ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn
I knew very little about this film when I chose to write about it. I knew even less about director Norman J. Warren. Terror, was produced and released independently in the United Kingdom. It starts out as a standard witch’s revenge film, with an opening sequence set 300 years in the past.
In the present, the witch returns in spirit to take revenge on the ancestors of her executioners. Not a new premise at all. Until the stalk-and-slash sequences begin. “Okay,” I thought, “So, it’s a witch movie that’s also a slasher movie.” Then I began to notice small clues both within the story and visually as to the creative intentions of Mr. Warren. The red herring eccentric characters (both male and female) that might or might not be the killer. The soft purple and green gel lights that draw the eye away from the primary action. The close-ups of mascara-clad eyeballs and gory murders where the victims bleed a hue of red patented by the Crayola corporation. The electronic musical score. A torrential downpour with drenched characters bathed in blue and white light. POV shots of the killer’s knife moving relentless towards its prey. A finale that comes out of nowhere and leaves no closure for the audience. Sound familiar?
Released in 1978 at the beginning of the American slasher craze ushered in by the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Terror owes more to the Italian Giallo thrillers than any stalk-and-slash offering. A quick search on internet confirmed my suspicions. Warren was a big fan of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, released one year prior to Terror.
While not a complete rip-off by any means, Warren manages to inject his own style into what is ultimately a wildly entertaining film. It’s much more grounded in terms of acting and story than anything Argento or Bava ever made, making it much more “British” in tone. While the Italians are much more given to fits of artistic abandon, with very little attention paid to story, most British directors – even the most creative ones like Ken Russell or Michael Reeves – never stray too far outside the bleak reality of Great Britain as a backdrop and generally adhere to a three-act structure. The acting is solid and the story engaging. Terror gets the point quite quickly in terms of action. There’s never a dull moment. Eagle-eyed genre-fans will likely feel the same warm fuzzies I got when I noticed posters for both Warren’s own Satan’s Slave (1976) and Bo Arne Vibenius’s Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973) in the background of one scene. A scene very clearly shot in the film’s actual production office.
By combining elements of classic British period horror and Italian Giallo, Warren has done what no British director had done before or possibly since. Terror could be considered the first and only true British Giallo. The fact that it was all shot in real locations (including a BDSM strip club) on a shoestring budget makes it all the more impressive. I look forward to exploring more of Mr. Warren’s work. Anyone who apes the Italian masters while still managing to make a movie that feels fresh deserves further scrutiny.