Though hardly the most talented director, Norman J. Warren is something of an important (though often ignored) name in the world of Exploitation cinema. Starting his career with Sexploitation flicks, he's more known for the cheap horror films he did in Britain in a time when the likes of Hammer and Amicus were becoming a thing of the past. However, Warren's horror movies lacked the Gothic Atmosphere and beauty of the best Hammer movies, and the unabashed EC Comic fun of the best Amicus films. Where his horror movies lacked in those departments (as well as skill as a coherent story teller), they made up for that in pure sleaze and exploitation. Movies like the Occult Hammer rip off "Satan's Slave" (1976), the unabashed low budget Science Fiction flick "Prey" (1978), the sleazy and actually unappealing "Alien" rip off "Inseminoid" (1982), and the inept but bizarre mindfuck "Bloody New Year" (1987) are bizarre, tasteless and sleazy forays that tried to keep British horror alive, but were more interested in titilating and appealing to the exploitation market. Out of all of these movies, the best he did was 1978'a "Terror."
The movie starts with a a witch burning that goes horribly wrong, leading to flaming bodies, decapitation, and other delights. Well, that turns out to be footage of a movie our main cast of characters are watching at a party. After watching this wholesome family entertainment, a girl named Ann Garrick (Carolyn Corage) is hypnotized. This turns out bad, because she can't snap out of her trance, and slashers her brother James (John Nolan, uncle of Christopher Nolan) on the shoulder with a sword used to kill a witch named Mad Dolly. Soon, people start dying in creative and gory fashion. Oh, and they are all have Royal ancestors.
First things first: This is essentially a rip off of "Suspiria" and other Italian horror flicks, particularly giallo movies. The whole thing resembles "Susperia" too-that is, if that film had none of the scares, talent or directorial brilliance of Dario Argento. Hell, like "Suspiria", the plot is essentially secondary. Director Warren is more interested in knocking people off in moments inspired by the works of Argento and Bava, as well as throwing in gratuitous nudity and a scene at a strip club (with a dyed blond stripper who looks kinda like Marc Almond circa Soft Cell.) In short it's "Suspiria"-only with tacky exploitation elements.
Make no bones about it, nobody is going to mistake "Terror" as a great movie. The acting is shaky, the plot is a shamble of events, it reaches levels that are baffling in their stupidity (particularly a floating car-no, really), and the score is some rather annoying electronic music. That out of the way, it's never unwatchable. The film has something of a sense of humor about itself, and it's obvious that Warren never meant for any of this to be taken too seriously. He knows first and foremost that this is exploitation and nothing more, and he wants you to have fun watching it. Indeed, it may not be a classic, but as a turn your brain off mindless horror flick, "Terror" mostly achieves it's objectives, even if the conclusion is too sudden and unsatisfactory. Plus, how many movies can you think of that have a man being attacked by filmstrips (whose then killed Argento style by broken glass?)
Out of all the horror movies Warren did, "Terror" remains the best. It's an nonsensical and dumb, but also undemanding and fun horror movie that doesn't ask much out of you. For Saturday night viewing with nothing else on, you could do much worse.
Interesting fact: In 1979, Warren directed a sci fi sex comedy called "Outer Touch." One of it's writers (and the voice of a computer with a gay voice over in the US version): none other than Bob Saget.