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Monday, October 12, 2020

The Final Terror (1983) review



John Friedrich (Dennis Zorich), Adrian Zmed (Marco Cerone), Ernest Harden, Jr. (Nathaniel Hines), Lewis Smith (Boone), Rachel Ward (Margaret), Daryl Hannah (Windy), Akosua Busia (Vanessa), Joe Pantoliano (Eggar), Mark Metcalf (Mike), Cindy Harrell (Melanie), Irene Sanders (Sammie), Richard Jacobs (Mr. Morgan), Donna Pinder (Mrs. Morgan), Jim Youngs (Jim), Lori Lee Butler (Lori), Tony Maccario (Eggar's Mother)

Directed by Andrew Davis

The Short Version: Andrew Davis's lesser known wilderness-set slasher benefits from some mild tension and fantastic locations in Redwood, California. Unfortunately, THE FINAL TERROR wants its body parts and eat them too--being a slasher movie with a low body count that is closer in tone to JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980) than FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Probably the slasher flick with the single most soon-to-be big names (director included), Davis's movie has many attributes, but short-changes horror fans on what these films are supposed to be selling.

Forestry workers and four women head out into the wilderness to clear some brush and raft downriver. They find more than downed trees when they ignore the warnings of their crazy bus driver. Encountering a feral killer, the group become trapped in the woods and must utilize survivalist-style tactics to make it out alive.

When AIP (American International Pictures) merged with Filmways in 1979 (itself going bankrupt and sold to Orion in 1982), Samuel Z. Arkoff started up another AIP (Arkoff International Pictures) where he produced independent features of his own; the first being this woodsian slasher romp. This new incarnation didn't last long, sadly, but horror fans got this picture and Larry Cohen's energetic and unusual monster movie, Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982) out of it, at least. Back in the day, Arkoff and James H. Nicholson solidified AIP as the premiere studio for A-level exploitation on B-level budgets. With Roger Corman directing many of their features, AIP was a force to be reckoned with. Along with his son, Louis, Sam Arkoff intended to bring that old magic into the 80s. Partnering with the Cannon Group, it seemed a logical team-up; only by 1986, Cannon was showing signs of financial fatigue. Arkoff and son had a supernatural action picture titled 'Night Crawler' to have begun filming in the Fall of '86 with Cannon distributing; this never materialized and Arkoff's new company had far fewer films produced than it had on its ambitious slate.


Filmed in 1981, THE FINAL TERROR sat on the shelf for two years before finally seeing release around the US in 1983 (and on into 1984) after three of the main cast, Daryl Hannah (BLADE RUNNER; SPLASH), Rachel Ward (SHARKY'S MACHINE; THE THORN BIRDS), and Adrian Zmed (T.J. HOOKER) hit the big time. The film itself isn't well known for being a sterling example of the form; but is notable for being one of, if not the slasher picture with the biggest future stars in it.

The same year THE FINAL TERROR was released, Joe Pantoliano had appeared in RISKY BUSINESS and EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (both 1983). More high-profile productions followed, including THE FUGITIVE (1993) wherein Pantoliano worked with director Davis again.

Lewis Smith (at right with Adrian Zmed at left) got the gig on SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981) from this picture. He went on to appear in BUCKAROO BANZAI (1984), the famous miniseries NORTH AND SOUTH (1985-1986), and the lead in the comedy THE HEAVENLY KID (1985).

Made at the height of the slasher craze, director Andrew Davis got the job based on his work helming the 1978 drama STONY ISLAND. His first and only horror movie, Davis does a remarkable job of hitting the right notes, but glaringly misses the one area audiences went to these movie for--the body count and gore. Davis went on to an extraordinary career in action-thrillers, directing one of Chuck Norris's best pictures in CODE OF SILENCE (1985); Steven Seagal in UNDER SIEGE (1992); and Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in THE FUGITIVE (1993) to name a few.

There are bloody scenes, but nothing in the league of any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH pictures or other slasher-in-the-woods movies like MADMAN (1981), THE BURNING (1981); or even the hilariously stupid DON'T GO IN THE WOODS ALONE (1982). THE PREY (1984) is another such picture, and shares more in common with Davis's movie than the others. It was filmed in 1979 but didn't see exhibition on a theater screen till November of 1983 and on into 1984. It, too, took advantage of California wilderness locations. Working with a lower budget, it surpasses Davis's slasher by doing more with its premise.

Aside from betraying two of the genres major commandments (thou shalt kill and thou shalt kill creatively), THE FINAL TERROR follows the template established by the runaway success of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). There are some body parts and other decaying items once belonging to the living, and a moderately gruesome death scene where a copulating couple climax in an unexpected fashion. Reportedly, the reason the film sat on a shelf for two years was because there were not enough kills in the movie. A pre-credits sequence was shot without Davis's involvement that added two additional victims, bringing the films total to five.

On the theatrical poster it asks, "Can anyone survive?" Yes, most of them do! Without the two added deaths you've got two kills out of ten plus the killer to make three. This being a slasher movie it's baffling the script (co-written by Jon George, Neill Hicks, and Ronald Shusett of ALIEN [1979]) would cram so many characters into it and do horrible things to so few of them.

THE FINAL TERROR's low gore quotient and preference for making its natural surroundings a character shares equal kinship with the likes of the underrated slashers RITUALS (1976) and JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980). Davis's movie likewise has commonality with John Boorman's 1972 classic DELIVERANCE. It favors those films' leaning towards building tension as opposed to creative, and voluminous numbers of kills.

In reference to the natural surroundings, another striking aspect of the production is its cinematography. That, too, is the work of cinema craftsman, Andrew Davis. He uses a pseudonym in the credits. He captures some great shots--not only of the massive, 400ft trees in Redwood, California, but also in moody moments whether it be a campfire, or a scene where the camouflaged killer stealthily enters and exits the frame. The finale, where the remaining campers discover the identity of the killer is exceptionally edited and shot.

The performances are uniformly strong across the board. With so many characters there's little room for exposition; although everyone is believable in their peril. The Dennis character, played by John Friedrich for example, is one of the more interesting in that he's the most comfortable sliding into survivalist mode when the group try to escape the wilderness alive. His sanity comes into question, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of time to explore this area; and it being a slasher movie, viewers really just want to see the kills that, equally unfortunate, are few and far between. At the time, critics were comparing him to Robert De Niro. Unfortunately, Friedrich quit the industry after completion on the television mini-series THE THORN BIRDS from 1983.

Aside from that, the script features some novel twists like a tense attack on a bus; and a character has their throat partially cut and survives upon having the wound sewn up. Another is the ending. It's a surprise and a bit of an eyebrow-raiser like the big reveal in the grossly underrated Canadian wilderness-set shocker, RITUALS (1976).


There's a lot to recommend here, just little of the primary ingredients that fueled this type of horror picture. Considering the cast, the acting is excellent for this sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, horror fans don't watch these movies for the performances. Slasher devotees and 80s horror fanatics will appreciate THE FINAL TERROR the most; as well as those curious about what some future big stars were doing early in their careers. Others, though, will be expecting more than what they get; and will likely be relieved when it's FINALly over.

This review is representative of the Scream Factory Blu-ray/DVD combo. Specs and extras: 1080p anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1; interviews with actors Adrian Zmed, Lewis Smith; post production supervisor Allan Holzman; composer Susan Justin; audio commentary with director Andrew Davis; photo gallery; theatrical trailer; running time: 01:23:56


1 comment:

Film Buff said...

Spoilers. ...I like the campers stick together to fight whoever was stalking them. This one made the Slasher genere
interesting.Thanks for covering this hidden Gem

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