Final Terror, The (Blu-ray / DVD)
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.
3 out of 5
3 out of 5