Monday, 5 January 2009

Norman J. Warren's Terror (1978)

Terror, made in 1978, is only my second Norman J. Warren film, after the immensely entertaining Satan’s Slave. I’d heard some fairly negative things about this director and was expecting his movies to be little more than Z-grade trash. While they are undeniably trashy, they’re actually pretty good trash!

Terror opens with a witch about to be burned, who curses the entire Garrick family and all its descendants. It turn out that this is only a movie, made by one of the descendants of that very family. It’s only a movie, but it’s based on an actual event, an actual witch-burning, and the witch did indeed curse the family. But that’s just an old family story, isn’t it? After a viewing of the movie at a family get-together, further entertainment is provided by an amateur hypnotist. He puts his girlfriend in a trance, but everybody assumes she’s just pretending. Then he hypnotises Ann Garrick, and she starts running about with a sword, but of course it’s all just fooling about. The Garricks own a film studio, and those film people live in a permanent world of make-believe, don’t they?

But when the amateur hypnotist’s girlfriend is found dead, skewered to a tree by the very sword involved in the previous night’s shenanigans, can it all just be dismissed as make-believe or hoary legends?

Terror is often dismissed as a cheap British copy of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. That’s a little unfair. While Warren was obviously influenced by Argento’s use of elaborate visual set-pieces the movie is really more of a traditional British horror movie of the “gothic horrors intruding into the contemporary world” sub-type. Argento’s influence did lead Warren to attempt a few rather ambitious visual set-pieces of his own, and with surprising success. Oddly enough, the effects that have the most potential for embarrassing cheesiness work quite well. The film set turning against the film-maker, the scene that starts with the actress covered in blood dripping from the ceiling, even the notorious and often derided car of death scene, are all visually original, interesting and reasonably creepy.

The acting is of standard 70s British low-budget horror quality, and effective enough. Unlike Satan’s Slave it doesn’t have a grand sceneery-chewing performance by a Michael Gough, but perhaps it doesn’t really matter. Warren was trying to breathe new life into the rapidly decaying corpse of the British horror movie industry by adding some eurohorror touches, and as magnificent as is Gough’s performance in Satan’s Slave it may have been a little out of place in this one.

Overall, a highly entertaining horror film with moderate amounts of gore, just the merest dash of sleaze, and a surprising amount of style. BCI’s exploitation double-movie pack includes both this film and Satan’s Slave, and both movies are well worth seeing. In fact they’re essential viewing for any fan of 70s horror.

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