Terror (1978 film)
Terror is a 1978 British independent supernatural horror film written by David McGillivray and directed by Norman J. Warren. It stars John Nolan and Carolyn Courage as two cousins who fall victim to a curse that a witch placed on their ancestors.
UK theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Norman J. Warren|
|Produced by||Les Young|
|Screenplay by||David McGillivray|
|Story by||Les Young|
|Music by||Ivor Slaney|
|Edited by||Jim Elderton|
Crystal Film Productions
|Distributed by||Entertainment Film Distributors (UK)|
Crown International Pictures (US)
Conceived as a "fun horror film" with a simple premise, Terror was shot in various locations around London and Surrey. Although it was a box office success in the United Kingdom, it has drawn a mixed critical response for its storytelling and visual style, both of which were inspired by the Italian giallo horror film Suspiria (1977). Warren's plans for a sequel remain unrealised.
Three hundred years ago, the witch Mad Dolly is captured on the orders of Lord Garrick. She is about to be burned at the stake when she invokes the Devil, causing one of her executioners to catch fire. Garrick rushes back to his house, where a disembodied arm bursts through a wall and strangles him. Lady Garrick is confronted by a sword-wielding Mad Dolly, who beheads her and curses the family's descendants.
Credits roll, revealing that these scenes form the ending of a horror film directed by James Garrick – the last of the Garrick line with his cousin Ann. James is hosting a preview screening for Ann, an aspiring actress, and their friends at the largely unchanged Garrick house, which he now owns. He believes his film to be based on true events and has also inherited Mad Dolly's sword.
Gary, a mesmerist, hypnotises Ann as a party trick. In her trance, Ann picks up the sword and swings it at James, wounding him slightly. After being overpowered by the other guests, she comes to her senses and leaves the house. When James's friend Carol departs she is stabbed to death in the surrounding woods by an unseen assailant. Ann returns to her hostel in London with bloodstained hands, observed by her roommate Suzy.
Other murders and strange deaths follow. At the strip club where Ann and her friends work as waitresses, a patron is ejected by the bouncer after groping Ann; on returning home, he is thrown onto a row of spiked railings and dismembered. At James's film studio, an overhead lamp falls to the floor and crushes Les, a short-tempered director trying to shoot a sex film called Bathtime with Brenda. Viv – the title character, and one of Ann's friends – is stabbed to death at the hostel. Ann visits James's assistant Philip at the studio and tells him that she has no memory of her attack on James or how she got home on the night that Carol was murdered. After she leaves, Philip is attacked by flying props and equipment and decapitated by a falling sheet of glass.
Ann flees the hostel when she finds Suzy being questioned by police about her and Viv. An officer pursues her but is repeatedly run over and crushed by his car, which is being driven by a supernatural force. While making her way to the Garrick house, Ann is caught in unusually strong winds and takes refuge in a parked car, but is forced to jump out when the vehicle inexplicably rises into the air. Reaching the house, she experiences bizarre visions and sees various objects moving of their own accord. She is then startled by the sudden arrival of an unseen figure and strikes him down with an axe, only then to discover that she has killed James. The spirit of Mad Dolly re-appears, cackling, as her sword flies across the room and fatally impales Ann against a wall.
- John Nolan as James Garrick
- Carolyn Courage as Ann Garrick
- James Aubrey as Philip
- Sarah Keller as Suzy
- Tricia Walsh as Viv
- Glynis Barber as Carol Tucker
- Michael Craze as Gary
- Rosie Collins as Diane
- Chuck Julian as Club Patron
- Elaine Ives-Cameron as Dolores Hamilton
- Patti Love as Mad Dolly
- Mary Maude as Lady Garrick
- William Russell as Lord Garrick
- Peter Craze as Les
- Peter Sproule as Policeman
- Peter Mayhew as Mechanic
- Milton Reid as Bouncer
- David McGillivray as TV Reporter
- Alan Jones (uncredited) as Party Guest
Terror was director Norman J. Warren's second collaboration with producers Les and Moira Young and Richard Crafter, with whom he had made Satan's Slave (1976). According to Warren, Terror was conceived as a "fun horror film" intended solely to entertain. The plot was therefore kept simple, taking the form of a series of murder set pieces. Warren and others pitched ideas for various scenes, from which screenwriter David McGillivray produced a script. Warren has admitted that much of the film "doesn't make sense, because many of the people who get killed have nothing to do with the cursed family."
