skip navigation
The Terror

The Terror(1963)

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:
Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (1)

DVDs from TCM Shop

The Terror A lost soldier discovers a... MORE > $6.98 Regularly $6.98 Buy Now

Articles

powered by AFI

SEE ALL ARTICLES
The Terror (1963)

There might be more love for The Terror (1963) if cinephiles were able to think of it as less of a Roger Corman film and more of a Jack Nicholson film. The job came Nicholson's way relatively early in his career, post The Cry Baby Killer (1958) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) but well before his emergence as a standard bearer for New Hollywood with the success of Easy Rider (1969). Nicholson's performance in The Terror has drawn more than its share of brickbats ("hopelessly lost" crowed biographer Patrick McGilligan) but it's actually acceptable (if unexceptional) work, especially given the piecemeal nature of the project, with its domino line of directors calling the shots, and an impromptu script that trowels on outmoded vernacular to give the proceedings the stamp of antiquity. The chief complaint lodged against Nicholson's acting is that his patented disaffection clashes with the old school charm of top-billed Boris Karloff (in one of his last fully ambulatory performances). While that observation is spot on, the criticism could be applied against a number of classic films made in the gloaming of Hollywood's studio system. James Dean was at odds in and out of character with on-screen father Raymond Massey in East of Eden (1955), as was Marlon Brando with his classically trained Julius Caesar (1953) co-stars. While the Jack Nicholson of The Terror hasn't quite matured or coalesced yet into the magnetic leading man of Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown (1974), his signature Nicholson-isms are all present and accounted for, from the Devil-may-care flatness of his delivery to the reptilian gaze that Stanley Kubrick would take to its hellish apotheosis in the actor's return to the horror genre in The Shining (1980).

Set during the Napoleonic Wars (which resulted in the Little Corsican gaining control of western and central Europe), The Terror's protagonist and sole voice of normalcy is young lieutenant Andr Duvalier (Nicholson), to whom we are introduced as he wanders a stretch of foreboding Baltic beachhead after becoming separated from his regiment. His compass spinning out of control, Duvalier is aided and then ditched by a mysterious young woman (Sandra Knight, Nicholson's wife at the time) named Helene, taken in by an enigmatic crone (Dorothy Neumann) and sent by a laryngitic half-wit (Jonathan Haze) to the crumbling schloss of secretive Baron Von Leppe (Karloff).

The subsequent pastiche of Ann Radcliff, Edgar Allan Poe and Raymond Chandler that is The Terror was variously directed by Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill and Monte Hellman, with additional footage shot by Dennis Jakob and purportedly even Nicholson himself for one day. Leftover sets were utilized from Corman's The Premature Burial (1962) and The Raven (1963) and Corman was still shooting scenes when The Haunted Palace (1963) went into production. To pad the running time, Corman relied heavily on location footage grabbed in a park in Santa Barbara and along the dramatic coastlines of Big Sur and Palos Verdes Peninsula, as well as stock footage from House of Usher (1960) and even the recycling of footage from The Terror itself!

Because every chef who had his fingers in the batter modified the scenario somewhat, The Terror is often branded as incomprehensible but that tireless canard is likely reflective more of copycat criticism than the film's actual merits. The Terror follows a labyrinthine but not unfathomable narrative arc as it onion peels its way towards its grim resolution but anyone making the sincere cry of "incomprehensible!" might as well confess they've never seen a ghost story before. With its ad hoc assembly the work of some dozen hands and the story no more contradictory than the average nightmare, The Terror pushes the art of collaboration towards the mystical realm of table tilting, with the finished product reflecting less a unified vision than an unconscious collective will.

Yet take away its Gothic blandishments and Freudian curlicues and The Terror is very much a detective story, with Duvalier knocking down doors like a born gumshoe as he trails the elusive Helene through a grapevine of interested but less than candid parties. "I'll ask the questions," Duvalier informs shifty family retainer Stefan (Corman regular Dick Miller), who of course knows more than he lets on about past events that have shaped the present mystery. With his insatiable curiosity and disdain for liars, Duvalier is an obvious predecessor to Jake Gittes, the shady but resolute private dick Nicholson played so indelibly in Chinatown and somewhat less indelibly in its belated follow-up, The Two Jakes (1990).

