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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Blu-ray Review
The Final Terror  (1983)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: July 1, 2014) – A teenage youth group and a few adults chaperones (who don't detectably look any older than the "kids") head into California's Redwood National Park for a camping trip. Along the way, they drive by a sanitarium where, allegedly, a mentally unhinged patient recently escaped with her son, the two of them not seen since. If this sounds familiar, that's because it's the general setup (with a few detail deviations) of every third slasher film released from 1980-1984. Now take into account that the bus ride to the park is punctuated by a non-ironic sing-along to the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice." And that the passengers include Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed and Joe Pantoliano in one of their first films. And that director Andrew Davis (who would later go on to helm 1993's Oscar-winning "The Fugitive") exhibited even this early in his filmography how skilled he was at mounting action sequences with a cohesive, stylish yet non-showy verve. "The Final Terror" is quirky enough that it never feels as derivative as it should, and, over three decades later, still holds up as an underrated meat-and-potatoes suspenser.

Filmed in 1981 and put on the shelf until original distributor Comworld Pictures decided to capitalize on Daryl Hannah's post-"Blade Runner" rising star, "The Final Terror" is surprisingly light on the body-count front (an admitted missed opportunity) and few of the characters are developed beyond one or two defining characteristics. The performances, however, are all above the norm for a low-budget horror title from this period, not surprising since so many of them went on to successful, long-lasting careers. Where the picture attracts attention is in its preference for mood, tension and provocative imagery over gore and low-brow exploitation. There are several moments that are genuinely frightening, one involving a nighttime attack on a bus, and another where the feral, straggly-haired killer is disclosed as camouflage perched secretly on a rock as her prey rafts down the river.

At 82 minutes, "The Final Terror" gets in there, does what it needs to, and closes before the proceedings threaten to become longwinded. Tech specs are solid, with the music score by Susan Justin unnervingly layered and Davis' cinematography embracing a rustic, full-scoped aesthetic. The key choice in the editing room to keep the villain hidden, only seen in suggestive glimpses, is also a rewarding nod to the unknown being far creepier than what is out in the open for all to see. Because of this, when the full reveal finally arrives, it is all the more effective. "The Final Terror" is a relatively minor survivalist thriller in the grand scheme of things, but one that lingers with a memorably unsettling finesse.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Final Terror" Blu-ray opens with a disclaimer noting that all of the original film elements—the negative, as well as the interpositive—were lost, the high-definition transfer carefully compiled from six different film prints, kindly lent to them by private collectors. This is a greatly appreciated gesture on the part of the folks at Scream Factory, although, to tell the truth, one would otherwise never be able to guess that there were any issues at all in bringing it to the format. There is an occasional pulsation to the image, a few errant age-related marks and scratches, and a missing frame or two in one scene that humorously makes it look like a character teleports a few inches, but otherwise this 1080p treatment is lovely for a seemingly forgotten early-'80s horror movie. The woodsy location shooting among the looming Redwoods automatically ups the production values, but it is in the palpable additional clarity and texture and fine grain of the image where the film unmistakably looks better than it ever has. The VHS version from the '80s was so dark and murky it was impossible to see a lot of what was going on. No more. Watching "The Final Terror" on Blu-ray is liking seeing the movie with entirely new eyes. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is pronounced, effective and natural in its own right, with Susan Justin's memorable music score coming through with mournful, spooky beauty. Dialogue is consistently on point.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Davis
  • Post Terror: Finishing "The Final Terror" (22:59, HD) – featuring interviews with Executive in Charge of Post-Production Allan Holzman and Composer Susan Justin
  • The First Terror with Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith (16:22, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:17, HD)
  • Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (8:59, HD)
Bottom Line
"The Final Terror" has been entirely unavailable in the U.S. since the days of VHS, but it fully earns the right to be rediscovered on Scream Factory's outstanding Blu-ray release. Bringing under-the-radar gems such as this from out of obscurity, buffing it with a fresh high-def sheen, and compiling a bevy of quality bonus content on top of all that is almost too much to ask for. This is what makes Scream Factory (and Shout! Factory) one of the very best and most invaluable home video distributors working today. "The Final Terror" is easily worth a purchase, particularly for fans of '80s-era genre fare. Highly recommended.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman