The general rules & confines of the slasher genre are so obvious & so rigid that they can be easily & recognizably spoofed in genre send-ups like The Cabin in the Woods & last year’s The Final Girls with no explanation needed. Like those titles, The Final Terror similarly seems dedicated to collecting & mimicking every slasher cliché imaginable, but it does so as a generic participant in genre tedium instead of as a self-aware parody. The film includes an escaped mental patient, a group of horny stoner young’ns being hunted in the woods, a killer with mommy issues, out-of-towners being punished for ignoring local superstitions, you name it. Usually, when a non-satirical slasher gathers this many influences from titles like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp in one place, they have to rely on the brutality & inventiveness of their kills to stand out as memorable in any particular way. Oddly enough, The Final Terror is near-bloodless, yet still very nearly distinguishes as a memorable work despite its wholehearted commitment to genre cliché. There’s a grimy, misshapen quality to the film that makes it strikingly odd, almost to the point of recommendation. Almost.
The Final Terror makes its requisite excuses to get its young, vulnerable people to the woods (a contrivance that hasn’t changed much in the three decades since, if you consider recent examples like Blair Witch) through a long-winded setup for an indistinct camping trip. The only personality that stands out at as at all memorable is the local guide to the terrain, a seething ball of rage bus driver & local guide named Eggar, who seems to be infected with whatever anger bug maddened the campers of Sleepaway Camp. Eggar yells as his customers about anything & everything: smoking weed, having girlfriends, telling scary stories by the campfire. Teen stuff. The movie begins relatively body-free until two campers are murdered while/for boinking, another genre hallmark, and it becomes almost too obvious that Eggar would be the killer (shown onscreen only as a disembodied arm & knife). That is, until it becomes clear just how much The Final Terror is dedicated to ripping off the twists & turns of the most famous film in its genre. If you’re looking for a slasher with any semblance of narrative subversion or mystery, this is not the place to start. For all intents & purposes you’ve already seen this film before, maybe even many times over.
It’s hard to say that anyone has actually seen The Final Terror, though, to be honest, since even its best VHS-quality transfers are drowned in fuzzed out, standard definition darkness. One potential victim complains while being hunted in the nighttime woods, “I can’t see a thing!” and I couldn’t help but wholeheartedly agree. Then there’s the curious case of the title, which makes absolutely no sense given the film’s nature as the first and last entry in its non-franchise, only adding to its overall indistinct nature. A more honest title might’ve been Corpsethrower, given how more of the onscreen scares consisted of already-dead bodies suddenly entering the frame than actual for-the-camera kills.
Still, despite all of its dedication to genre-faithful tedium, I found myself rooting for The Final Terror to succeed. There’s just too many weird details in the film for it not to stand out as something worth championing. A character starts to fight back & play war games with the killer while tripping on mushrooms & mumbling about Vietnam. He explains, “If you want to survive this, you’re gonna have to start looking & thinking like the forest” and convinces his fellow campers/victims to don Rambo camouflage & crawl through the mud. I also enjoyed the way the film pulls its campers away from the relative safety of their cabins into the expanse of the wilderness, as well as stray details like its Psycho-esque crossdressing, its jars full of body parts, the presence of a pre-fame Darryl Hannah, and a particularly shrill rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” All that was missing to make the film recommendable were some brutal and memorable kills.
The opening & closing murders of The Final Terror are achieved through crude booby traps, one even made of soup can lids & tree branches. If the camping-themed Rube Goldberg kills were more frequent, bloody, and ridiculous, there’s no doubt that The Final Terror would stand as a cult favorite for greedy slasher lovers everywhere. It already had a (less grotesque) Cannibal Holocaust quality to its grime & shoddiness. It already knew how to mimic genre standards like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp (perhaps to the point of its own detriment). It just needed to follow through on the promise of its homemade murder traps to escape its lowly status as a cookie cutter slasher with bad lighting and an indistinct title.