Directed by Norman J. Warren
Distributed by: Studio S. Entertainment
Bad horror movies are the ones that make all those ignorant folks who only like shitty action films that demand nothing from them but chewing popcorn, laugh you right in the face when you say that you like horror films and genre oriented movies. Unfortunately Norman J. Warren’s Terror falls into the category of a bad movie in my book. Not that that necessarily is a bad thing, but this movie did nothing for me. I have a fair guess what that depends on and it’s probably because I’ve seen and cherish the movies that inspired this one way too many times, and even tough I can laugh at the homage’s, it feels lazy and aggravated when the tributes become sloppy rip-offs. Never the less this movie was a modest success at the time of its release and even reached number one at the UK box offices.
Tired of the ole’ Hammer Horror scene and wanting to revitalise the UK horror genre, Warren set out to break new ground with this movie and his previous one, Satan’s Slave 1976 – which ironically holds a Hammerish aura to it. And you have to hand it to them, they did indeed make an impression back in 1978 when Terror just like it’s predecessor became a rather decent success in the UK, and somewhat in the USA. In hindsight it’s perhaps due to the fact that their films, unlike the Hammer movies focused on a detail most important for the youngsters they wanted to see the films; the casts where in their twenties-thirties and not grand old men of the genre like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, allowing their audience to easier identify with the casts. Also I’m certain that the lack of knowledge of what was coming out of other countries at the time made this movie look a lot better than really it is. I'll forever be grateful that I was at the exact right age when the video boom hit and low quality movies where up for grabs in the regional video rentals.
We mustn't forget that the independent low-budget studios have always had the opportunities to get in there ahead of the bigger studios and try out new fields, so when there is no other main competition you end up with a hit on your hands. Even if that often stated “Number one in England” hit, in fact only was for one single week.
The movie is obviously, sometimes painfully, inspired by the Euro horror’s of Italy - Dario Argento’s Suspiria 1977 being the main influence, as Ivor Slanley's crazy jamming soundtrack screams and howls like the Goblin tracks to Dario’s surreal horror masterpiece, the lighting goes all red, yellow and green, as the witch goes about her deadly haunting, and there’s ironically enough even a rather decent smashed windowpane decapitation scene much like the one that would be found in Argento’s Inferno 1980 two years later.
Sure it’s a decent way to kill 80 minutes if you can stay awake for that long, as the movie does have a bunch of fair enough scenes and D.P. Les Young's compositions are interesting to say the least. But it’s obvious that Warren with writers Moira and Les Young (who also shot the movie) and David McGillivray (Who wrote Frightmare, and House of Whipcord, both 1974 with Pete Walker) quickly wanted to get in on the Argentoesque style. It's all about atmosphere, arty deaths and a hot sexy cast, the plot being close to nothing. A mistake often made when watching Gialli.
A movie producer James Garrick [John Nolan] and his mate Philip [James Aubrey who actually starred as Ralph in Peter Brooks Lord of the Flies 1963] have made a very Hammerish movie about Lord and Lady Garrick who attempt to burn the village witch back in the dark ages, but obviously they fail and the witch instead kills the both of them instead. Not surprisingly the chicks at the party think that the movie is scary and even so James cousin, Ann [Carolyn Courage]. James then proceeds to tell them that the movie is based on true events and that there’s been a curse on his (and Ann's) family ever since then. Moment’s later strange shit starts to happen after Ann is hypnotised by Gary leading Ann to attack James with the prop sword, which apparently isn’t a prop but the real deal. After being slapped awake, she runs from the house into the woods. That’s the cue for the murders to kick in, and they do. Carol [Glynis Barber], the actress to star in Garrick’s next movie is chased out into the woods and killed in a very Gialloesque manner. Fast edits keeps the killer and victim separated in each frame - knife hacking in one - screaming bloodied victim in the next coming together in the final rapid orgasmic knife penetrates female flesh clips. After the second murder it apparent that the movie is trying to use Giallo traits to keep the audience in the dark which kind of works, as both James and Ann are our prime suspects and possible protagonists for quite a while. The killings add up to a fair amount of victims in various deaths, crushed and burned by falling a light, garrotted, impaled and ground to mincemeat in a dustbin truck grinder, decapitation by windowpane, and frantic Gialli stabbings. As the movie comes to it’s climax it ends just as abruptly and sudden as the ending snuck up on us. If you are expecting a decent build and a release for that anticipation, then you won’t be finding it here. The final victim has hardly finished drawing breath when the end credits smash onto the screen signalling that its time to go home, or wake up cold in front of the telly again.
