The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Warning! Spoilers Contained Within!)
It’s that first line from Robert Frost’s poem, ‘the woods are lovely dark and deep,’ that occasionally pops into my head when I’m penning something about the woods, or at times, at certain moments of introspection, when I’m actually in the woods.
I live in the country and my favorite seasons are spring and summer because I can get out and into the woods. There’s no place better to recharge your batteries or just get away if you’re having a bad day. A nice walk in the woods always hits me right in that special sweet spot. I couldn’t never fathom living in a city.
But it does have a dark side.
I know my woods pretty damn well, despite that would I want to be in the middle of it in the night? No, I mean, HELL no! Especially without a flashlight. I should clarify; I’ve been in the woods at night, but not a whole hell of a lot. Mostly during high school when our parents wouldn’t let either one of us sleep over. We got around that by sleeping out in the woods. That was then, this is now.
And there are areas I don’t particular go even in daylight; some I’ve been in before are far too thick and swampy. You also have to be on guard against some of the indigenous wildlife. Up here it’s the occasional black bear. Other woods around the country it’s Grizzlies and/or wild pigs or even dangerous snakes.
And in some remote areas, oh, hell, even in some well traveled wooded areas (i.e. national parks) you could even run into another human being who might not have your best interest at heart.
The woods, rampaging fauna, and “defective human personalities” are nothing knew to Hollywood. Filmmakers have exploited this ingredient for a long, long time. Grizzly (1976) comes to mind, so does Food Of The Gods (1976), Day Of The Animals (1977) and The Grey (2012), but the most infamous “defective human personality” to ever be equated with a forest setting is obviously cinematic serial killer, Jason Voorhees. Other films where the murderous human/woods setting come into play that I can easily recall are Deliverance (1972), Southern Comfort (1982), Rituals (1977), Just Before Dawn (1981), The Prey (1984), Wrong Turn (2003) and—THE FINAL TERROR!
Now, if memory recollects, I saw The Final Terror in the mid-80s, either ‘85 or ’86, on a weekend. I can’t recall if it was playing as part of Commander USA’s Groovy Movie on the USA network or not. I want to say, yes, but I have no hard evidence it did. I do recall, at least memory leans heavily in that direction, it was paired with The Prey and until a decade or so ago I had both movies mixed up and shoved into one another. Over the long haul I had begun to think the end of The Prey, that weird epilogue, was The Final Terror.
This movie has got a lot of recognizable faces in it and if you’re of a certain generation you’ll end up thinking, ‘Hey, isn’t that Perfect Tommy from The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)? And isn’t that T.J. Hooker’s (1982-1985) partner? And what the hell is that dude (Mark Metcalf) from those Twisted Sister videos doing in this?’ Other notable faces are The Matrix’s Joe Pantoliano, (whom I’ve never seen so young, and who’s more memorable to me for that 1999 direct-to-HBO action flick, A Better Way To Die), Rachel Ward (Night School, Sharky’s Machine) and Daryl Hannah (The Fury, Splash, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, Zombie Night and a buttload of other movies). Even the director, Andrew Davis, is fairly well known (i.e. Above The Law, Code Of Silence, The Fugitive).
But enough of who’s who and what they did, let’s get to the movie.
It’s not fully explained in the movie, but as I near as I can figure the guys are part of this work release program out in the country. It’s clear as the movie starts off Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) is kind of dick. He’s the driver and the mechanic of the bus they all get shuttled around in and he doesn’t particularly like these kids. That’s all well and good but he really gets worked up when he learns the group counselor, Mike (Mark Metcalf), changes up the plans and decides to take the guys, and the girls they’re all going to meet up with, down to a more secluded neck of the woods than they normally go for their work..
Also as far as I can tell this “work release program” involves the maintenance of the local forestry (i.e. cutting down and cutting up trees). Not quite sure how the girls figure into this, but they do and one of them is Mike’s girlfriend, who also takes a counselor role in this little forest shindig they all head off to.
There’s a twist that’s deceptively revealed in the campfire tale, Boone (Lewis Smith) tells everyone and it involved a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her uncle and went mad. She had the kid and was committed to an asylum. This kid grows up breaks his mother out and puts her in the woods, hoping she’ll find peace.
