Horror films were produced so prolifically during the 1980’s that it’s inevitable that many of them vanished into home video limbo after the obligatory VHS release. Sometimes this happened even if notable stars were involved. Case in point: The Final Terror, an early directing credit for Andrew Davis that featured Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed and Joe Pantoliano in its cast. It was easy to find in video stores during the VHS era but had to settle for a grey-market release of poor quality in the DVD era. Scream Factory has picked up the ball for a high-def release and the results are easily the film’s best treatment on home video yet, one further enhanced with a few informative extras.
The transfer of The Final Terror presented here represents a pretty heroic salvage effort on the part of Scream Factory: no negative elements could be found so the transfer was assembled from the best parts of six different prints borrowed from film collectors. As a result, the materials show some age-related damage that you’d be able to bypass in a transfer from original elements but the new transfer is still the best this film has ever looked in any video format.
The Final Terror was shot using a lot of natural light so it always looked dark and dingy on VHS – but this new transfer offers a quantum leap in clarity, color and detail that allows the viewer to appreciate how artfully shot the film really is. The original mono mix for the film is presented in a lossless format to accompany this transfer and it’s a rock-solid mix, with crisp dialogue and a robust treatment of Susan Justin’s musical score.
Scream Factory backs up this transfer with a tidy little package of extras that take you into the interesting backstory of this film. The first inclusion is a commentary track with director Andrew Davis, who is frank that he did the film to get work as a director but is able to look back at the gig with gratitude. He covers the logistical challenges of trying to get a “deep forest” look without straying too far from nearby roods and supplies plenty of technical specifics on how they shot the film in low light with fast lenses.
Davis also has plenty of info on his cast members, most of whom would go on to extensive careers, and talks a lot about the locations, which he is fond of and continues to visit today for vacations. There are periodic gaps of quiet on the track but Davis makes it worth a listen with the detailed memories he shares.
There are also two featurettes produced by Aine Leicht for this set. The first is called “Post Terror,” and is an interview with Allan Holzman, who essentially salvaged this film in the editing room when producer Sam Arkoff decided to take it off the shelf and release it in 1983. He talks about how he created suspense by cutting back on early appearances of the killer and torture scenes while playing up Pantoliano’s performance to make the most of the riches it offered. Holzman also talks about his varied career beyond this film, including a funny story about he convinced Roger Corman he could overcome his stutter to be a director. Also appearing is composer Susan Justin, who provides a breakdown of how she made her finance-dictated minimalist approach work through inventive instrumentation choices. Holzman and Justin are partners outside the mixing room and he speaks charmingly about his admiration for Justin.
The other featurette is entitled “First Terror” and offers interviews with cast members Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith. Zmed talks about the challenges in transitioning from a background in musicals and sitcom t.v. to work on a horror film while Smith talks about learning a lot on what was essentially his first real acting job. Zmed also reveals why the film was shelved and Smith tells a few funny tales of off-camera hijinks. Both praise Davis for his directing skills and speak honestly about the physical rigors of shooting a horror film in the sticks. Each man is witty and likeable, ensuring that this piece clicks along at a nice pace.
Next up is a theatrical trailer for the film: it does a good job of selling the film’s suspense but interestingly has deceptive narration that makes it sound like the film might feature a non-human monster in it. The package is rounded out by a behind-the-scenes gallery: all the photos come from Davis’ personal collection and provide the viewer with a nice idea of the challenges of shooting an entire film in the woods.
In short, Scream Factory has done slasher film fans a favor with this set of The Final Terror. The extras are genuinely enlightening and the transfer offers a dramatic improvement on any prior video incarnations. If you love the lesser-known corners of early ’80s horror, this is the ideal way to get acquainted with this oft-overlooked but worthy little film.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Final Terror, click here.