I have all sorts of love for 1983’s The Final Terror. This is one of many impulse rentals I made in the mid-eighties, back during the height of the slasher boom when it seemed like half of the local video store was dedicated to horror flicks. You never really knew what you were going to get, but, in the case of The Final Terror, I recognized more than a few names including Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, and Adrian Zmed (who, by that time, was already starring alongside William Shatner in the laughably bad cop series, T.J. Hooker, as well as serving as second banana to Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party), so expectations were higher than usual. While it wasn’t what I’d call a typical slasher, I really enjoyed the film’s twists and turns and, nearly thirty years later, I still consider it one of the best-acted and most beautifully photographed films of its ilk.
While The Final Terror did manage to make its way onto a very limited release DVD back in 2005, I avoided purchasing it as the transfer was said to be even worse than that of an old VHS rental copy, and it was widely known that the original print of the film had long ago been lost making the possibility of ever seeing a “complete” version of it in anything better than VHS quality improbable if not downright impossible.
That is until now, with Scream Factory once again proving why they’re currently the best in the business when it comes to dusting off old horror gems for an HD generation. Working with a theatrical print cobbled together from multiple sources, Scream Factory has managed to put together the closest thing to a complete Blu-ray presentation of The Final Terror we’re likely ever going to see.
The Final Terror focuses on a motley crew of forest ranger recruits who are shuttled off into the wilderness on a river reclamation project headed up by their laidback boss Mike (Mark Metcalf). Mike is really just looking for an excuse to spend a weekend with his girlfriend, Mel (Cindy Harrell), and, seeing as how she’s charged with a trio of comely young ladies, concocts a mission in which the two groups can work together in a dangerously remote region of their woodlands.
This doesn’t sit well with Mike’s second in command, Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) – an obviously unhinged and annoying little man who seemingly thrives on terrorizing the new recruits. Eggar frantically urges his boss to reconsider his plans, citing all manner of horrific happenings in this neck of the woods, but Mike is unfazed by Eggar’s paranoid rants, and, after Eggar drops them off at their destination, he leaves in a huff, supposedly to meet them at a rendezvous point downriver.
That evening, two recruits - Zorich (John Friedrich) and Hines (Ernest Hardin Jr.) – take their newest member, Marco (Zmed), on a mission to steal some pot from a nearby field. Zorich tells Marco he’s to serve as the lookout, and instructs him to “howl like a wolf” every so often until they return. Marco reluctantly agrees, and Zorich and Hines return to camp, successful in their ritual hazing. However, when morning rolls around and Marco’s still not back, Mike and Mel take Zorich and Hines back into the woods to find him, leaving Boone (Lewis Smith) to watch over Windy (Hannah), Margaret (Ward), and Vanessa (Akosua Busia). It’s here that Mike and Mel wander off themselves for a tryst in the woods, and, as is usually the case, said tryst ends with a brutal confrontation with an unseen assailant.
Meanwhile, Zorich and Hines stumble upon a cabin in the woods and find a collection of items belonging to their nemesis, Eggar, and return to camp to inform Mike. Night falls, however, and while Mike and Mel don’t return, Marco does, and is chastised for making them all waste their day looking for him. Not long after, on a trip to the outhouse, Vanessa makes a gruesome discovery that prompts the military-minded Zorich to rally the troops in an effort to track down and punish Eggar, but it isn’t long before the hunters become the hunted.
I used to be surprised when I read the negative comments about this film scattered around the interwebz, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason this film gets so much hate is the fact that, while it was marketed toward the slasher audience, it’s shares more in common with films like Deliverance or Southern Comfort than the likes of The Burning or Friday the 13th. This is a fairly low body count film and it’s not particularly gory, but it’s still compelling stuff, especially considering its budget and the limitations presented by its deep woods locale. As mentioned earlier, this is one of the few genre entries of that era that wowed me visually, as director Andrew Davis (who also serves as cinematographer under the name Andreas Davidescu) photographs the film in such a way that the forest becomes a character unto itself – at once beautiful and foreboding, bathed in golden shafts of sunlight that somehow make its shadowy depths that much more intimidating. There’s also a nice twist here in that the protagonists aren’t resigned to sit on their asses and wait to be victims; they proactively seek out the antagonist, arming themselves and strategically dressing themselves to blend in with their surroundings. It’s a novel approach that really won me over back in the day, and it’s one we’ve rarely seen since (unless one counts The Dream Warriors, but look how that worked out!). The cast of then-unknowns all prove why many of their careers skyrocketed after the film’s release as we get some really solid performances here from the likes of Lewis and Ward, while Pantoliano’s turn as the volatile Eggar is really impressive stuff. I just find The Final Terror to be a quality product all around, which is why I was so excited to hear that Scream Factory would be taking on the daunting task of bring this little-seen gem to Blu-ray.
As mentioned before, Scream Factory’s transfer of The Final Terror has been culled from multiple sources, including an original theatrical print, so the objective was to give us the most complete version of the film possible, and that means that some of the footage is a bit rough around the edges (the company concedes this in its pre-film disclaimer). That being said, as a whole, this is a really pleasing presentation. Yes, there are sections – especially early on – where the image is marred by some substantial print damage (“tobacco stains”, scratches, and vignetting), but, with what I’m assuming is the theatrical print providing the bulk of the material, here, most of the film looks quite good! Colors are vibrant, blacks are fairly solid and consistent, and the level of detail at times is superb! I’ll be honest; seeing the state of the film’s opening salvo (involving a dirt bike riding couple’s encounter with the film’s antagonist) struck fear in my heart, but the transfer quickly redeemed itself, and the instances of lesser-quality film elements grew fewer and further between as the movie progressed.
The accompanying DTS HD Master Audio Mono track is also quite a surprise as I found that, for a mono track, the mix sounded quite full and robust, with crisp sounding dialogue and nary a hint of distortion.
Bonus features include an audio commentary with Andrew Davis, a great set of retrospective interviews with stars Zmed and Lewis, as well as a cool featurette looking at the process behind assembling the various bits of footage together for this release. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer (HD), as well as a standard definition copy on DVD.
If you’re looking for a traditional slasher flick with lots of gore, kills, and sex, well, The Final Terror probably won’t satisfy. However, if you’re in the market for a beautifully shot and well-acted backwoods thriller with a horror slant, this one will certainly fit the bill. While it’s not one of their collector’s editions, it’s obvious by the time and care that went into this Blu-ray release of The Final Terror that this was a labor of love by Scream Factory, and one that fans of the film should appreciate tremendously. Highly recommended!