All right I can respect what they have tried to do here, and in all fairness I have probably judged the film too hard, but the movie feels rushed, the acting is very varied, some are good and some a pretty bad which make the rift painfully obvious. Then there’s the biggest problem I have and that’s that they don’t really decide what kind of movie they want to be - apart from a pale, watered down Suspiria rip-off that it indeed comes off, even down to the Dolores Hamilton’s Theatre Girls Hostel…
First, there are too many daft red herrings that make me feel stupid for all the wrong reasons. Suspecting the wrong character is not the same as building up the most suspenseful sequence of the film only to deflate it like a whoopee cushion as the man stalking Suzy [Sarah Keller] asks, “Did you want a mechanic?” Yeah it’s great that Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew actually stared in something else besides that god awful (in the worst way) Star Wars Holiday Special for American TV in ’78, but it’s a complete waste of space as it takes a whole load of focus off the main narrative. Wait wasn't Chewie a mechanic too? Oh no! I hope Mayhew doesn't get stuck typecasted as a mechanic...
Also I find it annoying that they start off by poking fun at the Hammer movies with their kitschy period piece, and then go into thriller/Giallo area only to crash back in the supernatural horror and reveal the witch from the “movie” at the start. It’s kind of silly and annoying, just like those fake red herrings. And if they hadn't used all that fog machine smoke from the campy opening, I wouldn't reflect upon the climax in the same inferior way that they opening tries to poke fun at. I’m sure that one could argue and point out that Suspiria mixes Giallo traits with supernatural ones. Yes it does but there’s no frigging smoke, matte painting lightning and BBC archive sound effects in that movie are they. I used those sound effects on my first feeble horror films shot on video back in the eighties too, and they still sound like crap. The witches in Suspiria are the real deal, not the levitating, laughing, shoddy one of Terror. It just doesn’t work and that quick chop bastard witch from hell, ending is pathetic because it’s almost as if they realised halfway through that they forgot the witch who was supposed to be responsible for the murders, and chucked her back in… even though the murder subjects have fuck all to do with the curse.
Second, I feel that the writing team are confused concerning who they want to be the protagonist. Should I give a damn about Ann or James, because the two of them at the same time get too little time on screen or character development to indicate which is the more important? As mentioned earlier, the sequence with Suzy (does that name ring a bell?) is by far one of the best, and if you are going to use Ann’s roommate as a red herring, invest in it instead of just dropping her after that dark night, meeting Chewie without his furs scene.
If they had only stuck to keeping it pure Giallo, just a thriller, even a good old slasher, or only the supernatural, then I’m sure that I would have enjoyed it more than I did now. But never the less Terror is a cult favourite among genre fans and it has a reasonably large following.
Another confusing thing about this movie is that when it was first submitted to the BBFC back in November of 1978, it had a running time of 87m 9seconds. Cut’s where made, but there are no details of the trims made to the film, and the next time the film was submitted for release on DVD and/or Video in 1997 the runtime was 79.25. One could only imagine what may have been shown in those exorcised clips, as eight minutes are a fair amount of film to remove.
There are a some amusing points of trivia in the movie worth pointing out; the blue movie being shot in James studio, is a joke on Warren's behalf, as his first feature was a sexploitation flick, Her Private Hell 1968, regarded as the first English sex film. (What does that make George Harrison Marks Naked as Nature Intended 1961?) Posters to Warren’s previous film Satan’s Slave 1976 and Bo A. Vibenius Thriller - a cruel picture 1974 are hanging on the wall of James office and the multitude of celluloid that engulf Phillip are supposedly prints of Saturday Night Fever 1977, that’s probably true as there also is a few Saturday Night Fever posters (well the logo at least) in the girls changing room behind the nudie bar they all work extra at.
But all is not lost, and even though I didn’t quite get into this movie, Warren still holds an important part in British horror as he and Pete Walker make up the New Wave of English Horror and on a good day the movies he has directed to date still do entertain, and Warren is a regular featured guest at Fantastic Film Festivals around the UK.
Even though I have some fairly harsh opinions on the film, I still recommend that you check out the movie if you get the chance, it is entertaining considering that they certainly don’t make movies like this one anymore… wait the do, but making it as a “first” in the UK thirty years ago is way better than still copying the movies of yesteryear today. When will they ever learn, the movies of the seventies-eighties worked because they where innovative, new and interesting, they also where made for a less cynical and educated audience than the ones that watch the genre today.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. English Dialogue, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles are optional
A bunch of trailers for other Studio S titles, a French Theatrical Trailer, bio and filmograhy for Norman J Warren, and two trivia texts.