Warren and his associates, who had struggled to obtain funding for their earlier films, used the box office revenue from Satan's Slave to finance their new production entirely by themselves. According to Warren, the budget for Terror "from script to answer print" was approximately £50,000 (approximately £169,000 in 2018). He has said that being able to make Terror as a "truly independent film" was advantageous from a creative point of view as they "didn't have to show the script to anybody." Various aspects of the film – including the plot, lighting, music and sound effects – were inspired by Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977). However, Warren has maintained that Terror is not simply a copy of the earlier film: "It was just liberating in that you could suddenly get away with doing whatever you liked."
While casting the film, Warren and associate producer Moira Young deliberately sought out new actors with no film experience. All the roles were cast in two months. The characters played by Glynis Barber and Elaine Ives-Cameron did not appear in the original script; they were written in because Warren and Young were impressed by the actresses' auditions and were determined to use them. Ives-Cameron based her performance as Dolores Hamilton, the owner of the Theatre Girls' Hostel, on that of Gloria Swanson in the film Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Terror was produced in four weeks during the summer and was shot in various locations around London and Surrey. Both Warren and producer Les Young have noted that due to the multiple locations, the filming logistics were more complicated than they had been for Satan's Slave. The filming location for the Garrick residence was the house of the Baron and Baroness DeVeuce in Pirbright; this had previously served as the main location for Satan's Slave. Many of the woodland scenes were shot on the surrounding estate. In a 2009 interview, Warren described the house as the "perfect location" as it was "huge and could be used in so many different ways." The opening party scenes were filmed in a single June evening. A nearby lodge served as the focus of an extended scene in which the character Suzy, whose car has broken down on a country lane, takes refuge inside a seemingly empty cottage where she is terrorised by a dark figure who turns out to be a friendly mechanic. Warren has admitted that this sequence "doesn't make sense", describing it as a "10-minute red herring".
Scenes set at the Theatre Girls' Hostel were filmed at a nurses' hostel in Holland Park, while a club in Richmond supplied the location for the club where Ann works. James's office at Garrick Studios was represented by the actual office of production company Crystal Film Productions, based in Harlesden. Scenes set on the studio floor were filmed over two days using the interior of Acorn Studios in Barnes. Other filming locations included a street in Victoria, Wood Lane in Shepherd's Bush, Queensway in Bayswater, Barnes railway station and Barnes Common. Many of the outdoor scenes were shot night-for-night; this proved challenging as the decision to film in the summer limited the hours of darkness in which the crew could shoot.
The character Philip (played by James Aubrey) was a replacement for Gary, whose actor, Michael Craze, was forced to leave the production after suffering an epileptic seizure on set. Nine defective prints of the film Saturday Night Fever (1977), obtained from The Rank Organisation, were used to create the mass of film stock that attacks Philip before he is killed. Some of the background actors featured in the opening film-within-a-film sequence were employees of BBC Radio London, where McGillivray was working at the time. Other small parts were played by members of the crew; for example, McGillivray appears in one scene as a TV news reporter.
The music was produced as a series of sound patterns by Ivor Slaney, who had previously scored Satan's Slave. Warren then matched these patterns to various scenes to create the soundtrack. Warren also oversaw the sound effects, some of which he produced himself by recording his own voice backwards.
Release and reception
Terror was a commercial success in the UK, where it spent a week as box office number one. The scene of Viv's murder was cut prior to the film's release to remove shots of a knife going through the character's feet.
Reviewing the film at the time of its release, Tom Milne of The Monthly Film Bulletin described Terror as a "curious mixture", praising the film's "bright dialogue", "excellent camerawork" and "Hitchcockian" moments of suspense but criticising its "statutory" plot and use of violent close-ups: "Crude and unconvincing, disrupting the atmosphere otherwise so carefully built up, these shots turn the film into something cheap and nasty."
