The Final Terror is a 1983 slasher film that has long been difficult to find; in fact, Scream Factory had to piece together whatever they had for footage to create this Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, with no negatives to speak of left over from the original production. This means that at times the audio and video quality of The Final Terror can be rougher than most of the output from Scream – it’s not attributable to any problems on their end, but just a lack of good footage to pull from. Fortunately, though, this Blu-Ray now exists, and it looks about as good as it possibly could.
The Final Terror sits very comfortably in the sub-genre with the likes of Just Before Dawn, Friday the 13th, and many other stalker/slasher films set in the woods or around a campsite. All of the facets of the plot are here, including nubile teenagers, strange and menacing characters, and lurking killers hidden by the foliage of the trees; but it’s really not about the setup, but the way that The Final Terror gets there. It’s easy to call the film out on its rather generic story, but those that pass the film up because it seems familiar will be missing the more nuanced aspects of the characterization that is actually very entertaining to watch.
Andrew Davis directs, a man who had much more luck with various action films, especially those starring Steven Seagal. But like Davis, The Final Terror was a stepping-stone on a path up the celebrity mountain. John Friedrich plays Zorich, the gruff military-esque kid who leads the charge against the serial killer of the film; Friedrich was fresh off of The Thornbirds in 1983. Likewise, Daryl Hannah stars as Windy, and Joe Pantoliano is the creepy Eggar. The film spends quite a bit of time with the entire cast, and many of them make it throughout the film; Davis isn’t interested in immediately killing them off or even putting them in violent situations, so there’s more than enough time to get to know everyone.
The initial setup is fairly standard: a group of (mostly) kids head into the woods to clean up, camp out, and raft downriver. But these pseudo-Boy & Girl Scouts aren’t prepared for the basic aspect of camping – survival. They’ve wandered into some dangerous territory, full of traps and a weird cabin with murdered wolves. But Davis, with the help of screenwriters Jon George, Neill Hicks, and Ronald Shusett, manages to push things into more personal territory by refraining from hopping into the killings so quickly.
Instead, The Final Terror allows the audience to become accustomed to the people who will lead the story forward. Zorich becomes something of a loose cannon, while Vanessa (Akosua Busia) seems to be the only one who’s really thinking about the smart thing to do, which is to pack up and leave. And while some of the characters make stupid choices, they aren’t the kind that make the inciting incidents feel forced – rather, they simply go along with character actions.
It’s surprising that The Final Terror’s script is so smart since the film is relatively overlooked compared to similar films in the subgenre. This could be attributed in part to its more obvious twists, pretty much telegraphed at the beginning of the film and not expanded upon much until the end of the film. The killer is bland because Davis allows the audience to guess immediately at who it must be; that there is an added secret doesn’t lend much more to The Final Terror‘s premise given that Just Before Dawn had done the same thing two years prior.
Still, there’s an inventiveness to some of the suspenseful scenes that should appeal to fans of the slasher film. The opening alone, with its tin-can razor trap, invites viewers into the atmosphere of The Final Terror – that things can happen at any time because of the unfamiliarity with the surroundings. The unexpected does happen quite a bit, including a body thrown onto a raft from above, a surprise encounter in an outhouse, and crazy spike trap at the end of the film. These moments are just varied enough from peers to give the film recommendation.
Scream Factory has done a great job compiling The Final Terror, but scenes do suffer from quality loss. Most notable is a flickering of yellowish light, and a few pieces of audio are quite obviously culled from less than stellar source. Still, it’s a wonder that the film looks as good as it does; this is probably the best we can hope for!
Special features include two interviews, one with Andrew Davis and music composer Susan Justin, the second with Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith. Both of these are well-done and worth the half-hour to watch both. There’s also audio commentary from Davis. Other non-essential items include a theatrical trailer and 67 stills from production. Plus, it comes in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. This is totally worth a pick-up.