Saturday, October 12, 2013

THE FINAL TERROR (1983) Blu-ray Review

Final Terror, The (1983) d. Andrew Davis (USA)

A group of male park rangers decide to turn their river clean-up assignment into a little recreational jaunt with their equally outdoorsy lady friends. But there’s something lurking in the woods, something that wants to be left alone. Equal parts Friday The 13th, Just Before Dawn, Deliverance, and Southern Comfort, what could have been just another maniac-in-the-woods programmer turns out to be loaded with suspense and boasts a raft of soon-to-be-stars in early, strong performances.

Chalk it up to low expectations, but this slasher/survival flick from future Fugitive director Davis is pretty darn good. Originally shot in 1980 during the slasher craze boom under the title “Bump in the Night” (then shelved until 1983 where it saw release as Carnivore, Campsite Massacre, and The Forest Primeval as well as its current moniker), screenwriters Jon George, Neill D. Hicks, and Ronald Shusett were already striving to do something a little different.

In spite of its nasty little “tin can lids-as-boobytrap” curtain raiser – shot by another director at the behest of producer Joe Roth after principal photography had been completed to goose the gore factor – this is not your standard body count feature. In fact, the majority of the cast survives to the end credits!

Speaking of which, check out this roster: Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Metcalf, Adrian Zmed, with the very intense Steve-Railsback-in-training John Friedrich receiving top billing. (Special mention for Southern Comfort’s Lewis Smith, who made his film debut here and later achieved cult status as “Perfect Tommy” in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.)

Because these are adults, there is a maturity to the proceedings rather than the thinly drawn teens usually trotted out for machete fodder, and because they’re not getting bumped off every ten seconds, we actually grow attached and invested in their fates.

There are several interesting character traits and tics on display, and even when they’re annoying, they’re real. The strong have moments of weakness (and vice versa), all of which feel organic and true.

Until recently, however, the biggest hitch was that the film had never received a proper home video release, only available in dark and pixilated form on various “public domain” box sets or streaming on YouTube, which made recommending it to the everyday horror fan a dicier affair than most. Which is why when Shout! Factory announced earlier this year that they would be bringing out The Final Terror in a deluxe DVD/BR package, my heart leapt for joy.

While not a sparkling digital restoration (the original film elements, including the negative and answer print, have been lost to the black abyss of neglect), it’s safe to say that TFT has never looked this good since its original release 30 years ago.

Working from an original 35mm print (courtesy of Joshua Gravel and ChicagoFilm’s own Lee Shoquist), the suspenseful nighttime scenes have been literally brought to light, and the gorgeous redwood forest setting’s greens and browns shimmer and pop. For those of us who’ve been squinting at our monitors for over a decade, it’s a bit of a miracle.

Further enhancing longtime fans’ enjoyment are the extra features, an area where S!F has served as the modern day banner bearer for the past few years. Aine Leicht and her team don’t disappoint here either, with insightful and engaging interviews with Zmed, Smith, post-production supervisor Allan Holzman (to whom the finished film apparently owes a huge debt), and composer Susan Justin.

There’s also an audio commentary with Davis, which could also serve as a promotional track for northern California's Jedediah Smith Redwood Park, although it’s a little disappointing how dismissive the director is toward the genre and its fans throughout the track. (“Okay, here’s the requisite gory scene for you horror fans,” “I don’t really care for this stuff, I haven’t done anything like it since,” and so on.) A little graciousness might suit you, Sir Andy.

While there are a few loose ends, and you’ll need to pay close attention to Smith’s character’s campfire story for the ending to make any sense at all, for slasher fans looking for something a notch above the schlock, this solid exercise in woodsy horror is well worth your time.

The Final Terror is now available through Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


  1. Davis has the dubious accomplishment of having gotten actual performances out of both Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, so I'm not surprised to hear his earlier films are interesting. Haven't seen this one, though.

  2. LOL. I don't know that I'd go that far, but he definitely created movies around them that were diverting enough such that we didn't notice how stiff they are. And he had the good sense to surround them with much, much better actors to aid the cause.

    TFT isn't a *great* film, but it's better than a lot of low budget slasher/survival horror of a similar vintage.