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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Final Terror (Blu-ray)
The Final Terror (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // R // July 1, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 1, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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No, you're thinking of The Burning, but I get why you'd go there. I mean, both movies are backwoods slashers from the early '80s, they share pretty much the exact same maniac-versus-campers premise (along with damned near every other body count flick from the era), they both have big setpieces on the water in their third acts, and they both have young casts who'd go on to be fixtures in cinemas and on TV. It's just that The Burning is a stone-cold genre classic and one of the best slashers to emerge from the dawn of the 1980s, while The Final Terror is...not.

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Don't get me wrong: there's plenty to talk about when it comes to The Final Terror. This marked the first independent production by Sam Arkoff after he parted ways with AIP. It's a slasher co-starring Daryl Hannah, for crying out loud, sharing the bill with other familiar faces like Adrian Zmed, Mark Metcalf, Rachel Ward, and Joe Pantoliano. Hell, even the way that Scream Factory rescued this all-but-lost movie makes for a pretty phenomenal story. It's just that almost anything I'd say about The Final Terror is me talking around the movie rather than about it. Depending on who you ask, this room-temperature slasher was produced in either 1980 or 1981, riding the wake of Friday the 13th's staggering success. This was an era when it seemed like two or three slasher flicks were opening every weekend -- when all you needed were a bunch of trees, a couple of tits, and a bloodied knife to sell fistfuls of tickets -- and no one wanted it. The Final Terror sat on the shelf for several years before finally being dusted off, and even then it was just because Arkoff or whoever saw Splash and remembered he had a movie with that mermaid in it somewhere. Some movies vanish or are woefully unappreciated because they don't have the right marketing muscle behind 'em, because it's the right material at the wrong time, or because they're just further out there than audiences were willing to embrace. Sometimes, though, they're just shitty, and that's pretty much the beginning and end of the tragic story of The Final Terror.

There's almost not a premise for me to recap. A bunch of...I don't know, forest ranger interns or something sneak out into the woods to screw, get stoned, and generally have an R-rated good time, shrugging off the warnings of their more-than-a-little unstable driver (Joe Pantoliano). Eggar wasn't wrong, although no one really thinks all that much of it at first. Sure, their numbers are dwindling, but they're just off in the boonies fucking like rabbits or trying to rustle up some of those hippies' stash of pot, right? That sounds like a story worth sticking with, at least until their ravaged corpses start turning up... I'm a card-carrying slasher fanatic (no, really, I have a card), so I'm obviously not going to bitch and moan about a movie like this having an uninspired premise. It's not about the story; it's about what a slasher does with it, and that's why The Final Terror is such a swing-and-a-miss. Most of the mayhem either takes place off-camera or is almost completely obscured. This is one of those slashers where you see the aftermath -- well, sometimes -- but very little of the actual kills. Its body count is so low that nearly half the movie passes between on-screen murders, and those are too awkwardly framed and choppily edited to really deliver the goods. Don't expect much of anything in the way of blood or grue. The only nudity is a blink-and-nevermind-you-missed-it peek at what I'm pretty sure is Mark Metcalf's ass. Early '80s slashers felt like some kind of arms race where everyone was desperate to have a more colossal body count and more imaginative, more depraved kills. For the most part, The Final Terror is content to let someone who's mostly off-camera swipe a knife around for a couple of seconds at a time. There's very little stalk-'n-slash. There's no real tension or suspense to speak of. This cast has a thing for nails-on-chalkboard accents, which I guess is an okay crutch in a movie whose characters don't take more than a word or two to fully sum up. The Final Terror is so uninvolving and excruciatingly dull that even when it does groggily wake up near the end -- a desperate attempt to flee on the water, and a primal, proto-Predator turning of the tables -- it's too little and way the hell too late.

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The frustrating thing about The Final Terror is that it's not actively bad. At least then there'd be a chance of it accidentally being interesting. Director/cinematographer Andrew Davis does capture some nice visuals at times. I appreciate that the surviving red shirts do a better job than most in taking their fates in their own hands...working together to avoid being picked off one-by-one once they finally clue into what's going on. At the end of the day, though, The Final Terror is embarrassed about being a slasher, disinterestedly settling into the wrong middle ground separating Deliverance and Friday the 13th. Not recommended.


Video
The negative for The Final Terror is long gone, and there aren't any interpositives or other low-generation materials laying around either. Scream Factory instead had to painstakingly piece together the best-looking reels from six different release prints held by private collectors. That's a really commendable effort, and it probably goes without saying that also means that The Final Terror kind of has to be graded on a curve.

I've made the trek a couple times up to Durham, NC for Retrofantasma, giving me a rare chance to see longtime favorites like Demons and The Beyond screened in 35mm. That's what this presentation of The Final Terror reminds me of more than anything else, which makes sense seeing as how it's culled from release prints and all. The image is softer and less detailed than usual. Colors are generally respectably saturated but can be somewhat dull, and the source has faded unevenly enough that there's a fair amount of flicker at times. I even spotted a couple missing frames at one point. The extremely limited light at night and some occasional hiccups with focus don't help either. The quality can be kind of erratic, weaving from one end of the spectrum, such as this nice looking shot:
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...to one that's, well, not so much:
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Still, none of these unavoidable shortcomings really get in the way. There's even still enough definition, detail, and clarity on display for it to always be apparent that this is a genuine high-def presentation. There's much less in the way of wear, speckling, or damage than I ever would've guessed. In keeping with that 35mm revival look it has going, The Final Terror hasn't had its filmic texture digitally scrubbed away either. This Blu-ray release won't go down as one of the better looking Blu-ray releases from the Golden Age of Slasher Cinema, but considering what Scream Factory had to work with, this is straight-up miraculous. With nothing but murky VHS releases and bootleg DVDs before it, calling this disc a revelation doesn't begin to do it justice.

