“You don’t wanna take these kids out over there. Someone might get hurt.”
I get recommendations for films all the time (Megapython vs Gateroid, for instance). Generally people are trying to find something truly offbeat or different that might appeal to my love of the odd and strange (I own Messiah of Evil on Blu-ray, as an example). Sometimes they’re trying to shock me. Sometimes they just really want to share a film they loved. I try to make an effort to at least find these films and watch them when I can. I’ve found a few new favorites that way.
To be clear, The Final Terror is not a film I’ve had recommended to me.
No, the film I THOUGHT I was going to watch is a film called Just Before Dawn (a film by the writer/director of Squirm, Jeff Lieberman). I’d been told two things – that it was a pretty decent entry in the ‘hillbilly slasher’ sub-genre and that “the final girl shoves her hand all the way down a guys throat!”
With references like that, it had to go on the list.
Except I never did put it on the list. It jangled around in the back of my head along with other things like “Wasn’t there a movie about alien abductions in the Allagash you wanted to see?” and “Did anyone ever make a movie of Edward Levy’s Came a Spider?” I remembered that there was a slasher film set in the woods by a director I knew, and that was all that stuck.
Well, The Final Terror manages to tick all those boxes – slasher, woods, director I know (The Fugitive‘s Andrew Davis) – and I honestly didn’t realize it wasn’t the same film until the final reveal, as I had done no research ahead of time. I’ll have to admit to a bit of disappointment – there’s nothing in The Final Terror that even comes close to someone shoving their hand down someone’s throat – but it was a decent enough entry in the 80’s slasher genre.
Shot in 1981 in the hopes of taking advantage of the burgeoning slasher genre in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th, The Final Terror was unable to find a distributor until a couple of years later when some of its stars had achieved fame for other roles – particularly Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward and Adrian Zmed. It’s full of other recognizable actors, including Joe Pantoliano and Mark Metcalf. The screenplay was co-written by Ronald Schusset, who worked with Dan O’Bannon on Alien, Dead & Buried and Total Recall. He did not work with Dan O’Bannon on The Final Terror, make of that what you will.
The Final Terror is currently streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi and Popcornflix. It can also be purchased or rented on Amazon. That’s it for online options.
Shout Factory released a Blu-ray in 2014, but – as a text blurb states at the beginning of the film – none of the original film elements remain. The release is cobbled together from various film prints. It looks about as good as it can, given that fact, and it is way better than previous DVD releases. Still damn dark in spots, though.
The Final Terror starts off inauspiciously with a pretty standard slasher sequence. Man and woman crash a bike on a remote dirt road. Girl heads out to find ranger station while injured guy waits. When the girl returns from the empty ranger station the guy is nowhere to be found… until his bloody corpse suddenly drops into view from the trees. Running, screaming, yadda yadda. This is Friday the 13th Part 3 level material except, you know, without the craftsmanship. (Apparently this was shot and added without Davis’ knowledge – it definitely looks like a producer insert.)
The rest of the film is substantially better, however, albeit rough in the way only a low budget 80’s horror picture can be (dim cinematography, shaky camera work, ‘natural’ dialogue). We’re introduced to a group of young park rangers that are headed up country to clear some debris around the streams and paths in the park. There are a lot of familiar faces in this group as mentioned – Adrian Zmed, Daryl Hannah, Mark Metcalf, Joe Pantoliano and Rachel Ward – and the level of acting is generally pretty high. (There’s a little too much – ‘be jerks to each other and fight’ nonsense, but I attribute that to the screenplay.)
Eggar (Pantoliano), the driver and mechanic and all-around asshole, tries to convince the group not to go that far up the river, telling the rest of the crew stories about people lost and killed up the area. He’s kind of a jackass, though, and nobody much listens to what he has to say. They send him off to take the boats further down river and meet them the next day.
The first night Boone (Lewis Smith) tells a story about a local girl who was raped by her stepfather and escaped into the woods from a mental institution after giving birth. Later, Nate (Ernest Harden Jr) and Zorch (John Friedrich) prank the new guy, Marco (Zmed) by leaving him deep in the woods. When Marco hasn’t turned up the next morning the whole crew separates to search for him.
There’s pretty standard rural slasher stuff to follow. The overgrown shack with bloody animal parts, the couple having sex that’s attacked by a mysterious figure, the severed head that acts like a cat amongst pigeons and sends the crew scrambling down the river to get away from a killer. There are even clues in the cabin that act as a red herring for who’s really responsible.
Elevating the film from the standard slasher stuff are two things: the characters are (generally) more capable and less ‘split up’ stupid than usual, and the setting – the Redwood National and State Parks – is beautiful. Davis worked double duty as cinematographer, and he manages some really nice shots amongst the darkness. There are also fewer deaths than usual – giving you more time to get involved with the characters and invested in their survival. Don’t get me wrong – they’re still pretty thinly written – but when one of them is slashed in the throat (during a time when they panic and one of them is separated) I was really rooting for them to save her.
The final confrontation (and twist) is a bit underwhelming in execution (especially when I was expecting a ‘reach in and grab their esophagus’ moment), but the setting is pretty fantastic. The crew choose to face their attacker in the rotting ruins of a fallen redwood and the director makes good use of the enormous trees.
The Bottom Line
The Final Terror is an above average slasher flick – Friday the 13th by way of Deliverance – elevated mostly by the acting and the setting. It’s worth a look if you like slasher films – especially in terms of what it does differently – but it’s not some hidden classic, nor will it become a ‘guilty pleasure.’