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror
  • The First Terror with Adrian Zmed & Lewis Smith
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Behind-the-Scenes Stills Gallery

    The Film:

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 out of 5

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    Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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    Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

    Directed by Greydon Clark

    Distributed by VCI


    The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

    The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

    The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

    “Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

    A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

    Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

    Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

    There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

    A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

    Special Features:

    • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
    • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
    • Photo gallery
    • Satan's Cheerleaders
    • Special Features
    1.3

    Summary

    Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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    A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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    Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

    Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


    Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

    Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

    Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

    Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

    Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

    A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

    • A Demon Within
    2.0

    Summary

    A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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    Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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    Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

    Directed by David Moscow


    It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

    Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

    Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

    While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

    • Film
    3.0

    Summary

    Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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