The movie finally kicks into gear when Zorich (John Friedrich) and Hines (Ernest Harden Jr.) play a prank on city boy, Cerone (Adrian Zmed), and leave him out in the woods alone at night. The next day he fails to return so they all start searching for him.
Zorich and Hines come upon a secluded cabin where they find evidence crazy Eggar has some connection to. They find his cap, some canned goods they saw in his possession earlier and a company raft, the kind they were planning on using for when they leave, rafting out of the woods rather than hiking back out.
It’s not until Mike and his chick are killed by some-thing, or someone, that they decide Eggar is the one responsible, and he is, but not directly. When I first saw this flick I thought it was a monster movie, for the killer was this indefinable force of nature that was adept at camouflaging and had some kind of sickle like weapon strapped to it’s arm, which had me thinking of some kind of mutant praying mantis-thing.
Of course its eventually revealed to be a person, Eggar’s mother actually who’s been living out there in the woods since she got out of the asylum and has turned homicidal, especially when it comes to people coming into her woods to fool around.
This is not an especially gory movie. The only real gore is the discovery of Mike’s head and his gutted body in the outhouse, which is judiciously shown through flashlight beams and a severed hand in a jar. A couple of murders occur but their not especially brutal, well, maybe, Mike’s for an instant though. I would say this movie is unique among others of it’s kind for what it doesn’t do, which is to not kill off a large portion of the cast. Normally, you’d expect a big body count for something like this, but only 3 out of the 10 central characters end up getting iced.
The photography is beautiful. I loved all the massive landscape shots.
Some of this movie reminded me of Predator (1987); the protagonist who can blend in with the forest and that final booby trap Zorich makes that was exactly like the swinging log that accidentally bushwhacks Poncho.
This movie actually came out on DVD back in late 2005 from a company called Trinity Home Entertainment. I bought it and was flabbergasted at what I saw, which was the worst transfer in recorded history. I kid you not. The night scenes were unwatchable. I wouldn’t even categorize it as VHS quality; it was worse than that, bottom of the barrel bootleg quality is what it looked more like. I tossed the DVD out after one viewing.
Shout! Factory has been doing great things for a long time, more so since they created their horror label, Scream Factory. This past July 1st that sub-label smacks another one out of the park with their DVD/Blu-ray combo of this very movie.
Just before it plays, though, this disclaimer pops up:
Unfortunately all of the original film elements for The Final Terror—the negative, the inter-positive—are all lost. Scream Factory went through six film prints, lent to us by film collectors, to find the best looking reels to do the transfer you are about to watch.
We hope you enjoy this presentation.
Special thanks to Lee Shoquist and Joshua Gravel.
The blu-ray’s 1080p high definition (1.78:1) transfer they created from those six films is light years ahead of that crappy 2005 full frame DVD. Colors are extraordinary and the night scenes are discernable now.
Audio for it (2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio) was damn good too.
There are subtitles as well, but only in English.
Extras Scream was able to create involve a commentary by director Andrew Davis, two featurettes—(The First Terror With Adrian Zmed And Lewis Smith (16:22) and Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror (22:59)—the movie’s Theatrical Trailer and a Behind-The-Scenes Still Gallery with 67 photos culled from Andrew Davis’ collection.
Davis states he’s not a fan of horror movies and this one here is his only contribution to that genre and that Joe Pantoliano played the mother character as well in the movie. The only time he didn’t play her was for her extravagant death, which involved a stunt man. There are two photos in the Still Gallery that back this up as well.
In their featurette Zmed reveals the movie was shelved after it was made because it had trouble finding a distributor due to the low death count; Smith reveals the locals at the town they were staying in when they weren’t filming baked them brownies laced with weed because they weren’t too fond of them being there. Some of the cast ended up in the hospital.
Allan Holzman (executive in charge of post-production) and Susan Justin (Music Composer) discuss what they did for the film in the Post Terror featurette. Holzman puts a finer point on why the film finally got released in 1983, after sitting on the shelves since ’81, than Zmed did saying it was Daryl Hannah’s success in Blade Runner (1982) that made that happen.
Now that The Final Terror has finally gotten it’s blu-ray release, and a blu-ray release that satisfies, and now that we also have an equally satisfying blu of Just Before Dawn (1981) that came from Code Red earlier in the year, I can only hope someday The Prey (1984) makes it to blu to round out this “strange unconnected trilogy” of murderous mountain folk that were made back in the good ol’ days of the 80s.