Slasher movies are like wine, they get better with age and only a sophisticated palate can distinguish the full range of subtle aromas and flavors. Some days I simply require the crisp hearty taste of a killer in the woods flick and I know I am not alone. THE FINAL TERROR is often dismissed as a FRIDAY The 13TH rip-off but that’s not entirely accurate. Really, TFT should be so shrewd as to mold itself after FRIDAY, instead it’s frustratingly coy and it refuses to go for the gusto even when in the perfect position to do so. Just when things get exciting, it ends. Still, it does have a certain something and I almost masochistically enjoy that it won’t give me what I want.
What’s to love:
The cast: JOE PANTOLIANO is the perfect creep and aw, there’s LEWIS SMITH of BUCKAROO BANZAI and MARK METCALF from the TWISTED SISTER videos! Furthermore, I’ll never say no to either DARYL (BLADE RUNNER) HANNAH or RACHAEL (NIGHT SCHOOL) WARD. Even though neither leave much of an impression here, to have both in one film is an embarrassment of riches. ADRIAN ZMED on the other hand is nothing to brag abou,t but I’ll give him a break as a courtesy to GREASE 2.
The Location: Where FRIDAY shows off the lovely woods of New Jersey THE FINAL TERROR takes place in some zone that more closely resembles the planet Endor. (In fact, IMDb just informed me that TFT and RETURN OF THE JEDI do share location.) Nature here is all encompassing and the sense that help is out of reach is distinct.
The Killer: TFT’s menace sprouts straight out of a campfire tale. A young girl is raped by her uncle and thrown into an insane asylum. Her offspring later frees her but then noting that she is nuts beyond repair leaves her in the woods to live off the land. Now, she hunts trespassers and could one of the main characters be that very son? It’s nice having a female psycho and it’s cool that the haggy beast camouflages herself to blend in with the surroundings and uses what is available to make deadly traps. Imagine being split apart by rusty can lids! That’s gotta hurt. Plus she lives in a shack in the woods just like I will someday!
What’s not to love:
The Kills: There’s maybe two barely decent kills in this movie and that’s not going to cut it. In fact, half of the cast survives! I appreciate that TFT was going more for a survival thriller rather than slasher flick vibe but the difference between obscurity and rampant cult fandom (THE BURNING will tell you) is mostly in the blood. I’m not saying you have to spring for SAVINI or anything, but maybe go to the store and score some ground chuck for Pete’s sake.
The Lighting: If you’re old enough to turn on a camera then you’re old enough to turn on a light. I know there are easier things than lighting a forest but c’mon. I’m going to give TFT the benefit of the doubt and point out that it has yet to receive anything close to a proper presentation for the home market. I don’t remember image quality being an issue when I first caught it on cable as a critter. Maybe my eyesight was better then.
The Pace: TFT slowly builds up to an alarming bus attack scene and then somehow looses momentum again. I understand the value of quiet time and I don’t require fireworks every second, but there is a certain amount of focus and direction that is necessary for effectiveness. It’s kind of like listening to someone tell a story who keeps getting sidetracked by minutia. I can forgive vagueness but not so much the feeling that so much time is wasted where we could have easily have learned useful information.
I know I’m trying to get a dog to meow and that if any other movie was as equally good as it was bad, it would be called a failure but this is a forest-set, eighties horror flick and in a way that overrides all. If you’re not a slasher fan you needn’t bother, but if you count yourself among the truly devoted it might hit the spot. THE FINAL TERROR gets props from me for not following the usual path but it sort of gets lost in the woods anyway. We don’t get the usual stereotypical characters and that’s nice but then again we don’t get to know anyone at all. Why am I telling you all this? Because THE FINAL TERROR is available in full for free on YouTube and no matter how you look at it, free is a fair price isn’t it? Maybe not, but sometimes I just have to take a walk in the woods anyway.