The Final Terror plays like if Friday the 13th had a baby with Deliverance and that baby spent too much time with William Freidkin, stressing out over the meaningless of life and developed a deep existential dread. And I mean this in the highest form of complement. The Final Terror is an under-seen, under-appreciated little gem of a slasher movie that probably didn’t get the love that it deserved at the time because it doesn’t boast too high of a body count and the actual on-screen gore is limited. To help it appeal to a larger, blood-thirstier audience that had grown accustomed to psychopaths with knives, a new intro was shot specifically so that two more people could die. It doesn’t add anything to the overall movie, nor does it really detract. It’s simply unnecessary.
The plot is familiar: A group of young people are camping in the forest and someone wants them dead. They smoke pot, they drink, they screw, some of them die. We’ve seen this a million times, but like it’s been said so many times, what makes a movie great isn’t what it’s about, it’s about how that story is told. Long before the days of meta-textual genre subversion, The Final Terror has no interest in smirking irony or flipping cliches on its head. At its core, it’s very, very married to the idea of combining a slasher movie with a survivalist adventure. It’s just that it handles the two elements and combines them with an unexpected amount of skill.
The Final Terror had all of the elements that a Friday the 13th sequel would have, but about midway through the action, when the characters realize that something terrible really is happening, they do something that no other characters in this kind of movie decide to do (not that I’ve seen, anyway)… they decide that if the killer is nipping at their heels and seems to stalk them with such ease, there’s no way that they’re going to flee. If they want to live, they’re going to have to fight back. They’re going to have to turn the hunter into the prey.
At the center of every horror movie, the identity of the killer is crucial. Is the killer someone the kids know? Is it a total stranger? Is it something dark and mysterious and supernatural? I’m going to skip and dance and pussyfoot around the eventual reveal because the surprise that the movie contains is crucial. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking revelation, but it’s a fun twist on what we’ve all seen in these kinds of movies a million times.
Andrew Davis, director of The Final Terror, would move on to find success in the world of action movies–most noticeably with The Fugitive, which is one of the greatest action films ever made. It’s a shame he hasn’t made anything in such a long time. He has a genuine talent for setting up action in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. This was also one of the first acting gigs for both Daryl Hannah and Joe Pantoliano. Well-made horror seems to be a great place to scout for eventual talent.
If you have a Roku, or a streaming device that allows you to add the Shout! Factory app, you can watch The Final Terror for free–albeit with commercials. If you loathe the idea of commercial breaks, you can also buy it on Blu-ray from The Scream Factory who, despite the loss of the original negative, remastered the film from 6 existing film prints they got from avid film collectors. So, the picture also looks gorgeous. I would definitely recommend checking it out this Halloween season.