The Final Terror Blu-ray Review
Directed by Andrew Davis
Written by Jon George, Neil Hicks, Ronald Shusett
1983, Region A, 82 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 1st, 2014
Rachel Ward as Margaret
Daryl Hannah as Windy
Adrian Zmed as Marco
Joe Pantoleano as Eggar
Mark Metcalf as Mike
John Friedrich as Dennis
Ernest Harden as Nathanial
Lewis Smith as Boone
When a group of forestry workers and their female trainees set out to clear streams and footpaths deep within the woods, they do so anticipating a weekend of hard work, rewarded with some white water rafting and romantic camping. Instead, their efforts are met with a local legend that proves to be more than just fable as members of the team begin to disappear. While searching for their missing friends, the foresters discover a hidden shack that at first appears abandoned but actually contains items suggesting that someone is watching them. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse as our heroes are hunted by something evil. Despite their best efforts, the thing stalking them is never far behind and the team will have to work together if they intend to leave these woods alive.
The early 1980s were a time when movie theatres were populated with countless “dead teenager” films. Young adults were terrorized on a regular basis at school functions, on holidays and most frequently, within the woods. There is an entire backwoods subgenre where “kids go camping and they don't come home”, led by titles like Friday the 13th, The Burning, Madman and Just Before Dawn. Unlike those films however, this one appears to be just as influenced by Deliverance as any stalk-and-slash, spam-in-a-cabin flick. Technically, in this case, these protagonists are responsible adults minding their own business and not breaking any laws at all, including trespassing. These people are being murdered simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On paper, The Final Terror sounds like a guaranteed winner, especially if the element of time is removed from the equation and the film is pitched from a contemporary perspective. The director of The Fugitive (Andrew Davis) and one of the writers of Alien (Ronald Shusett) team up to deliver a horror film shot in the beautiful giant redwood forest of California. The project stars Daryl Hannah (Blade Runner, Kill Bill), Joe Pantoleano (The Matrix, The Goonies) and Rachel Ward (Fortress, The Thorn Birds), and is produced by the legendary Samuel Z. Arkoff (The Amityville Horror) and Joe Roth (Maleficent). That sounds like a pretty solid effort, but despite all the right pieces in play, the timing was bad and the picture tanked. Putting these elements into the proper 1981 perspective gives a much less certainty to the project's success.
Davis was not yet an accomplished director, Arkoff and Roth were on opposite ends of their impressive careers and as for the cast, the biggest names were Mark Metcalf (Animal House) and Adrian Zmed (Broadway's Grease). Ron Shusett's script was re-written by Jon George and Neil Hicks, who had previously teamed together to write the Australian “Most Dangerous Game” knock-off Escape 2000. The biggest coup was gaining permission to film in Crescent City's redwood forest (a location George Lucas would later use for Return of the Jedi). Despite emulating the emerging slasher formula, the filmmakers failed to include an appropriate level of blood or boobs, as there are more survivors than victims and the only topless characters are male. Once completed, the movie sat in limbo for two years until some of the cast members began finding success in other pictures and only then did it get a theatrical release. The Final Terror turned up in various markets under many different names including; Campsite Massacre, The Forest Primeval, Bump in the Night and The Creeper among others.
Director Andrew Davis did a fine job with the material and served as his own cinematographer under an alias (Andreas Davidescu). The footage is gorgeous, but he has always stated that the horror genre is not his forte and he shies away from the more exploitative elements. The lack of nudity and relatively low body count results in a picture that is long on atmosphere but short on substance. Like The Burning, this film got lucky in the casting department and this is the primary reason that there is a minor cult following. The cast does a fine job, but none of the names you are familiar with get to do much with the exception of Pantoleano, who is unsettling as Eggar, the unhinged bus driver who hates everybody. Zmed is likeable as Marco, the fun-loving guy looking to have a good time and Rachel Ward is someone to root for as Margaret, the level-headed trainee. Daryl Hannah is pretty as the laid-back Windy, but nothing about her performance in this movie suggests that she will find stardom in the near future.
The Final Terror is a minor entry within the pantheon of slasher films and is relatively forgettable. Frequent late night cable screenings kept the picture in the public eye throughout the mid-1980s and the promotional artwork was interesting, but mildly misleading - it appears our heroes are being chased by a mob. The biggest hurdle audiences faced when watching this film was the unbelievably dark video quality that threw many key set pieces of the final act into obscurity. Scream Factory makes a noble effort to correct this blight, but a disclaimer appears at the beginning of the movie revealing that all original film elements have been lost or destroyed. Fans of backwoods slashers will definitely want to check out this forgotten title. While it lacks the desired level of carnage, viewers will have fun watching the stars before they became celebrities running through the paces of a tepid slasher flick.
Video and Audio:
The original VHS release was a confusing jumble of dark and murky images and the DVD was not much of an improvement. Here, The Final Terror is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been digitally remastered using content culled from six different source prints provided by private collectors. The new transfer rescues night exterior scenes once banished into optical obscurity, freshens colors and reveals a glimpse of what might have been. Sadly, there is a problem of color shifting, as a faint band of pink cycles across the frame for at least a third of the running time. Casual viewers may not notice this or at least not to the level of complaint. Scream Factory does a commendable job with a project lesser companies would have abandoned. Although imperfect, this is likely the best this film will ever look.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 track offers a solid presentation that preserves the original stereo mix. While most of the action is dedicated to the center channel, there are plenty of sound effects from within the woods that cross into several additional speakers. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
The audio commentary with Andrew Davis is frustratingly sporadic yet informative and I wish he had a moderator to keep him talking, as there are several painful stretches of silence as he watches the film. It is obvious that he hasn't spent too much thought on this production in the past three decades, but once he starts reflecting, the stories are pretty sweet.
Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror (23 minutes) interviews Post Production Supervisor Allan Holzman (Forbidden World) and Composer Susan Justin. Holzman discusses his work on cleaning up the film and tightening the edit. His stories are quite interesting and he has a lot to say. Justin talks about her work developing the various themes of the soundtrack. The information overlaps and the interviews were wisely edited together, but the piece runs a little long when they get off topic.
Adrien Zmed and Lewis Smith discuss their roles in The First Terror (16 minutes), a standard talking-head piece that allows the two actors the chance to reflect on their time spent here, their first film roles.
A behind-the-scenes stills gallery offers almost 70 pictures that document life on location for the cast and crew. There are some nice images here, many never before seen.
The film's original theatrical trailer offers a nice play on the standard marketing for a genre flick.