[review by JA Kerswell]
One afternoon in 1978, my mother took me to see the movie GREASE at the local cinema. I was around nine years old and like most people Britain at the time I was gripped by GREASE-mania. The film was everywhere and I was excited to see it. However, it was the poster for another movie in the lobby that really caught my eye that day. TERROR. I was transfixed. The painted artwork showed a woman towering over the corpses of her victims. The tagline screamed: “ONE STEP BEYOND HORROR.” Now, this was the ONE for I really wanted! Sadly, I was at least a decade too young and so I had to settle for the antics at Rydell High ...
Fast forward several decades and I had the pleasure of meeting Norman J Warren some years ago at a screening of one of his films. He was a charming, gentle man who displayed a clear love for the genre and was delighted that there was still interest in his films after all this time. I asked him why - when the slasher subgenre was booming in the late 1970s and early 1980s - there were so few examples from the UK? And, specifically, why he hadn’t made one? He replied in characteristically humble and good-natured fashion that perhaps he’d missed a trick there. However, it could be argued that at least half of Norman’s TERROR plays out as a slasher movie. Something which might explain why rights were snapped up for a surprisingly successful stateside run in 1979 specifically to capitalise on interest in a certain John Carpenter movie …
In reality, the similarities to the burgeoning slasher movie were more of a happy accident. Warren was directly inspired by Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1977) and his earlier gialli (although, it can be argued that SUSPIRIA is itself a giallo (it is at its heart a murder mystery with an undisclosed assailant - albeit with overtly supernatural elements)). It seems likely that fellow Brit Pete Walker’s proto-slashers, such as FRIGHTMARE (1974) and HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN and SCHIZO (both 1976) were also an inspiration.
Warren took the gothic mainstay of the wronged witch cursing the descendants as the springboard the story. It is perhaps not beyond the realm of reason to imagine that this inspired another supernatural slasher: James Roberson’s SUPERSTITION (aka THE WITCH), which was shot in 198*. The fiery demise in TERROR is shown in a flashback reminiscent of the Hammer films of the 1960s, but the film shifts gear into the modern day of 1978 and it is immediately clear that it aims to abandon the old and explore a more contemporary - albeit still focussed on fun - genre outing.
James (John Nolan) is a film director who has gathered friends at his countryside mansion to view his latest film, which is based on the witch and his supposed own 300 year old familial curse. Joining him are his newly found cousin Ann (Carolyn Courage), who becomes hypnotised during a party-trick-gone-wrong and attacks James with a sword. James is largely unharmed and Ann doesn’t remember the incident. But that night, another female party guest is pursued and murdered by a knife-wielding assassin in the house’s grounds. The events of the night set in motion a series of deaths surrounding James’ film set and the strip club where Ann works. Someone is killing off the people close to them as the witch’s curse appears to be coming true …
Shot in various locations around London and Surrey, TERROR pre-empts the slasher movie conventions in its first half; with a seemingly human killer offing all and sundry with knives and a garrotte. There is even a sequence where one character is terrorised by a shadowy prowler in a remote cottage, who turns out to simply be a mechanic who has come to fix her car (played by Peter Mayhew of Chewbacca fame!). However, as the film progresses the deaths become more-and-more supernaturally tinged and clearly inspired by SUSPIRIA - including a scene when a character is attacked by film stock (actually defective prints of the film SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)!) and culminating in a levitating car scene that has to be seen to be believed. However, curiously, there is one death scene (partial decapitation with a pane of glass) which is almost identical to Argento’s SUSPIRIA followup INFERNO (1980). Perhaps the Italian maestro was returning the favour?
Warren made his start with soft-core British sex films in the late 1960s and followed TERROR with sci-fi sex comedy OUTER TOUCH (1979). In TERROR he pokes fun at the British sex comedy with BATHTIME FOR BRENDA - a low budget porno shooting at James’ studio. This gives the film its best comedic moments; delightfully aided by the ditzy character of Viv (Tricia Walsh) - who keeps losing her knickers! Warren had no illusions as to what type of movie he was making and set out to make an unpretentious, fun horror movie - and to that end he succeeds. After watching SUSPIRIA, Warren came up with ideas for specific scenes and it fell to writer David McGillivray (who previously worked with Pete Walker) to try and piece together a narrative thread. Something he mostly succeeds in doing, although there are a number of missteps, such as characters that vanish, no resolution with film director James and a scene where one character gets on the London Underground and gets off at Bournemouth railway station!
TERROR has a successful theatrical run in the UK and for one week was the highest grossing film in British cinemas. Crown International picked up the distribution rights for a US theatrical release in April 1979. They told Variety that this pickup was directly inspired by the box office bonanza of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978). TERROR was very successful on its regional rollout; even setting box office records in some drive-ins. It showed that audiences had an appetite for horror films and pre-empted the rapidly approaching genre boom. Crown International further exploited comparisons with Michael Myers with artwork that showed a silhouetted figure in a doorway holding a knife.
Linda Gross, in her LA Times review, called TERROR: “ … an artfully photographed, well acted but silly English horror movie with superior visual effects and no substance.” Variety called it: “Somewhat scary”. But the Reno Gazette-Journal dismissed it saying: “Director Norman J. Warren goes for the gore instead of the scares.”
Ignore the critics. T-E-R-R-O-R is F-U-N.
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female: 3 / male: 4
2) Male garotted
3) Male crushed by falling lamp
4) Female stabbed to death
5) Male attacked by tape and partially decapitated with a window pane
6) Male crushed by a car
7) Female stabbed through with a sword