I’ve often spoken about the importance of evocative titles for your low-budget horror movie, with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre being the runaway best, even if it’s slightly misleading. Several slasher films in the 1980s had names that sounded ominous but didn’t actually mean anything, like Don’t Go in the Woods or Don’t Go in the Basement. Some, however, are just impossibly vague and might apply to any number of movies. Case in point, the 1983 film The Final Terror. Were there lots of terrors beforehand? Is this going to be a Nazi-exploitation horror movie? Even the poster art which just depicts people running from what looks to be the words of the title gives you zero idea of what the movie is actually about. Would you be surprised to learn it’s about people in the woods being chased by a murderous feral woman? I was.
The Final Terror was directed by Andrew Davis who went on to direct action movies like Code of Silence with Chuck Norris, Under Siege with Steven Seagal, and The Fugitive. He was also a cinematographer before becoming a film director and as such the most surprising thing right away about The Final Terror is how good it looks. There’s a grittiness to it, of course, but there’s also a lot of character within the grit and it looks more like an action movie than a horror movie, for good or ill. The film also has a cast with people who would become more or less household names like Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano, and my mom’s favorite hunk of the ’80s, Adrian Zmed. How and why all of these people ended up in this movie is anyone’s guess. It probably couldn’t have been the script.
The film starts, as most horror movies did in the decade, with two people in the woods about to have sex only to be brutally murdered by some unseen, sharp-implement-wielding psycho person. The young people are especially unlucky because they actually die from walking into booby traps made of jagged edges of cans and things. Not the most pleasant of demises. Also, these two characters are never seen, mentioned, or thought about again for the rest of the film. We next meet a group of park rangers who have to go out into the woods for some kind of training exercise and they’ve wrangled a few attractive young ladies to come with them, much to the chagrin of Eggar (Joey Pants), the group’s bus driver. He doesn’t seem to mind when they all sing a raucous rendition of “Three Blind Mice” en route, though. Ah, the joy of adults singing songs that you normally stop singing when you switch to Underoos.
Among the group are the leader Mike (Mark Metcalf), his girlfriend Melanie (Cindy Harrell), the heartthrob Marco (Zmed), the militant survivalist/drug user Zorich (John Friedrich), a couple of randos (Lewis Smith and Ernest Harden, Jr), and Windy Morgan (Hannah) and her two hot English friends (Ward and Akosua Busia). Those are their characters, mostly. The one we get the best sense for is Zorich who is an unrepentant d-bag the whole time but is the one who is best capable of handling taking the fight to their attacker. But like most slasher movies, you’d expect the characters not to matter too much because they’re just going to be fodder for sharp implements, right? Wrong.
This movie has one of the lowest body counts in any slasher movie, which is insane given how many characters there are. The two people in the opening sequence (I found out from the supplemental materials) were added later to up the kill quota. The film is only 85 minutes long and, aside from the first two, it takes 50 minutes for anybody to die. One person dies. Then another person dies several minutes after that. One would expect the body count to ratchet up as we amble toward this supposed “final terror” we’ve been promised, but no. There’s a part where Daryl Hannah gets separated from the group in the woods and Feral Jones happens upon her and slashes her neck. So you think that’s the end of ol’ Daryl. Oops, just kidding — the other members of the group FIND HER and SAVE HER almost immediately.
So, of the ten main characters, how many do you suppose are left alive at the end of the picture? If you guessed six, you are inexplicably correct. SIX!!!! That’s so many survivors! And the whole movie I’m waiting for this “final terror” to show up and while the final piece is actually pretty cool, in an Ewoks-attacking-AT-STs kind of way, it certainly wasn’t a terror at all.
The Final Terror is just a weird horror movie. The direction and acting are actually really good and the makings of a good survival nightmare flick are present, they just don’t do anything with it. There are hardly any scares. It’s a lot of tension and little-to-no pay off. But hey, Adrian Zmed, so that’s something, right?
Speaking of Lord Zmed, he and Lewis Smith are present on the Blu-ray special features in a 20 minute retrospective/memories type of thing, which is more entertaining than you’d imagine. There is also a half-hour talk from Post-Production Supervisor Allan Holzman (who had worked a lot with Roger Corman) who gives the rundown of all the things that had to happen after the shooting stopped. It’s pretty extensive. And finally, there’s an audio commentary with director Andrew Davis, which is about what you’d expect from an action movie director talking about his first, not-very-successful film.
All in all, the Blu-ray is up to the quality of thing Scream Factory normally puts out, but the movie itself is just a big nothing, which makes the special features of little interest ultimately. Not for lack of trying, but I’d say give this one a pass and wait for some of their better titles.