I believe I was about halfway through this movie when I decided it was pretty awesome. That was a nice feeling. The Final Terror, which is a pretty awful name, was actually pretty awesome! Other names up for contention, by the way, were: The Creeper, Three Blind Mice, The Forest Primeval, and Bump in the Night. I get it, it's hard to name horror movies. But damn, wow.
The Final Terror was a step on the ladder for many of the people in it, which is always a good sign. Director Andrew Davis later directed a classic Steven Seagal film, Under Siege, as well as one of my favorite Harrison Ford films, The Fugitive, an Academy Award winning film. The film also stars Joe Pantoliano, Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, and Adrian Zmed. A lot of them got famous literally about a year or two after this was filmed, which was in 1981. That was enough to push this film finally out into theaters in 1983.
The charm of this movie, and the reason that I decided I liked it, is the complete picture. This film has it all. Like I said it has the actors. Then, the music is great. The music is always an important part of the horror film genre, where little things like atmosphere make all the difference. Shot in the beautiful redwood forests of north California, the setting looks amazing. Finally there's the actual horror elements which come into play as well.
Plot first, several friends are going up to the woods to go camping (original, right?!). They are driven there by a generally pissed off and cranky Joe Pantoliano. The friends are eight people, I think..... There might have been too many characters, that is one thing I'll say straight out. They're driving up to somewhere way up a river, to do a mix of camping and rafting. Once they arrive, it's camping, pranking each other, and scary stories told around the fire. Soon enough, a prank is played on Marco and he goes missing. All the group sets off to search for him, and then the kills begin.
I mentioned there are a lot of characters in this. The group of friends is big, and I'm not entirely sure why that is. In fact, I thought early on, and on reflection I still think that Daryl Hannah never has a single line. That's because there's just too many characters, and I sort of got them confused. When everyone is a attractive blonde/brunette except for the two black characters, it's very easy to get the whitey's confused. Most of the characters also do very little. Besides walking around, screaming when need be and other such reactions, they are mostly just there.
But one thing I liked and why I decided I liked this movie is that about the halfway point, one character is dead and one is kidnapped, and none of the friends know it yet. The friends find a cabin in the woods where it seems the killer is living. As they look around the cabin, the killer is holding the kidnapped girl below the floorboards, machete held to her face. It's a cool, chilling sequence. And that's when I realized that plot aside, this movie was a cool mix between Texas Chainsaw and Friday the 13th.
The difference between a slasher like Friday and a horror thriller like Texas is of course, the grittiness and the disgust associated with the killer. Leatherface in the first few Texas movies is disgusting, putrid, surrounded with decay and mental instability. Whereas Jason is superhuman, almost a hero, and never really threatened, Leatherface is just a fucked up big guy in an apron. These small things done to give the killer a level of humanity or depth are really where a horror movie can up it a notch. Nothing is scarier than knowing that the guy after you might not just kill you. He might do fucked up, sick or just plain hurtful things to you first.
The other interesting thing, spoiler alert I suppose, is that there's not a lot of deaths in this movie. Most of the characters live. This to me is a lot more realistic of a plot. Despite the fact that the end had a small dumb plot point, this movie felt super realistic to me in a lot of ways. Basically every part of this could and might happen. There's no glaring parts that were idiotic like so many of these movies. There were no supernatural parts. This movie felt very honest about it's intention, and it was very well done in that way.
Amazon Prime has really shitty quality, and I bet that watching this on DVD would have been an almost 5 star experience. However, I am only going to give it 4 because the quality was god awful. Also, some scenes it's hard to tell exactly what was happening. There's a scene where for some reason the girl who can't swim randomly gets out of the boat, and I have no idea why. Also, the end was pretty dumb with a last minute, predictable twist.