Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Final Terror (1983) dir. Andrew Davis

Logline: A group of forest rangers do forest ranger-y things, except this time they’ve brought a group of women and plan a camping trip in the territory of a deranged madwoman. Call her “Mother.”

For its first hour, The Final Terror is a fairly typical, if still fairly enjoyable, backwoods slasher. It has some nascent talent in its cast (Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano) and a tried-and-true premise (city slickers go where they ain’t wanted/meet doom). Moreover, it actually has a few effective moments that play well even in the degraded VHS quality that I viewed it in. My favorite: an extreme downward angle from the treetops looking at one of the campers from behind as a figure begins to move in the branches above him. Plus, the feral design of the killer mama is pretty great (with a big honking knife strapped to her wrist that makes her almost reminiscent of the Reavers from Serenity), even if the film completely neglects to use her as much as it probably should.

The problems begin once the campers realize that a few of them have been picked off by the killer and then decide to “go to war” against him/her/whomever. Having proactive victims in a slasher is a fairly uncommon but not impossible maneuver to accomplish (hell, Dream Warriors?), but The Final Terror stumbles when trying to incorporate it. The movie seems to take the notion a bit too seriously, and even tries to equate itself (through the rallying cries of its “hero” Zorich) with Vietnam (which is all sorts of baffling). I might be wrong, but I think I counted at least two distinct “applying war paint” scenes.

Director Andrew Davis would go on to direct the totally competent Steven Seagal action vehicles Above the Law and Under Siege, and it’s a shame that whatever talents he has an action director can’t be found here. The film’s final twenty minutes—when it really starts wanting to be a Deliverance-swiping action-thriller and drops its slasher pretensions entirely—couldn’t be much duller. Long scenes of our war-painted campers leading a boat downstream suck whatever tension the rest of the film had built up right off the screen. This said: the coup de grâce performed on the killer is quite well-filmed, but also sort of a non-event after the drudgery leading up to it (see in comparison Just Before Dawn for the catharsis this film needed).

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