Color, 1978, 84 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Starring John Nolan, Carolyn Courage, James Aubrey, Sarah Keller, Mary Maude, Elaine Ives-Cameron, Tricia Walsh
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Scorpion (US R0 NTSC),
BCI (US R1 NTSC), Anchor Bay (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Rhino (US R1 NTSC)
This out of control witch romp may hold the record for the highest number of video reissues for a British horror film, automatically making it one of the most widely seen films directed by Norman J. Warren (Satan's Slave). Essentially a string of barely connected horror scenes, it's also notable for being written by frequent Pete Walker scribe David McGillivray, who went through a more difficult process than usual bringing life to a project that also went through such titles as Blood Bath and Damnation on the way to completion.
The story, such as it is, begins with that old reliable about a witch being executed and issuing a terrible curse that will cause all sorts of violent mayhem in the present day, but from that point on the film spirals off in a number of weird and colorful directions. A film crew has decided to shoot a movie around the real-life beheading of the black magic practitioner, and their efforts get them in plenty of trouble after some amateur hypnosis goes terribly wrong. Swords, film canisters, and levitating vehicles play various roles in the gory deaths, which often don't make sense but offer plenty of violent amusement.
Ditching the pointed social commentary of his Walker efforts like Frightmare, McGillivray offers a loose and often incoherent story that turns into a pure exercise in style for Warren, whose admitted attempts to ape Suspiria right down to the throbbing, saturated color schemes result in some wonderfully tacky and entertaining effects including a particularly lurid death scene involving a broken window even prefiguring a similar demise in Argento's Inferno. No one in the cast has much of a chance to impress, but everyone runs around screaming and dying like a pro; in particular, it's fun seeing the filmmakers poke fun at their '70s British sex comedy dues with a funny lampoon here called Bathtime for Brenda, plus some fun poster spotting in the background including Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Satan's Slave.
The first DVD release of Terror came from Rhino as part of their unfortunately titled Horrible Horrors series, which shuffled the film off in the most undignified manner as part of a multi-film set of Crown drive-in oddities. At least the open matte transfer looked pretty good. The subsequent UK release as part of Anchor Bay's Norman J. Warren Collection was far more problematic, using what appeared to be the same transfer as the Rhino version but overmatting it so severely to create a new anamorphic version that even the credits got lost off screen. It also featured those awful, wholly superfluous phony DTS and Dolby 5.1 remixes that were in vogue at the time, but thankfully the mono track remained as an option as well. The BCI version, a double feature with The Devil's Men (a.k.a. Land of the Minotaur), easily bested them with a clean, colorful presentation with far roomier anamorphic framing. Note that the 16x9 presentation of both films is mentioned nowhere on the packaging, for some reason. No extras either. The 2012 reissue DVD from Scorpion pairs it up with The Devil's Men again (uncut this time), with both titles bookended by hosting sequences (and an intermission in between) featuring horror hostess Katarina Leigh Waters as part of her Katarina's Nightmare Theater line. Once again she's on her most comfortable turf here talking about British '70s horror (or in one case, British-Greek hybrid horror), and her enthusiasm makes for infectious viewing. The real extra sauce lies with Terror, which has the Anchor Bay UK extras (now out of circulation) ported over, dropping only a very lively Warren/McGillivray commentary track which will make completists hang onto that British cardboard coffin edition. The biggest bonus is easily "Bloody Good Fun" (or at least that's what it was called on the UK box, though the title card and US packaging say otherwise), which features Warren, McGillivray, producer Les Young, exec producer Moira Young, and several of the cast members (including The House that Screamed's Maude, Courage, Aubrey, and Elaine-Ives Cameron) talking about the making of the film, from its undisguised Argento borrowings to the zero-budget effects work. You also get a couple of snippets of deleted footage (one of them another bit from the recurring sex comedy), the very similar American and French theatrical trailers, and bonus previews for more titles like Double Exposure, The Devil within Her, and Nothing but the Night.
In 2018, Vinegar Syndrome brought the film back into circulation as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release hot on the heels of its stellar special edition of Warren's Prey. As you'd expect, Terror looks spectacular here with the Blu-ray particularly benefiting from the fresh 2K scan of the original negative. The Argento-inspired scenes look especially strong with those garish colors really popping off the screen now, and detail is excellent throughout. The English DTS-HD MA mono track and optional English SDH subtitles are top tier as well; some recurring sibilance in a few dialogue scenes and a handful of other minor flaws are inherent in the original sound mix and not a flaw of the release itself. The film can also be played with an audio phone conversation between Warren and Diabolique's Kat Ellinger spanning the course of his career, though the sound quality varies between muffled to inaudible. A new interview with Warren (20m34s) goes into more detail about the Suspiria inspiration and the desire to make an irrational horror film that kept moving among a large number of characters, while a separate one with McGillivray (12m47s) charts his own involvement (courtesy of his diary from the era) and reveals why he gave up writing horror films after this one. The actors are represented this time with separate interviews with Courage (5m3s), Walsh (8m49s), Maude (8m33s), and Peter Craze (10m6s), all of whom remark on the unusually happy and harmonious shoot and the fact that crew members seemed to be having fun throughout the process. Walsh is definitely the funniest as she giddily talks about her knack for playing Cockney characters at the time and letting down some voyeurs on the set when she announced she'd be doing her bathtub scene in her underwear. The film's deleted footage (4m46s) is presented here in HD for a better appraisal of those lost Brenda minutes, and the packaging features the usual reversible design options. A limited slipcase edition was also announced but sold out almost immediately.
Updated review on April 23, 2018.