Thursday, March 24, 2016

Final Terror, The (1983)

... aka: Angst
... aka: Bump in the Night
... aka: Campsite Massacre
... aka: Carnivore
... aka: Creeper, The
... aka: Forest Primeval, The
... aka: Horror at Mill Creek
... aka: Three Blind Mice

Directed by:
Andrew Davis

One of many campground / backwoods slashers that went into production shortly after Friday the 13th proved its box office might in the summer of 1980, this one comes with some pretty big names attached to it. For starters, director Davis would go on to make big budget films like the critically-acclaimed The Fugitive (1993) starring Harrison Ford and a bunch of (not acclaimed but financially successful) Steven Seagal movies. And then we have co-writer Ronald Shusett, who'd previously scripted and helped produce the huge hit ALIEN (1979) and went on to write other horror and sci-fi favorites like Dead & Buried (1981) and Total Recall (1990). In addition, this boasts a cast of up-and-coming familiar faces, among them Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos), Adrian Zmed (T.J. Hooker), Rachel Ward (The Thorn Birds) and Daryl Hannah (just a few years before Splash). All that combined may lead one to expect more than business as usual but that turns out not to be the case at all. This is strictly by-the-numbers, predictable filmmaking that offers up nothing at all memorable.

A man and his girlfriend wreck their motorcycle and then get butchered (one with a tin can lid booby tap) by an off-screen menace. Soon after, Mike (Mark Metcalf) leads a group of four “youth corps” trainee park rangers; Zorich (John Friedrich), Cerone (Zmed), Hines (Ernest Harden Jr.) and Boone (Lewis Smith), out into the same stretch of woods where the couple has gone missing. On their way, they pick up Mike's girlfriend Melanie (Cindy Harrell) and three of her female friends; Margaret (Ward), Windy (Hannah) and Vanessa (Akosia Busia). As they pull away, Windy's mother turns to her husband and asks “What about that missing couple?” to which he assuredly replies “They'll be OK. There's three adults.” Apparently these two have never seen a horror movie before. Pantoliano has a silly, overacted role as Eggar the mentally-imbalanced bully of a bus driver. With a near-constant scowl on his face, he's asked to grit his teeth, bug his eyes out and scream nearly all of his dialogue at the top of his lungs. For some reason he seems especially mad that the guys will be able to mingle, and potentially score, with some of the girls.

After a singalong of “Three Blind Mice” (at one point the shooting title because they had no clue what else to call this during production) and spending the day clearing wood out of a stream and smoking weed, the gang settle down for a little scary campfire story involving a local urban legend. Supposedly many years earlier when there was a logging camp nearby, a teen girl was raped by her own father, went crazy and gave birth to an incest baby that grew up to become a crazy adult who then sprung his mama out of the nuthouse. Both are now said to haunt the woods. The next day, Mike and Mel discover this legend may be true when someone decides to hack them up, leaving the “teens” to fend for themselves 30 long miles from civilization. They discover a shack where the killer stores body parts in jars and a dog's head in the cupboard and finally decorate themselves in mud and ferns and go all “primitive” by setting up booby traps, but the vast majority of the film is comprised of constantly-bickering characters walking around looking for people.

I was actually looking forward to revisiting a better print of this movie. All I had seen prior was the old Vestron VHS, which was so impenetrably dark you couldn't tell what was even going on half the time. Now that I finally can see everything, sadly, it did little to change my initial opinion. This simply has very little to offer outside of some admittedly nice forest scenery. There's no suspense, scares or real surprises, the plot's completely formulaic and the one-dimensional characters aren't the least bit likable. Add to that a low body count (which makes the “Can anyone survive?” tag line rather humorous... "Yeah, pretty much everybody!") and mostly off-screen kills (the opening pair of murders were added by someone else later on to up the body count for the slasher market) and the movie serves almost no purpose whatsoever. It also wasn't a wise choice for Davis, who also shot the film under the name “Andreas Davidescu” to use “available light” since most of this takes place in a heavily shaded forest. The combination of being bland and looking gloomy makes this difficult to really enjoy on any front.

Shot in 1981, this was held back for release for several years until a few of the cast members started to make names for themselves in other projects. It's “presented” by executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, whose daughter also plays a small role. The TV print contains an additional scene at the beginning with the first two victims at the beach not in the video or DVD prints. According to a disclaimer at the beginning of the Shout! Factory DVD, the negatives and all original film elements are lost, so this is the best they could do with what they had to work with. I really don't know the technicalities of film restoration and won't pretend otherwise but visually their release is perfectly watchable. Whether or not you should even bother is another story entirely.

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