Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Final Terror (1983)

Reviewed By: Billy

Boasting star-power including Joe Pantoliano, Darryl Hannah, and Rachel Ward, The Final Terror is destined for some kind of special edition DVD re-release any day now. I mean, come on…if giallo crap with titles like Lady with the Lizard-Oil Hair or whatever can keep getting the royal digitally remastered treatment, so can a cheap 80s slasher executive produced by schlockmeister Sam Arkoff himself. Thus, in an effort to be proactive, I’ve decided to litter this review with bolded one-liners that would be perfect for the box cover. So studio execs…read on…use liberally…and remember, it’s Billy with a “y.”

The Final Terror is a wonderful, creepy film that is, unfortunately, neither good nor creepy. It is notable, however, for the fact that it so transparently apes both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance. This puts the movie in line with several others, like Just Before Dawn and The Burning, that are also part of this “teenage camper survivalist” genre; these movies are generally humorless and feature soon-to-be-famous actors (Gregg Henry, Jason Alexander, etc.) as young kids in the woods who must take control of their lives in order to conquer a killer run amuck (who is usually some kind of backwoods hillbilly hellbent on doing away with anyone on his/her property). Just Before Dawn uses this formula and manages to keep the excitement at a peak for almost 90 minutes; meanwhile, The Final Terror kind of sputters around for an hour and a half like an old Chevette running on fumes.

This time around, we get a group of kids in some kind of forestry service “youth corps” who take a trip through “wild, practically untouched” woods to clear some trails and clean up the waterways. Let me just say that when someone invites you on a trip to “wild, practically untouched” woods, you should immediately expect to be assaulted by backwoods hillbillies. Anyway, it’s never quite explained why the group is doing the work they’re doing; once they’re there, they don’t seem to do much other than picking up a few branches from a creek. Amongst this group is a young Darryl Hannah, who gives perhaps her greatest performance…mainly because she has very few lines and isn’t given anything to do. Rachel Ward is also one of the “teens” (she looks to be pushing 30 here); Ward gives one of my favorite horror movie performances ever…in Night School, where she gets to let loose and be really insane; here, she’s just kind of shrill and annoying, as are the rest of the group. The best character is the odd British girl who spends most of the movie disapproving of the rest of the kids (just like I was).

The real revelation of the movie is Joe Pantoliano (I don’t really know what this means, but JM assures me this is the kind of quote that always makes the box); Joey Pants plays Eggar, the crazy, grease-covered maintenance man/bus driver who calls the boys “cupcake” and runs his hands up their bare legs. Director Andrew Davis finds every opportunity possible to make sure we know that Eggar is crazy, and Joe takes these scenes and runs with them; looking exactly as he will twenty years later (and still playing slightly-crazy people with bad tempers), Joe gives us crazy grins and bulging eyes and leers at the boys while spewing dialogue like, “You little peckers keep up that horseshit and I’m gonna strand your butts out there.”

So…anyway…about twenty minutes in one of the guys tells a campfire story about a woman raped by her own father who gives birth and ends up in a mental hospital; the boy apparently came back years later and broke his mother out – and the two have been on the loose ever since. Right after the story is told, Eggar has an outburst…now, if you can’t figure out that maybe the story is true…and that maybe mother and son are on the prowl…well, then you must have fallen asleep already. If you had fallen asleep, you’d have missed the highly atmospheric cinematography that includes shots of trees that appear to have been filmed through a fog machine borrowed from the Prom Night set.

The elements of a great 80s slasher are all here; unfortunately, in this case, none of them quite work together. The biggest problem is the body count; other than two random murders at the very beginning to get things started, only TWO OTHER PEOPLE DIE. Yes, in this slasher, the majority of the characters live…something that, thankfully, not many writers would ever try again. There is also absolutely no nudity, save for the very hint of a penis as the guy in charge of the trip skinnydips in a stream (which, by the way, he does for absolutely no reason…while he’s supposed to be searching for a missing camper!). I did enjoy the fact that the missing camper is named Marco, which results in several long scenes of people walking around the woods screaming “MARCO!”…as if in an extremely disorganized game of Marco Polo.

Once our campers realize something is wrong, they pull camouflage clothes out of nowhere and cover their faces with greasepaint; suddenly, as if in a lost episode of “M*A*S*H,” we get some (intentional? unintentional?) comic relief as they canvass the woods like soldiers looking for the missing Eggar. Eventually he pops up…along with his crazy mother who (in a move predating the Black Christmas remake by 20 years) is apparently played by a man. Yes…gasp!…Eggar was that crazy man from the campfire story who broke his mom out of the looney bin – something that’s only surprising because Eggar seemed like such a red herring that it’s amazing the writers were lazy enough to actually make him part of the killings. Thankfully, the kids bash Eggar’s face in and have already grappled up a tree and rigged some sort of booby trap, which means crazy Mommy is impaled by a spiked tree trunk and left hanging in the woods. Well, at least after everything else…It’s got a great ending!

So, here’s the final assessment on The Final Terror – it’s not that good. Not that much happens and nobody appears to be having that much fun – not even Joe, who seem to be just warming up for his later psychotic turns in movies like Bound. And while Darryl’s performance was enjoyable…because it was nonexistent…I’d still rather watch her shrieking like a whale in Splash. So, this one is for slasher completists only. For fans of Deliverance-meets-Leatherface movies, I’d give A BIG FIVE FINGERS! to Just Before Dawn, and TWO to this one.

Unless my name gets on the box cover. Then things might change.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen this one since HBO when they used to show EVERYTHING. I do remember the beginning was quite good, but as you said in the review, not much else happens. I got this on the way, too and I got another slasher not on legit DVD called HUMONGOUS which I also saw on HBO (a portion of it) and like FINAL TERROR, it's a real "winner", too.