DIRECTOR: Norman J. Warren
Mad Dolly was a condemned witch from the late 1700's who was burned alive at the stake. Not before she was able to unleash her prophecy on all those around her. Now cut to present day 1970's and the crew of movie which is filming in the same location that Mad Dolly was once known to frequent, where several brutal murders had taken place will face an unspeakable terror when they all come into contact with a vengeful ghost who is picking them off, one by one.
Terror has the honour of being the hardest slasher that I've tried to track down since starting my seventies slasher retrospective. Not wanting to continue it until I found a copy of this hard to find horror film. I was on slasher hiatus for a few weeks because this felt like a lost movie or some kind of an enigma. I was pretty lucky that a certain horror fan I know had a screener of this film and I was finally able to dive right in and experience what I hope would be a solid amount of terror.
As this film begun, I had no idea what to expect. The movie opens with a woman who is seen running through the woods. Just a typical opening for a lot of slasher movies. There are fiery torches in the distance, and we see a bear trap being set. The woman eventually runs into frame and steps on the bear trap. We soon learn that this movie opens in what appears to be the 1700's and she is, in fact, a witch. She is burned at the stake, and I thought I was watching a movie about witches and not a slasher film.
Just when I thought I'd been duped into watching a satanic-panic film about witches and not a slasher. We get a meta-movie within a movie reveal that shows the history of Mad Dolly. The person that is showing the group of cinephiles is connected to the filmmaker of the movie they are watching. From this point on, I was so hooked with Terror. What starts out as a film about witches is revealed to be a nasty and violent little flick that blends both the supernatural and the slasher.
When blending the supernatural with the slasher, I think they successfully pulled this off. The way they connect the two felt like Stir Of Echoes to me. With the addition of hypnosis, the person who falls under it is able to be consumed by a vengeful ghost who just so happens to be Mad Dolly. As a fan of the David Koepp film and knowing that it was based on a book that was published in 1958, I think Terror may have been somewhat inspired by it and even took elements from the Richard Matheson story.
The slasher side of things is where this movie really gets to unleash itself. For 1978, I'm sure this film would have been a pretty gruesome film to watch. Mad Dolly goes on a killing rampage, and this is where we get elements of the slasher from. People are stabbed to death, heads are cut off, and people are impaled. With an extremely high body count, I was having an absolute blast with the stalk and slash elements. Mad Dolly is one character you don't want to mess with. She is unstoppable.
Another aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed was the ending of this film. I really thought that they tied everything together as best as they could. I loved that Terror also has a pretty bleak ending. This is one movie that doesn't provide the audience with a happy ending. I thought after all the horror and violence, we would at least witness one of these characters make it through this horrific situation or even have them tie up the Mad Dolly storyline, but they leave this open-ended which I thought was a nice touch. If they ever decide to remake it, they have a lot of angles to work with this story.
Visually, I think Terror was fantastic. This is filled with bright colours and frenetic set-pieces. The action and violence in the movie are all shot in a way that almost makes this feel like a homage or love letter to Dario Argento. We have deep reds and lots of neon. On an aesthetic level, I couldn't help but be a big fan of it. While some of the gore may look a little shoddy at times, I was eating this up. The British comparison to the Italian Giallo. I think Dario Argento would be proud.
Lastly, the acting in Terror was a bit all over the place for me. This feels like a group of trained theatre actors who are all fighting for some screen time, are all chewing the scenery and overacting in all their respective roles. The biggest perpetrator of this is L.E. Mack as Mad Dolly. Every time she is on screen, she is making sure that she has the spotlight and she wants you to know that she is what you'd imagine the cackling witch to sound and be like. Paint her skin green, and she would be 'The Wicked Witch of the West'.
DEATH TOLL: 12
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A woman is repeatedly stabbed with a knife.
- A woman steps in a bear trap.
- A man catches fire and burns to death.
- A man is repeatedly run over by a car.
- A woman is hit in the chest with a flying sword.
- Body parts are shown being dumped into a garbage truck.
- A woman is stabbed to death in a frenzied attack.
- A man is strangled to death.
- A woman is burnt alive at the stake.
- A woman is decapitated with a sword.
- A man has his arm slashed with a sword.
- A woman's body is seen strung up to a tree with a knife in her throat.
- Someone is hit in the chest with a battle axe.
- A man is decapitated with a sheet of glass.
- A stage light falls on a man's head and badly burns his face.
- A man's throat is cut, and he falls out the window and onto a spiked fence.
Terror is a pretty fun trip. Blending both elements of the supernatural and the slasher, we have what I think would be the British equivalent of an Italian Giallo. This movie is filled with these vivid colours, a lot of gore and some pretty intense set-pieces. While the movie does it's best to tie everything together, I think this is more about the style than it is substance. Still, I enjoyed the hell out of Terror. If you can get past all the cheesy and scene-chewing acting, you have a pretty grisly hour and a half.