In just under eighty minutes, Roger Corman is able to deliver one of Filmgroup’s most interesting and original offerings. THE TERROR features Jack Nicholson at the beginning of his screen career, and Boris Karloff near the end of his. The film serves as the only time these two great actors were able to have long scenes together that showed off their acting chops. The movie is available for the second time on Blu-Ray, courtesy of The Film Detective.
In 1806, Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson, PSYCH-OUT), is a French soldier who is lost from his regiment. He comes upon a mysterious woman named Helene (Sandra Knight, FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER), who saves the dehydrated soldier by showing him where there is fresh water to drink. When Helene mysteriously disappears into the sea, Andre follows her but is overcome by the waves. Waking up in a hut belonging to Katrina (Dorothy Neumann, GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW), Andre is surprised to learn that neither the old woman nor Gustaf (Jonathan Haze, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) knows about the young woman he met. He prevails upon the Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff, TARGETS), who has a portrait that hangs in his castle that looks just like the young woman. The only catch is that the woman in the portrait has been dead for twenty years and was, in fact, the Baron’s wife. Andre gets the runaround from the Baron and his servant Stefan (Dick Miller, A BUCKET OF BLOOD), despite learning many secrets about the Von Leppe family.
As Hollywood legend goes, Roger Corman had just finished filming THE RAVEN and had a few days left over with star Boris Karloff. For an additional fee (reportedly $30,000), Corman utilized the actor's services (after Vincent Price had to turn him down due to an art tour) in which he shot most of the interiors on Harry Reif’s still-standing impressive sets. Corman then employed a number of up-and-coming filmmakers to breathe life into the project (which concluded within three months of shoots) and the rest is history. The production boasts four additional directors in addition to Corman but only he got credit. The others include Francis Ford Coppola (given Associate Producer credit on this film), Jack Hill (co-writer of the screenplay with Leo Gordon, as well as the future director of SPIDER BABY and FOXY BROWN) as well as up-and-coming Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson himself. Right at the start of the film, you can feel the influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s then recent movies such as VERTIGO and PSYCHO with the opening credits. A succession of painted images of castles, shadows, and crypts is shown over a score that is heavy on the brass side. The story, with its emphasis on revenge, tombs, jealousy and black magic just might make this the best Edgar Allan Poe film Roger Corman made without being based on an actual Poe text. The opening scenes of Nicholson and Knight on the beach look excellent, as do all of the exteriors in this film. The establishing shots of the wood hut that Katrina lives in are beautifully photographed, with sunlight falling all across the nearby forest through green, full trees.
It’s interesting to note that the chapel and the Von Leppe castle are gray and dark, while the crypt itself boasts bright colors of red, green, and purple. Here we can imagine Art Director Daniel Haller being allowed to go a little crazy. However, since we learn during the film that the Baron is truly devoted to his dead bride, this provides an interesting character study: the Baron doesn’t care for the world of the living or the use of the chapel. He lives for the crypt, to be with his love down there. This, coupled with an interesting plot twist, shows this film to be different than others in its genre and budget. Ronald Stein’s score is consistent throughout the movie in accurately setting the mood for each scene. The bombastic main title heard over the opening credits returns in the climax in the Von Leppe crypt. Other cues are idyllic for the scenes of Andre and Helene together, as well as mysterious for scenes where Andre explores the castle.
More than the supernatural elements, the highlights in this film occur when Karloff and Nicholson have scenes alone together. Both actors give performances that elevate the material. In particular, Karloff, when relating how his wife really died, shows a human side to the Baron other actors might miss. We really feel for the character despite being troubled at his confession.
THE TERROR is presented here in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. After airing for many years on TV in grainy and washed out prints, The Film Detective has restored the film fully from 35mm archival material for this release, and the more organic-looking transfer for this Blu-Ray is favorable over the HD Cinema "pressed" one of a few years ago which had heavier dozes of DNR, waxing over much of the intended grain. The Pathe color looks excellent and the picture is sharp, which is impressive when you take into account that this is a BD-R (manufactured on recordable media). The English DTS-HD Master Audio track (stereo) is perfectly acceptable. In a perfect world, this release would come with many extras, but the main focus should be that The Film Detective is making these classics available in HD. The only extra on this disc is optional English SDH subtitles. Hopefully, this film being in such a clear and excellent presentation will allow interest in it to grow and for there to be extras on subsequent releases. (Daniel Savino)
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