As the mendacious Baron von Leppe, Boris Karloff could be seen as a pencil study for the hateful Noah Cross character played by John Huston in Chinatown; both films have protagonist and antagonist locking antlers over a table of food. Chinatown's incest-driven "She's my sister/She's my daughter" dialectic is anticipated here by Sandra Knight's dual-natured Helene/Ilsa; both films share a water motif as well as a downbeat ending that finds their detective heroes unable, for all their savvy, to save the women they have come to love. That the much-lauded Chinatown might possibly have been informed in some small way by Corman's "super quickie" (to quote British critic Alan Frank) is not so far fetched. Chinatown scenarist Robert Towne had written (and appeared) in Corman's The Last Woman on Earth (1960) and provided the script for Corman's masterful The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) a decade earlier. Finally, it's worth noting that, when producer Robert Evans and director Roman Polanski read Towne's first draft for Chinatown, they both considered the script - you guessed it - incomprehensible.

Producer: Roger Corman
Director: Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman
Screenplay: Leo Gordon, Jack Hill
Cinematography: John Nicholaus
Film Editing: Stuart O'Brien
Assistant Editor: Donald Shebib
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Costume Design: Marjorie Corso
Music: Ronald Stein, Les Baxter
Cast: Boris Karloff (Baron von Leppe), Jack Nicholson (Andr Duvalier), Sandra Knight (Helene), Dick Miller (Stefan), Dorothy Neumann (Caterina), Jonathan Haze (Gustaf).
C-81m.

by Richard Harland Smith

back to top
The Terror (1963)

Born on April 5, 1926, in Detroit, Michigan, Roger Corman was educated at Beverly Hills High School and holds a degree in engineering from Stanford University.

Corman's first job in show business was as a gofer on the 20th Century Fox lot.

When Corman sold his first script to Allied Artists, he insisted on -and got- an associate producer credit.

Expected to follow his brothers into diplomatic service, William Henry Pratt instead wished to be an actor, and immigrated to Canada from England, where he changed his name to Boris Karloff.

On his mother's side, Boris Karloff is related to Anna Leonowens, whose memoirs inspired the Broadway musical The King and I.

Abandoned by his father after his birth and placed in the custody of his grandparents, Jack Nicholson grew up believing that his grandmother was his mother and that his true mother was his older sister.

Prior to appearing in The Terror, Sandra Knight was a good girl turned temporary ghoul in Richard Cunha's Frankenstein's Daughter (1958) and played a small role in Roger Corman's Tower of London (1962).

Harry Dean Stanton was best man to Jack Nicholson at his June 17, 1962 wedding to Sandra Knight, whose maid of honor was Millie Perkins.

In an attempt to ease tensions during their strained six-year marriage, Nicholson and Knight experimented with LSD under the supervision of a psychiatrist. During one five-hour session, Knight looked at Nicholson and saw a demon.

Stanley Kubrick used Nicholson's stories of his estrangement and breakup with Knight for one of Nicholson's mad scenes in The Shining (1980).

Uncredited co-directors Monte Hellman and Francis Ford Coppola had directed the Corman-produced Beast from Haunted Cave (1959) and Dementia 13 (1963) respectively.

Monte Hellman was once married to Barboura Morris, who starred in Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959) with Dick Miller.

Uncredited co-director Jack Hill would direct Boris Karloff in the aging actor's final feature film assignments.

Assistant editor Donald Shebib was a native of Toronto and would later write and direct the critically acclaimed Canadian feature Goin' Down the Road (1970).

Dick Miller is a direct descendant of Gustav von Bluecher, a Prussian soldier for whom Frederick the Great designed the Iron Cross medal of honor.

Dick Miller met his wife, Elaine Halpern, a registered nurse, at Hollywood's famous Schwab's Drug Store on Sunset Boulevard.

Miller and costar Jonathan Haze were briefly writing partners who hoped to spin their soldier characters from Invasion of the Star Creatures (1963) into a film of their own.

