They're coming to get you, Judge Patrick Bromley!
Without knowing, they have awakened an unknown force. Can anyone survive?
A horror movie from the Oscar-nominated director of The Fugitive starring Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano, Rachel Ward and Adrian Zmed. How has this movie never received a home video release? Like, ever?
Facts of the Case
A group of twenty-somethings travel into the woods (among them Mark Metcalf of One Crazy Summer, Daryl Hannah of Kill Bill: Volume 1, Rachel Ward of Against All Odds, and Joe Pantoliano of The Matrix) and are hunted by someone?or something?determined to kill them off. Sound familiar? It should, as it's the same plot as a lot of '80s horror. But trust that The Final Terror isn't exactly like those movies—for better or for worse.
When you see enough horror movies, you start to appreciate the ones that feel different from everything else you see. There is such a sense of sameness to the genre—particularly amidst a sub genre like the slasher, which reached its saturation point in the early '80s—that finding any movie that breaks the mold at least makes it interesting even when it's not necessarily "great." Andrew Davis' The Final Terror fits nicely into that categorization: a flawed slasher movie that's different enough from the other entries of the period to warrant a look.
What might seem like a movie that denies fans of the slasher the very tropes that make them love the genre—plentiful, inventive kills; a young, nubile cast; abundant nudity—are all avoided here. It might be enough for horrorphiles to reject the movie outright, but I found a film that broke from the norm and carved out its own weird space. The characters are older than usual teenagers that make up slasher movies. They generally stick together and try to survive rather than stupidly split up and make themselves targets. They bicker and can be mean to one another, but a lot of that is explained by their increasing tension and fear—they lose their temper with one another because they are afraid of being killed. Very few people are actually killed. The identity of the murderer is a secret, and when it's finally revealed the answer is bonkers.
These might all be seen as drawbacks. I found them to be selling points.
The Final Terror doesn't feature a lot of great characters—we don't
know much about these people—they at least manage to be sympathetic,
particularly as they get more and more freaked out. The film does a good job of
creating atmosphere, turing the woods into a vast and terrifying landscape of
indistinguishable greens and browns. Andrew Davis directs the movie with a fair
amount of style despite being on record as having no interest in nor passion for
the horror genre. There are shades of The Final Terror that can be felt
in later survivalist horror films like Wrong Turn, but it lacks the
mean-spirited brutality of the other '70s survival entries. At a scant 82
minutes, the movie never overstays its welcome and remains compact enough to
generate some genuine tension.
Of course, the most amazing thing about The Final Terror is that we have this Blu-ray release at all. The film has never been released on home video—not DVD, not Laserdisc, not even VHS—so leave it to the great people at Scream Factory to rescue it from obscurity and allow for it to be rediscovered. The Blu-ray opens with a disclaimer that the high def transfer was created using the best moments of six different prints on loan from collectors. While that's kind of a beautiful tribute to the advantages of private collectors and the goodwill of the horror community, it also means that the film isn't going to look as good as most Blu-ray releases. The colors fluctuate from scene to scene (and sometimes in the span of a single scene) and the movie can look it's age, but the movie actually looks pretty great considering how the transfer was created. It shouldn't really exist at all, nor should it look as good as it does. It's got problems, yes, but there is nothing about it that prevents it from being watchable. The lossless 2.0 audio track is also decent; though there is some hissing and the occasional pop, it's pretty standard stuff for a low-budget horror movie from the period. Regardless of whether or not you're crazy about the movie, Scream Factory deserves a ton of credit for the restoration job they've done to bring this little-seen effort to the fans.
Director Andrew Davis has recorded a feature-length commentary for the film—a coup for the disc, since it seems like exactly the kind of film that a director who has gone on to great success and awards nominations would have disowned (particularly since this version isn't really the film he shot). Davis is a sport for doing the commentary, and his participation only makes me like him more. Unfortunately, the track is really dry and full of long gaps of silence. Allan Holzman, credited as the "Executive in Charge of Post-Production," sits down for an interview (with additional comments from composer Susan Justin) in which he talks about being brought on to "fix" the film and make some significant changes. It's an interesting and forthright look at how movies can be reshaped after the fact to reach a wider audience, though whether or not it was effective for The Final Terror can certainly be argued. Stars Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith also share some of their experiences getting hired on the film and the experience of shooting it. Also included is a collection of behind-the-scenes photos and the film's original theatrical trailer, as well as a DVD copy of the movie and the extras.
The Final Terror probably isn't going to be anyone's favorite horror movie, but it's worth a look for students of the genre. Not only will you get a chance to see a number of future stars doing early work, but you'll see a slasher movie that deviates from the norms of slasher films and does a few interesting things. If not for the efforts of Scream Factory, there's a good chance most horror fans wouldn't ever get to see this largely forgotten sleeper. Whether or not you love the movie, we have to appreciate the opportunity to see it. Seeing more horror movies is always better than seeing fewer.
I'm thankful to have it on Blu-ray at all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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