With the filming of The Raven (1963) finishing ahead of schedule, director Roger Corman decided he had enough time to do another movie despite being told it wasn’t possible. He wanted to take advantage of the wonderful sets as long as they were available and he had a potential cast. From this small recipe for disaster, The Terror (1963) was born.
Corman had outlined a very thin sketch of a script and approached some of the cast from The Raven to see if they would be interested in taking advantage of the downtime. Vincent Price had to turn down the offer due to a lecture commitment but Boris Karloff agreed as did young actor Jack Nicholson. Karloff signed on for only a small fee with a promise of an additional $15,000 should the movie be successful, which it ultimately was not. Nicholson was eager to find work being the young and starving actor that he was at the time. Writer Leo Gordon had a rough script ready for Karloff to read, which Karloff then reportedly worked on to improve it as much as he could. With only days before the sets were to be demolished, the mad dash was on to film as much as they could.
So what is The Terror really about? Good question as the script is all over the place and confusing to say the least. The film is set in 1806, although there are more than a few inaccuracies in that timeline related to history and weaponry mentioned. Jack Nicholson stars as Andre Duvalier, a French soldier who is lost and trying to return to his men. On a beach, he encounters Helene (Sandra Knight), a mysterious woman whom we later learn resembles Ilsa, the late wife of the reclusive Baron von Leppe (Boris Karloff). As it turns out, the ghost of Ilsa is under the control of a witch who has been tormenting the Baron for years. Along the way, we have far too many plot twists to mention. Suffice to say, just about everyone is not who they appear to be and we end up with a climatic flooding of the castle.
While Corman is listed as the director of The Terror, it sat on the shelf for months, unfinished due to Corman’s schedule and a general lack of funding to wrap the film up. Several young directors ended up working on the film to finish it, including Francis Ford Coppola and even Jack Nicholson himself. However, all the hard work could not save The Terror from the very poor and confusing script. It was not a success at all and is generally referred to as one of Karloff’s lesser efforts. However, Karloff did eventually get paid his $15,000 after he agreed to work on Targets (1968), which many refer to as one of his best films. Targets actually features scenes of The Terror incorporated into the final act at the drive-in.
For many years, The Terror was only available in standard ratio in poor prints via the public domain. However, in 2011, the film was finally restored from the original 35mm film and presented in HD and 16×9 widescreen on Blu-ray. While it doesn’t help it make any more sense, the film is now indeed quite stunning to look at. The only downside is that it does not include the original trailer. On that note alone, I recommend you add it to your collection for some late night viewing. Just make sure you are watching the restored version and not the public domain copy, which is still widely available.