Critical response has remained mixed. Jo Botting of the British Film Institute's website Screenonline is complimentary: "The effects work extremely well for a low-budget film and, where they are less skilful, expert camerawork and judicious editing hide many of their shortcomings." She argues that the use of violent and sexually explicit imagery makes Terror stylistically similar to European exploitation films. Radio Times critic Alan Jones, who has an uncredited role in the film and gives it two stars out of five, sums up Terror as "efficient if rather nonsensical" and a "cheap British riposte" to Suspiria but also names it "one of the last great British horror independents". Time Out magazine calls the film "stock schlock" partly redeemed by its dialogue and camerawork, also comparing it to The Exorcist (1973). By contrast, the website TV Cream calls it a "rubbish Suspiria knock-off", adding: "Unless you love badly-acted, no-budget, plotless haunted house gorefests with no style, humour or any redeeming features whatsoever, we say don't bother."
The website AllMovie rates Terror one star out of five. According to reviewer Dan Pavlides, the film "ultimately fails to live up to its title." Fellow reviewer Fred Beldin regards Terror as "one of [Warren's] more watchable films ... trotting out a laundry list of haunted house/slasher/witchcraft clichés delivered with crisp British flair and enough gore overkill to satisfy the bloodthirsty." He criticises the film's "half-hearted whodunit" theme but commends the murder scenes, calling them "cheap but nastily effective". Ian Jane of DVD Talk suggests that Terror "works well if you approach it expecting nothing more than a fun ninety minutes of trashy horror ... there's enough carnage and slickly shot mayhem in here to ensure that even if the characters are rather shallow and the premise a little hokey, the film is never dull." Paul Mavis, reviewing the film for the same website, views Terror as an awkward mixture of "Hammer Gothic" and "New Wave" elements, concluding that the film "comes out neither particularly good Hammer, nor completely urban, cold, nasty giallo". Bill Gibron, also of DVD Talk, opines that there are "elements that keep dragging the film down, making it play out longer and more languid than it should," arguing that the story is complicated by a number of plot holes.
Ian Fryer, author of The British Horror Film: From the Silent to the Multiplex, regards the decision to set much of the action in a film studio as significant since it allowed Warren and McGillivray "some fun at the expense of the sex and horror exploitation film sector both were more than familiar with." Harvey Fenton, editor of Flesh and Blood magazine, comments that the film contains "moments ... which almost seem to be homages to the world of exploitation movie production in general", comparing the tension between the characters during the Bathtime with Brenda scenes to Warren's memories of making his first feature film, Her Private Hell (1968). Steve Green, also writing for Flesh and Blood, states that one of Terror's enduring aspects is the "joy [McGillivray's] script takes in spoofing the [film] industry itself."
Comparison to other films
Ian Cooper, author of Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema, considers Terror to be Warren's best film but also his most derivative, noting the influence of Suspiria. He adds that Warren replaces Argento's "Gothic fairytale setting" of southern Germany with the "much less romantic" English district of Barnes in London. Comparing Terror to Argento's work, Adam Locks observes that both Warren and Argento favour the "spectacle of violence and death" over narrative coherence. In Terror, the latter is undermined by the editing of scenes such as Ann's arrival at a railway station and her subsequent walk through a park: according to Locks, the sudden jump from one location to the other causes the narrative to "proceed quickly and disjointedly, as in a dream" – an effect that he calls a "classic Argento moment".
Kim Newman argues that while the film contains a number of "Argentoisms", such as the bizarre death of Philip, other scenes, like the false stalking of Suzy by the mechanic, are merely "hoary clichés". Nigel Burrell of Flesh and Blood regards the sequence with the mechanic as one of the film's low points, calling it "protracted and silly". Fenton argues that influence from other films is also evident, believing the woodland chase leading up to Carol's murder to be inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). He compares Philip's decapitation to a similar scene in Argento's later film Inferno, suggesting that this was a case of Argento being inspired by Warren.
Warren has said that since the release of Bloody New Year in 1987 he has been planning a "sort of sequel to Terror: a fast-moving film that, along with the horror, also involves music and dancers." The proposed title is "Beyond Terror". Although Warren has written a script for the film, attempts to secure funding have failed and it remains unmade.
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