(1978, dir: Norman J. Warren; scp: David McGillivray, cast: John Nolan,
Carolyn Courage, James Aubrey, Sarah Keller, Milton Reid, Tricia Walsh,
Glynis Barber, Patti Love, Peter Mayhew, David McGillivray, Mary Maude)
Terror may well be one of my Guilty Pleasures. The more I analyze this film,
the weaker it seems, replete with plot holes and contradictions. Yet ever since I first saw Terror in a theater nearly twenty years ago, it's remained one of my favorites. It has ... something.
for one thing. Gore aplenty. And surprise shocks. And
attractive women. And flair and style. It's all so absorbing
and enjoyable, you need watch it several times before you realize that
its story is incoherent. Makes no sense at all.
Terror was produced at the tail end of the 1960s/70s demonic horror cycle. It opens with a seventeenth century English witch-burning (visually evocative
of Hammer's supernatural period pieces), where things get off to a silly
start. While setting a torch to the kindling beneath the condemned
witch, a minor witch-hunter is inadvertently set aflame -- but no one pays
him much heed as he burns screaming before his friends! (Nice friends,
witch burns at the stake, she implores Satan to curse all members and descendants
of the main witch-hunter's family. Resurrected within minutes, she
then strangles the witch-hunter. And not in some boring fashion. Rather, her burnt arm (pointlessly) breaks through the wall behind the
witch-hunter, catching him by surprise. (Seems she's been studying
slasher techniques.) Then she decapitates the witch-hunter's wife
(played by Mary Maude, the brown-bloused, sado-fascistic lesbian in The
House That Screamed).
discover we've been watching a "film within a film" produced by James (John
Nolan) and screened at his home, Buttercup Lodge. (The Brits have
a habit of naming their houses.) James informs his party guests that
his film is based on fact. He is the witch-hunter's last living direct
descendent, his cousin Ann (Carolyn Courage), his only living blood relative.
to the supernatural, and to parlor tricks. When one party guest,
Gary, pretends to hypnotize Carole, glass shatters throughout the house;
the proverbial "opening to the other side." Ann grasps Gary's arm
("She's got a grip like steel!") demanding she be hypnotized. To
his own amazement, Gary succeeds, unleashing something else in the process. Entranced, Ann attacks James with the sword used in his film, the sword
used by the witch three centuries earlier. Subdued and failing to
kill James, Ann bolts Buttercup Lodge and runs home in a rainstorm.
somebody stabs Carole to death, in typical stalk & kill fashion. So it seems Terror is not a supernatural film at all, but a slasher film, perhaps inspired
by the recent success of Halloween.
no, not really. Yes, there are several slasher killings (or piano
wire, in one case), but no slasher is ever revealed.
Ann arrives home flustered and soaked, not quite remembering what happened
that night. Which is problematic, because her roommate (Susie) sees
blood on Ann's hands. Soon, other people in Ann's life die violently. Mysteriously. Gorily. But also, stylishly!
frets that he knows little about Ann, having only met her last week. However, he has no business pinning the blame on Ann, because folks are
dying violently around James, too!
people die violently and stylishly even when Ann or James aren't around. Some are killed by slashers, others in freak accidents, others by supernaturally
animated film stock!
can be determined, Gary unleashed the witch's spirit by hypnotizing Ann. Which is redundant, because Ann was already possessed, as evidenced by
her supernaturally strong grip. So the witch was already here. Anyway, now that she's loose, she's continuing her curse to kill all direct
descendants of the witch-hunter's family.
the witch cursed direct descendants, why does she target Ann as well as
James? Why kill non-family members before Ann and James? Why
protect Ann by killing anyone who suspects her? Why kill a club patron
who offends Ann? Why kill Carole? And what of James? James sees a klieg light about to fall from the ceiling in his film studio,
its ropes loosening as he watches, yet he says nothing, allowing the light
to fall on and injure a porn director he wants evicted. Why is the
witch helping James manage his studio?
glance from either Ann or James can bring death, yet neither seems aware
of their evil eye. If the witch wants to destroy Ann and James, why
destroy their enemies? Why kill everyone in their vicinity? The best guess for the witch's motive is that she's evil, and dammit, that's
what evil spirits do. This simplistic motivation makes her a forerunner
to the subsequent decade's slashers, who kill "because he's crazy, and
dammit, that's what crazy people do."
its gaping plot holes, Terror is stubbornly stylish, engrossing and enjoyable. Its credits open
over eerie music and alternating red, sepia, and aqua-green colors that
also suffuse many scenes. Often, this nondiegetic lighting makes
no dramatic sense, but creates a stylish supernatural atmosphere, intimating
the witch's presence.
Deaths are stylish and creative. James's
partner is attacked and captured in a film stock vortex that is visually
evocative of the inexplicable razor wire in Suspiria,
then swept through a Rube Goldberg's chain of horror culminating in his
decapitation in a freak guillotine accident. Viv spots blood dripping
through the ceiling, coming from the room upstairs ...
pay attention, now. The blood originates from the room upstairs.
goes up to investigate ... climbing TWO flights of stairs!
Susie discovers a can of spilled red paint. This discovery is such
a clever twist (immediately followed by a gory shocker), that most viewers
will never contemplate that Susie climbed TWO flights to investigate the
source of the blood, never even bothering to see if there was any blood
originating on the interim floor (she was right -- there wasn't).
stylish gore and shocks are punctuated with much comic relief: a cute and
comedic behind-the-scenes look at the making of a porn film; a Norma Desmond-type
who shares the boarding house with Ann, Susie, and Viv. Terror is also a slice-of-life look at the "swinging London" subculture, pre-AIDS. Ann and her roommates are actresses with "day jobs" working in a topless
indiscernible reason, cars are a motif. Susie's car stalls near Buttercup
Lodge. A policeman is attacked and killed by his driverless squad
car. Ann is safe riding the tube (subway), but once on foot to Buttercup
Lodge, she is harassed by gusts. So she breaks into a deserted car
on the road. The car levitates, spins, then drops to the ground. Maybe there's a unifying theme to all this. Or maybe it's just that
European cars are so lightweight, they make for easy props.
search for a story is in vain. There is no real storyline and a very
little, if any, logic!
the success of Satan's Slave I was able to team up with Les Young again to make another film. We had the money for a low-budget film, but at the time we had no script
and no idea of what film we wanted to make. We just knew we didn't
want to make a film with a complicated story and wall-to-wall dialogue.
"The Hammer style
of horror was fading fast and young audiences were seeking something new. In the end, and after seeing Suspiria,
which was a breath of fresh air and a great inspiration to me, we just
sat down a made a list of all the scenes we would like to see in a horror
film. We handed the list to writer David McGillivray who incorporated
ideas into a 'sort of story'. It was intended that the film should
be fun, and at the same time deliver the shocks and gore.
seemed to have hit on the right formula, because the film had success throughout
the world, and we were over the moon and a little surprised when for one
week, Terror became the number one film in the UK.
congratulate you on being one of the few people who have noticed that Susie
(Sarah Keller) goes up two flights of stairs to investigate where the blood
is coming from.
"Terror was Carolyn Courage's only film. She had played a number of leading
roles in television and on stage, and was with the Royal National Theatre
for several years. In recent years she's abandoned acting in favour
of writing. Terror is soon to be released on DVD and I very much hope to include an interview
with Carolyn in the 'extras'." -- 2/18/04
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