Retro Review: THE TERROR (1963)

Back with Retro Review of the little known Corman film with horror stars Jack Nicholson and Boris Karlof – Bleeding Dead

  The Terror - CoverA young French soldier lost from his regiment sees a beautiful woman wandering with him along the beach. The soldier, Lt. Andre Duvalier, pursues after the woman to ask for directions but is responded by silence from the mysterious beauty. The woman leads the Lieutenant towards the sea only for her to disappear into the water. The Lieutenant then falls unconscious and awakes in a old woman’s shack, upon asking she claims she’s seen no young woman along the beach. Confused but certain the woman is real the events following lead The Lieutenant to Castle Baron Von Leppe, where the Baron reveals that the woman isn’t real but is rather a ghost of the dead Baroness who’s been haunting him. Lt. Duvalier however still isn’t convinced and considers the entire situation as suspicious. The lost soldier now needs to help the woman who attracted him on the beach while uncovering the secret of the Baron.

As last time I reviewed a Roger Corman produced film I didn’t intend to repeat by reviewing one of his directorial efforts. However, my boyfriend came across this torpid DVD release of THE TERROR at a used video store and I was intrigued by the little known film that stars Boris Karlof and Jack Nicholson. The plot is loosely original but it sooner or later becomes another ghost in the eerie castle type film, minus any sense of logic or reason. The story literally follows nothing but the characters own free will, with the bulk of the conflict a debate between the Baron and Lt. Duvalier on whether Helene is a real woman or the spirit of the former’s late wife. ‘The terror’ is non-existent and a rather ill-fitting title for a film that doesn’t act on horror or suspense. The ‘twist’ doesn’t help in focusing the jumbled script and if anything makes it more addled.

Karlof is effortless as Baron Von Leppe, although playing the enigmatic, strange man who keeps to himself in a lush Gothic castle is likely the equivalent to slipping The Terror - Jack Nicholsonon a tailor made glove for the actor. Not necessarily one of his late roles but no doubt towards the last years of his life he still manages to bring trepidation to the screen. This is an early Jack Nicholson film, where most of his effort is simply just showing up to work everyday. His acting is a putative choice of boredom or maybe just disregard for the entire project, but is also backed by a character and script that is neither lucrative or developed. The film’s sets are leftovers from the much more successful The Raven, but are still useful in creating a dark, somewhat Gothic tone. The castle is dreary, sullen, and the music screeching with fright leaving it an overall Edgar Alan Poe feel without actually being engaging or creepy like a Poe story.

It seems like Corman intended to make an effortless horror film that would deliver with the strength of its cast. However, he instead got a nine month shoot (his longest ever), five separate directors who all have contributing scenes in the final cut, and a weak film with its earliest problems beginning in its script. He also only had four days with Karlof to shoot all his scenes, a cap on one of the best assets the film had. In this I believe the film’s flaws show but as mentioned its not all in the production as there really isn’t a concept to the senseless story. Not to mention a lead who’s character is practically an outcast in the entire plot. There is room for salvation in the ending that is pleasantly grim with a smudge of gore offered. The cast and director will most likely be the appeal but don’t go in expecting much as THE TERROR isn’t a Corman classic, but not an entirely wasted watch if you’re interested in the mostly forgettable sixties film.

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