Controversial Blus: The Final Terror from Scream Factory (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here's one from Scream Factory where they answered a lot of fan requests by restoring and issuing this film on blu. It's The Final Terror, a creative backwoods slasher film, that's always been on the rare/ obscure side of things, but has had a devout following from those who've discovered it. Unfortunately, its only representation on disc had been a bunch of full screen, VHS-sourced cheapies from from the budget labels that tend to specialize in public domain titles. Some looked a little better than others, but none seemed to top the old tapes... that is until Scream Factory came around and did a fancy, HD restoration job. So what's all the fuss about? Well, I've got Scream Factory's blu-ray/ DVD combo pack here, and I've even got one of those old cheapie discs. So let's open 'em up and get to the bottom of this.
 
The Final Terror could easily get lost in the ocean of 80s slashers, but it's better enough than most of them to stand out if you've ever seen it. It's got a nice little cast, including some soon to be big names like Daryl Hannah, Mark Metcalf and Joe Pantoliano who create some strong characters. And the story manages to stay more compelling by avoiding some of the generic cliches, especially every character finding an excuse to wonder off alone and get picked off. Here, the group sticks together, and work collectively to survive. Instead of rolling your eyes at the characters stupidity as they move from plot contrivance to plot contrivance, you'll find these people do pretty much what you or I would do in that kind of situation, and you'll be genuinely guessing at what's still to come. It doesn't stray that far from the core elements of all slasher films, mind you; but it definitely thinks for itself. A solid score, a lavish location and some well directed set pieces all add up to a well above average slasher.
One thing we learn in the extras, though, is that this movie was re-cut and scored to really change the sensibilities of the film... effectively turning it from a gruesome character piece to more of a high tension thriller. The version we have here is certainly very satisfying, but it sure would've been nice if the original version could've been unearthed and included here as well.

Still, there's no way to know if any materials from that version survive at all... Scream Factory tells us right on screen at the start of the film that the original film elements, including both the negative and inter-positive, have been lost. So let's just focus on what we've got: a restoration of the of the existing version, created from the best of six film prints, finally giving us a proper, widescreen edition of this film.
Scream Factory's blu on top; their DVD mid, and East West's DVD bottom.
Once again, I've included the DVD version from the combo pack just to be thorough, but it's really the first and third shots that are interesting to compare. Now, I originally got the DVD from East West Entertainment [the double feature, by the way, is Christmas Evil, and I review that transfer here] because I read from online reports that it was an improvement over the past releases. So just imagine the others looking even a bit worse. To be honest, though, for what it is - a VHS-sourced full screen transfer, it's not so terrible. It's open matte, so it's got extra info on the tops and bottoms rather than missing info on the sides, and the daylight shots especially look reasonably detailed, and the flecks and scratches are there but relatively minimal. Ya know, for what it is. But Scream's new edition clearly blows it completely out of the water.

The sound here, DTS-HD 2.0, is much clearer here as well. And it has optional English subtitles besides. Another big step up over past versions.

It's not perfect, though. Firstly, I'm sure the colors and detail could look a lot more natural and impressive had the original negative been available. But even putting that aside, there is a very noticeable flickering issue. It's worst during the first reel of the film, where the print colors and brightness is really rising and falling distinctly frame by frame. It tapers off as the film goes on, never quite going away, but definitely getting to the point where it's no longer distracting. I see a lot of forum posts by people saying Scream shouldn't have issued this on blu (as in: making it a DVD only release) or issued this at a special, discount price; but for my review, I'd say that's pretty hyperbolic. It looks like a genuine effort went into making this look a lot better than it ever has, and even during its worst moments, still has a very pleasing, film-like feel. Sure, the film's age and treatment are certainly showing, but I really think fans should be very happy with this release.
A shot from East West's DVD missing from Scream Factory's set.
Except, maybe, for one little thing. I just covered a lot of the hub-bub around this blu-ray, but not all of it. See, besides having the on-screen title of Carnivore and a funky full-screen transfer, there's one other key difference between East West and Scream Factory's release. The old DVD is uncut - at least as far as any version that isn't the director's original unreleased version can be said to be uncut - which can't actually be said for the new blu. It's really just the one scene, pictured above, where the counselor and his girlfriend get surprise attacked while making love out in the woods. The attack happens in both versions, but it's been shortened considerably in Scream's cut. Frame are trimmed and a couple whole shots are removed to make the film's most shocking, graphic kill play much quicker; it's definitely a cut for censorship. I don't know if Scream just unwittingly used a censored print for that scene, if all their prints were censored that way, or if the director requested it (in the commentary, we learn this is his least favorite scene as he's not a fan of movie violence). But it's pretty disappointing.

Personally, I think the pro of the huge improvement in the overall picture quality, despite all its imperfections, outweighs the con of the edit, but I can certainly imagine many horror fans going the other way in this decision. Even if all of Scream's prints were missing these shots, almost all of us would have preferred a composite cut taking and recoloring the clip from the DVD rather than just leaving it out. With a little effort, I believe they could have tweaked it so casual viewers wouldn't even notice the brief shift in quality. But what's done is done now, so it's just a question of which version you're going to get. Or you could be a serious collector and get both, but even then you'll ultimately be making the same decision each time you want to watch this movie and have to decided which disc to stick in your player.
One thing that might kick you in the butt to go with the Scream Factory option, though, is the extras. They put together a nice little special edition package with this title, which is something many fans of this film probably never thought they'd get to see. First off, there's the interviews with the editor/ post production supervisor of the second version of the film (the one we see here), and the film's composer. This segment is fascinating if you're interested in this film, a must see.

Then there's an audio commentary, which is nice to have for serious fans, but ultimately one of the worst commentaries I've ever heard. The director lapses into long silences, repeats himself ad nauseum when he does speak, and still manages to be an insulting jerk to his audience at the same time. There are a few tiny bits of info for the die-hard fans, and I certainly still appreciate Scream Factory getting it and including it; but I recommend most people spare themselves the experience.

Finally, there's a fun interview with two of the film's stars, Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith, which is a breezy watch. And there's also a stills gallery and the theatrical trailer. All together, a very nice package. East West's DVD, of course, has nothing.
So, at the end, I have to side pretty heavily with this new release. Sure, I'll be on board for a double dip if Arrow or somebody uncovers the lost negatives; but I don't think we're likely to see this film any better than this. Fans should know about the missing footage, though; which to me was a bigger disappointment than the print-sourced transfer. But this is still probably the edition you'll want, if not both (the upshot of the East West DVDs is that they're dirt cheap) to make your own composite cut, which is what I'll probably get around to doing eventually.

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