Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: The Final Terror
Genre: Backwoods Slasher
Tagline: If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of…
Released by: Vestron Video
Director: Andrew Davis
Plot: A group of male forest rangers escort four young ladies into the woods for a camping trip. Unfortunately, a crazed backwoods killer with cannibalistic tendencies starts killing them off one-by-one.
Thoughts: There’s nothing I love more than a good backwoods slasher movie to reinforce my fear of the great outdoors. The Friday the 13th series, The Burning, Just Before Dawn, The Prey and The Zero Boys made me happy I was safe and sound in my parent’s home watching videos, rather than getting chopped to pieces in a forest somewhere. You have enough to worry about with bugs and bears. Who needs the extra stress of a homicidal hillbilly added into the mix?
I first watched The Final Terror way back in the day and I remember being unimpressed with it. I thought it lacked two of the elements I demanded films like this always have lots of: boobs and gore. But watching it again recently made me do a total 360. It’s actually one of the most realistically shot slashers from this era. The acting is all top notch and features first time performances from a very young Daryl Hannah and British hottie Rachel Ward (who starred in the awesome 80’s campus cut-up Night School). Then you have Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos) and Adrian Zmed (Bachelor Party) in first timer mode here, as well as the awesome and totally underrated Lewis Smith (Southern Comfort, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai).
The plot concerns a group of young male forest rangers led by a slightly older dude named Mike (Mark Metcalf – Neidermeyer from Animal House) who pick up four vacationing girls to take on a camping trip up in the mountains. From a pre-credits opening featuring a biker couple slain by an unseen killer, we know exactly what to expect. You have the obligatory campfire scene where one of the characters tells the extremely tragic tale of a young girl who was once raped by a mean lumberjack in the woods. She became pregnant as a result and went crazy, so they took away her baby and locked her up in a nearby mental institution. Nineteen years later her grown son was finally allowed to visit her and after seeing how horribly she was being treated, he broke her out and brought her up into the woods where he left her alone. Sure enough, there’s someone or something out there and it starts to pick them off. Pretty basic set up.
But the film is not your basic slasher. It’s very atmospheric and creepy. It contains none of your typical cheese from this era. The acting is extremely realistic and the characters are actually allowed to make smart choices. There’s a big survival-horror shift that makes the movie seem a little like a cross between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance when the group finds one of their friends butchered in a broken down old cabin and instead of panicking, they use their knives to sharpen wooden stakes, build booby-traps and camouflage themselves like Rambo.
There’s also a red herring in the form of Eggar (played beautifully by Joe Pantoliano), a redneck psycho religious nut with a short fuse, who becomes agitated by the group and abruptly leaves them stranded when he takes the bus they came in. One of the other forest rangers that are becoming a bit unglued finds some magic mushrooms and takes them. He goes a little crazy and starts comparing their situation to Vietnam. It’s some pretty wild subtext for an 80’s slasher.
I must credit this film’s awesomeness to director Andrew Davis, who would go on to help shape the action career of Mr. Steven Seagal with Above the Law and Under Siege, as well as giving us one of Mr. Chuck Norris’ coolest flicks – Code of Silence. He’s a Chicago native, who made a lot of good thrillers in that city over the years like The Package, The Fugitive and Chain Reaction. Recently he did Collateral Damage and Holes. His work as a cinematographer is exceptional too and one of the greatest strengths that The Final Terror has is the way it was shot. Amazing use of scenery and weather conditions create a really gritty look for the movie that elevates it completely.
Oh yeah, Ronald Shusett of Alien and Total Recall fame was one of the writers. The script is very simple, but very good. The killer is definitely not your typical masked machete wielding maniac either, making this a slasher that totally thinks outside of the box.
I hope there is a decent 35mm print of this movie out there somewhere, because I would really love to own a Blu-ray of it one day. Why this hasn’t happened yet is beyond me, especially when you consider the cast. It’s a very cool little sequel-less slasher that deserves a lot more love than it’s gotten. Think Wrong Turn, only way more intense and without the post-modern irony.
Note: a “company” calling itself Trinity Entertainment has released this movie as a bootleg DVD. It is nothing more than a bad VHS transfer onto disc. The film has not yet received the digital remaster it would need to officially consider it a DVD release. The analog source is superior in sound and quality to the dub, thereby making it still only available on VHS and therefore eligible for review under my one rule. The Trinity DVD release even drops the The from the title and packages the cover to look like a more recent slasher film. Do not get ripped off!