THE FINAL TERROR (1983) movie review

The Final Terror (1983) d. Andrew Davis (USA)

A group of male park rangers decide to turn their river clean-up assignment into a little recreational jaunt with their equally outdoorsy lady friends. But there’s something lurking in the woods, something that wants to be left alone. Equal parts Friday The 13th, Just Before Dawn, Deliverance and Southern Comfort, what could have been just another maniac-in-the-woods programmer turns out to be loaded with suspense and boasts a raft of soon-to-be-stars in early, strong performances.

Chalk it up to low expectations, but this slasher/survival flick from the future Fugitive director is pretty darn good. Originally shot during the height of the slasher craze in 1981 (and then shelved until late 1983), it seems screenwriters Jon George, Neill D. Hicks and Ronald Shusett were striving to do something a little different. In spite of a nasty little “tin can lids-as-boobytrap” curtain raiser, this is not your standard body count feature – in fact, the majority of the cast survives to the end credits!

Check out this cast list: Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Metcalf and Adrian Zmed, for crying out loud. (Special mention for Lewis Smith, who made his film debut in Southern Comfort and later achieved cult status as “Perfect Tommy” in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.) Because these are all adults, there is a maturity to the proceedings rather than the thin teens usually trotted out for machete fodder, and because they’re not getting bumped off every ten seconds, we actually grow attached and invested in their fates. There are several interesting character traits and tics on display, and even when they’re annoying, they’re real. The strong have moments of weakness and vice versa, all of which feel very organic and true.

There are a few loose ends, and you’ll want to pay close attention to the campfire story if you want the ending to make any sense at all, but for slasher fans looking for something a notch above the schlock, it’s worth seeking this one out. Unfortunately, it’s never yet received a proper home video release, with most editions both dark and pixilated (public domain box sets or streaming on YouTube), but hope springs eternal.


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