Scream Factory shelled out for a dual-layer Blu-ray disc here, with The Final Terror getting one layer pretty much entirely to itself. The mattes are opened up slightly to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and the whole thing has been encoded with AVC. This combo pack also boasts an anamorphic widescreen DVD -- the first official DVD release that The Final Terror has gotten on these shores.


Audio
I'm not sure if the aural end of things was as much of an ordeal for Scream Factory, but whatever they did, it worked. Presented in 24-bit, two-channel mono, The Final Terror sounds terrific on Blu-ray. The audio is in more than respectable shape, not marred by any dropouts or distortion. I spotted a couple of tiny clicks and pops, but it was limited to one small stretch of the film, isn't a pervasive issue, and never really gets in the way besides. Dialogue, various sound effects, and the score are all reproduced well enough. The only real misstep with the line readings presumably dates back to post-production; an early scene with Joe Pantoliano ranting and raving is so howlingly out-of-sync that I halfway expected him to start going on about how Gamera is a friend to all children. Also, dynamic range is limited enough to stomp on some of the key jump scares. Since nothing's significantly louder than anything else, death screams and frenzied attacks just aren't able to make much of an impact. It's a really solid sounding track overall, though. Given The Final Terror's reputation on home video for being borderline-unlistenable, longtime fans of the movie are gonna be floored.

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No dubs or remixes this time around. Subtitles are offered exclusively in English (SDH).


Extras
Some of the alternate cuts and international releases offered up additional footage -- including a few spurts of extra gore! -- and it's a little disappointing that none of that's on here. There are plenty of other bells and whistles, though:
  • Audio Commentary: I kind of wish that director/cinematographer Andrew Davis had sat down for an interview instead, or at least that someone else had been able to join him for this commentary. I'm not sure if Davis falls into the trap of watching the movie rather than talking about it, or if he just doesn't have that much to say. Whatever the reason, there's about as much dead air as there is actual commentary. Looking down at my notes, I'd swear that trees are the dominant topic of conversation here. Among the other things Davis touches on are Alien scribe Ronald Shusett contributing to the screenplay, how the tacked-on scare that opens the movie wound up paying for his wedding, and one actor pulling double duty in a way that I didn't pick up on. There's a nice "where are they now?" lightning round at the beginning as well. Too sparse to recommend as anything than background noise, though, and Davis' repeated mentions of his disinterest in horror kinda grate as well.

  • Interviews (39 min.; HD): The two sets of interviews on this Blu-ray disc tackle The Final Terror from very different perspectives. First up is a conversation with actors Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith, and they chat about the camaraderie among such a green cast in this hopelessly remote stretch of Oregon along with fielding a lot of their own stuntwork, the deaths tacked on while the movie lay on the shelf, what a grueling shoot this was, and, yeah, how long Zmed was stuck howling like a wolf. These interviews with Zmed and Smith clock in at sixteen minutes.

    Elsewhere, post-production supervisor Allan Holzman and composer Susan Justin delve into how The Final Terror took shape after its cameras first finished rolling. Holzman extensively retooled the movie, stripping away some of its slasher trappings in favor of more of a suspenseful thriller instead. Holzman reveals that he's the director behind the tin can tripwire opening sequence as well. Justin speaks at length about the instrumentation behind The Final Terror's score, including a blaster beam and waterphone, and she also unleashes the creepy vocal shriek that's...okay, somewhere in the mix in the movie itself but way less prominent. Yikes. Wow. They talk about all sorts of other stuff while they're at it: learning their craft under Roger Corman as so many had before them, Sam Arkoff's struggles as an independent producer, and what kept The Final Terror on the shelf as well as what eventually prompted it to be dusted off. I had a blast with this interview, and it's absolutely the only DVD/Blu-ray extra I've come across with a story involving hundreds of frozen, dead cats and dogs on rental.

  • [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

  • Still Gallery (9 min.; HD): Director Andrew Davis offers up some photos from his personal collection for this nine minute montage, and they're gorgeous. One of the best looking behind-the-scenes photo galleries I've come across in a long while.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def trailer.
Scream Factory hasn't lavished The Final Terror with their usual slipcover or custom art treatment on Blu-ray, but I like the movie's original poster enough that I can't say I mind. This combo pack also has a DVD riding shotgun.


The Final Word
I can't say enough good things about what Scream Factory has accomplished here. We're talking about a movie that was shelved for years before finally escaping into theaters, never got a worthwhile release on video, and -- with seemingly no archival elements in existence -- might as well be lost. Scream Factory has really gone out of their way to deliver the best possible presentation of The Final Terror from what few elements remain, and they've assembled a respectable special edition to go along with it.

The only downside is...well, The Final Terror. A thriller devoid of thrills, The Final Terror is a slasher movie in denial, without any of the gleefully inventive kills, buckets of blood, or over-the-top exploitation that defined the subgenre in the early '80s. The only thing particularly memorable about it is the parade of actors who'd go on to be such familiar faces. You can get all that -- plus a slasher that's worth a damn! -- in The Burning, so why settle for this? Rent It.
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