What’s it About?
A young officer in Napoleon’s army pursues a mysterious woman to the castle of an elderly Baron.
Directed by Roger Corman
8 out of 10
No director, during their best run or in their hey dey, could deliver movies fast and furious like Roger Corman did. As one of his entries from the early 60’s, “The Terror” is Corman doing what he does best. Flexing his guerilla film-making muscles and turning in a lean, mean spooky B movie with 2 of the finest actors of the period. Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson. Corman arranged somehow for Karloff to be available for 3 to 4 days for shooting and he also re-used costumes, sets and some extras (though there are not many people in this movie). How is that for frugal?
It doesn’t end there. He even asked Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholson to direct some scenes. Isn’t that epic? “The Terror” is sometimes considered to be a Poe flick by Corman because of the vibe, style and mood not to mention the settings of his other films. “The Terror” is not a Poe film in any way. Writers Leo Gordon (Adam 12) and note-able exploitation director Jack Hill (Coffy and Foxy Brown) were brought in to write up a new and fresh take on a psychological mystery and Corman’s film delivers that.
Nicholson plays a lost and estranged French soldier (Who really doesn’t sound French at all) named Andre, in the year 1806. After the film’s creepy and simplistic animated opening we witness Andre as he manages to barely keep himself alive. He is dehydrated and exhausted.
As he hugs the ocean side on his horse he sees a strange woman appear who helps him find fresh water to drink. She appears almost like a spirit or apparition and disappears just as fast as one. Andre, trying to sort out how this mysterious woman just seemed to vanish, ventures forth to investigate.
It leads him to the Castle of the Baron Von Leppe where the Baron seems reluctant to give Andre any answers to who this mysterious woman actually is. Dick Miller (Gremlins, The Howling) plays the Baron’s servant, Stefan, seems to be very faithful to him and won’t let Andre in on what the secret really is.
That this mysterious woman may be the ghost of Von Leppe’s wife. Someone the Baron killed along with her secret lover named Eric. Andre eventually runs into an old woman named Katrina who lives in the woods with a near mute servant named Gustav. She lives on the Baron’s property and seems to be a powerful witch with an agenda all her own involving the Baron.
Corman leaves no stone un-turned in “The Terror” He gives us creepy, foggy marshes, cemeteries, crypts and also re-used interiors (From The Haunted Palace no less) that are bright and lush. Corman uses just the right film stock in all his movies in order to get the right effect. Smartly, Corman sets up mood from the get go and with Karloff’s sad and troubled interpretation of the Baron he solidifies that madness and ghostly happenings are deeply rooted in the story.
This kind of stuff Corman excels at. Dick Miller himself is wondrous to watch here too. Even though he is loyal to the Baron Miller really shows depth here when grappling with himself as he tries hard to avoid revealing the one thing that Andre needs to hear. Karloff, too is epic like always.
He has something to hide of course and revels in his secrets. Even though his scenes were all done in less than a week it seems like Karloff really studied the Baron Von Leppe and breathed dreaded life into him. Especially during the last act when Andre and his persistence gets him all riled up.
The cast all work great here and the characters of Katrina and Gustav have interesting parts to play here in the mystery of the apparition of Ilsa or is it some ordinary woman who has been manipulated by the Witch Katrina? Helene is wonderfully played enigmatically by actress Sandra Knight (The Haunting of Morella) who has some interesting scenes opposite Nicholson. Even at the end she plays her part perfectly with mystery and gravity.
“The Terror” is grand Corman. Strange, otherworldy and downright creepy. Karloff and Nicholson along with Miller all do a fantastic job at keeping us guessing until the very end when it seems Andre cannot get all his answers. When the ending approaches we are pulled in hook, line and sinker into a pretty decent B picture that is not terribly scary but chilling and intriguing.
It is an awesome midnight flick for people who love to stay up late and watch weird movies at ungodly hours. It is a curiosity piece for many but for me it is old fashioned, spine tingling fun from the great Roger Corman who unlike many of his peers knew how to kick out movies left and right. Recommended!
Vic’s Note: “The Terror” is currently available on Netflix Instant Streaming. Have fun!