I'm a sucker for "Alien" ripoffs, so of course Norman J. Warren's cheesy 1980 homage, "Inseminoid" (a.k.a. Horror Planet), is a fave of mine.
Considering the relatively high production values of that flick, I thought I'd give the rest of his early horror movies a try. I obtained the Anchor Bay UK (R2) coffin boxset, which contains "Terror" (1978), as well as two previous horror flicks lensed by Warren ("Satan's Slave" from 1976 and "Prey" from 1977).
To give proper perspective to "Terror," I think it helps to compare it to Warren's earlier horror films in a chronological fashion.
But in case you don't feel like reading this entire post, here's the upshot: Norman J. Warren's straight-up horror films spiral downward in quality as time goes on; since "Terror" is one of his later films, it stinks the most. Sorry, but the stench cannot be covered up.
Without a doubt, Norman J. Warren started on a high note. His first full-length horror feature, "Satan's Slave" (1976), regardless of the absurd title, is a real gem of mid-70's horror (woman meets her evil uncle for the first time when her parents die in a car crash; uncle decides to use his stranded niece in a ritual to reincarnate an ancient witch). Maybe I was in a particularly receptive state when I popped it in, but it occurred to me that "Satan's Slave" was a real independent 70's gem with some poetic photography and some solid grue. It felt like "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" or even the lesser "The Legacy" at times. The film is caught somewhere between the then-dying Hammer Gothic style and the rise of contemporary horror films. Its carefully crafted and moody jazz-ensemble music, and its isolated, wintry English country manor setting make it a real fun time. They don't make them like this anymore. (And I thought I had perused every worthwhile 70's horror movie ever made. I was very grateful to be wrong.)
Then came "Prey" (a.k.a. Alien Prey, 1977). Shot in a week or two and with little money, the film has an interesting premise (alien with Wolfman Jack fangs crashes on an English country estate; he is here to scout out whether or not humans are edible). It effectively uses some claustrophobic settings, and the plot takes some well-timed twists. But it doesn't begin to stand up to the moodiness, and especially sympathy for the characters, that "Satan's Slave" generates. "Prey" is hampered by only having three players. The conversations seem to go round and round confusingly amongst the two lesbians and the disguised alien, and the tension is very on-again off-again. The film is inconsistent; it drags terribly in places; the photography seems rushed or crudely framed. And there's the infamous slo-mo drowning scene in the dirty pond--that goes on and on and on...
Then came "Terror" (1978), the absolute worst of the lot. The film (witch lays an ancient curse on a family which comes to pass as we watch) is apparently an homage to Argento's "Suspiria" (though I'd never, never be able to tell). Trust me: I live for confusing horror movies pasted together with hoary clichés, but this "film-like product" lacks basic structure. The characters are so thin that they seem to disappear when they turn sideways. I couldn't even remember their names, which is never a good sign. Scenes seem strung together at random; telegraphed red herrings abound. Nudity just thrown in...because. There is a "film within a film" motif used to some effect, but we've seen this done much better by others. The film is populated by characters we don't care about because we don't know them in the most rudimentary ways. I had no problem going to the fridge during this one.
It is interesting (indeed, fascinating) to juxtapose a gem like "Satan's Slave" against Warren's later "Terror" (which actually had a bigger budget; by that time, Warren had earned a bit of a name for himself too, but apparently that had little effect on quality). Take my word for it: "Terror" is by far the weaker film, thinner, less interesting, less nostalgic-feeling, less moody, less filling. It is, without question, the lowest point in the UK boxset.
OK, now that I've fulfilled my IMDb obligation, I can go pop the next DVD of the boxset into my player: A widescreen version of "Inseminoid!"