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Sunday, February 28, 2016

THE TERROR -- Movie Review by Porfle

One thing about it, THE TERROR (1963) looks great--probably better than it has a right to considering its hasty schedule and slapdash origins. 

This picturesque mood piece moves about as fast as the hands of a clock, so you might as well just gear down and settle in if you want to get anything out of it.  "The French Connection" it ain't.  That said, it's a pretty rewarding experience for the patient Gothic horror fan, especially one who appreciates aesthetically-pleasing filmmaking on a tight budget.

Roger Corman had some sets left over from THE RAVEN which were due to be demolished in a matter of days, so he hired actor/screenwriter Leo Gordon and Jack Hill to knock out a script around them, managed to snag RAVEN leftover Boris Karloff for three more days' work, and was off and running.

Aside from Corman's own efforts as director, parts of the picture were co-helmed by Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman (TWO-LANE BLACKTOP), Jack Hill, and co-star Jack Nicholson himself in his fourth film for Corman.

The young Nicholson's acting chops hardly dazzle us here as he portrays Andre Duvalier, a French soldier separated from his regiment circa 1800 and drawn into a ghostly mystery involving reclusive Baron Victor Frederick von Leppe (Karloff) in his isolated seaside castle (with location footage shot at Big Sur). 

Still, just watching this seemingly unprepossessing young actor with the knowledge that he will someday be widely regarded as a "national treasure" is interesting in itself.

The meandering plot is rather negligible and is mainly an excuse to let us observe the historic pairing of Karloff and Nicholson as they wander around the impressive castle sets and agonize over whether or not the ghost of the late Baroness, whom Karloff's character killed in a fit of jealous rage years earlier, still stalks the dark hallways and surrounding forest.

Nicholson's wife at the time, Sandra Knight (already immortalized in the trash classic FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER), plays the elusive Helene, who may or may not be the Baroness' ghost, while Corman fave Dick Miller (billed here as "Richard" to give the film more class) is the Baron's faithful servant Stefan.

Dorothy Neumann plays a local witch with a intensely personal interest in the affair, and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS alumnus Jonathan "Seymour Krelboyne" Haze is also on hand as Gustaf.  Most of the acting is stilted, thanks mainly to some unwieldy dialogue, although Karloff comes through with his usual unfailing professionalism and the real-life Nicholsons are a passable onscreen couple.

Colorful cinematography, some nice stock shots of the castle and churning sea, and a typically robust musical score by the great Ronald Stein (the main titles theme and artwork are a highlight) contribute to THE TERROR's modest but rewarding appeal.

Things heat up (finally!) in the excitingly staged finale when the Baron's darkest secret is revealed at last and the entire surviving cast face death by flood, fire, bird attack, or melting into an oozing mass of putridity. 

The ending, I must say, is enough of a shock to put a satisfying cap on the whole thing, making THE TERROR a pleasantly chilling way to pass some time. 



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