Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Terror (1963)

Who's in it?: Boris Karloff; Jack Nicholson (yes, THAT Jack Nicholson); Sandra Knight (Frankenstein's Daughter, Thunder Road)

What's it about?: An officer (Nicholson) is separated from Napoleon's army and gets entangled in ghostly goings on in a baron's (Karloff) spooky castle.

How is it?: Hammer horror a la Roger Corman. Corman does a nice job replicating the mood of Hammer films, but there are two major problems with The Terror. First, Jack Nicholson is as convincing as you imagine he'd be playing a French officer. He's a strangely likable hero, but completely out of place in this period piece.

The more serious problem though is that the story makes no sense. It starts off confusing enough with Nicholson's meeting a girl (Knight) who may be a local villager in thrall to a witch, some sort of Ladyhawke-like were-raptor, the ghost of Karloff's dead wife, or something else entirely. That's all weird and cool; I like being kept on my toes. But the more twists and surprise revelations the screenplay reveals, the less it all holds together. By the end, there's some whackadoo supernatural stuff going on that can't be resolved with the rest of the stor; it's just there to be shocking.

Karloff was 76 years old when he made The Terror, so he's not very physical in it, except in the climax. I don't want to spoil details, but the biggest shock in the film is Karloff's impressive burst of activity at the end after watching him shuffle slowly around the castle for the first hour. Regardless of his activity level though, Karloff easily outacts everyone else in the movie.

Rating: Turkey, but worth watching for Karloff fans or anyone interested in the novelty of young Jack Nicholson and Roger Corman's trying to emulate Hammer's period-horror films.


Wings1295 said...

Have had like three different versions of this on various DVD sets and have NEVER watched it! LOL

Michael May said...

I'd never recommend that anyone run out and but it, but if you've already got it, it's worth checking out.

jason said...

This one is a result of Corman's notorious insistence on getting every last penny out of a dollar... after finishing one of his other period films that featured both Karloff and Nicholson -- I think it was The Raven -- he realized he still had access to the Gothic house sets for a few more days, so they threw this thing together to take advantage of the situation. The plot -- such as it is -- doesn't make sense because it was largely invented on the fly, and the whole thing was filmed in the space of a week. Or so I've heard. It used to turn up on my local PBS affiliate fairly often when they didn't have anything better to put on...

Michael May said...

Thanks for that, Jason. Now I'm all curious to see the other one.


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