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:

Roger Corman biography, Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide, by Wheeler Winston Dixon

"Unsung Heroes of the Horrors: Dick Miller," by Barry Brown, www.barrybrown.info

Karloff: The Life of Boris Karloff by Peter Underwood

Dear Boris: The Life of William Henry Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff by Cynthia Lindsay

Heroes of the Horrors by Calvin Beck

Jack Nicholson: The Life and Times of an Actor on the Edge by Peter Thompson

Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson by Patrick McGilligan

Internet Movie Database

back to top
The Terror (1963)

Roger Corman was so pleased with the castle sets built for The Raven (1963) that he hoped to use them in another film...a wish that was granted when he realized Boris Karloff still owed him two days.

Vincent Price was Corman's first choice to star in The Terror, but Price was committed to a lecture tour.

The shooting script for The Terror was begun by actor/writer Leo Gordon, who supplied Corman with a handful of "mysterioso" scenes he had cannibalized from his own unproduced screenplays.

Roger Corman began shooting The Terror by charging production fees to the budget for The Raven, until producer Sam Arkoff paid a surprise visit to the set.

Although Boris Karloff's scenes were captured in two days, the remainder of The Terror was shot over the course of nine months, making it not the shortest Corman production but one of his longest.

Boris Karloff's salary for two days of work on The Terror was $30,000.

Francis Ford Coppola took eleven days to shoot his second unit footage, only ten minutes of which wound up in the finished film.

Jack Nicholson claims to have nearly drowned while filming in the surf of Big Sur.

Physically uncomfortable in Marlon Brando's Desire (1954) costume, Nicholson would demand costume approval on his later films.

Nicholson angered Francis Ford Coppola by intentionally ruining a one-time-only take involving the release of a thousand butterflies.

Between the start of filming in 1962 and the resumption of shooting in 1963, Sandra Knight became pregnant and had to be doubled for full body shots by an American International Pictures secretary during the flood scene.

A shot involving quicksand was directed by Jack Hill in his own backyard. The quicksand was originally planned for the death of Jonathan Haze's character, until it was decided to have him attacked by a falcon.

Corman protg Dennis Jakob doubled for Boris Karloff during the climactic castle flood.

Jakob had spent three days at Hoover Dam shooting close-ups of cascading water to cut into the climactic flood scene.

The Terror's plot twist of having Karloff's Baron Von Leppe turn out to be Ilsa's allegedly dead lover Eric was added by Corman during post production.

While The Terror's graveyard set was left over from The Premature Burial (1962) and the castle interiors from The Raven, the tree seen in the film's last scene was constructed for use in The Haunted Palace (1963).

Corman balked at the $500 price tag for a proposed stop motion effect involving the rapid decomposition of Sandra Knight's undead character and resorted to caramel syrup instead.

Scenes from The Terror were later put to use in Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968), which starred Boris Karloff as an elderly horror movie star who confronts a spree killer (modeled on Texas sniper Charles Whitman) at a drive-in theater.

In 1991, Roger Corman sought to gain back copyright on The Terror by shooting a new prologue, starring original cast member Dick Miller, and retitling the production Return of the Terror.

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:

Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff

Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life by Beverly Gray

The Films of Roger Corman by Alan Frank

Roger Corman: Metaphysics on a Shoestring by Alain Silver and James Ursini

Monte Hellman: His Life and Films by Brad Stevens

Dick Miller interview by Dennis Fischer

Boris Karloff and His Films by Paul M. Jensen

The Films of Roger Corman: Brilliance on a Budget by Ed Naha

Jack Hill interview, Psychotronic Video No. 13, by Sean Axmaker, 1992

back to top
The Terror (1963)

"It is something, in color, called The Terror, which it most certainly is."
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"Secret crime and sorcery in a mystery castle is the basis for this rather slow and old-fashioned type of creepy macabre tale with a supernatural element; but as a blood-curdler its horrors are on the mild side and suspense and excitement are limited, though sufficient to make it acceptable to horror film fans."
CEA Film Report

"Good film? Frankly, no! In fact, to make a well-deserved pun it's frequently terrible!...the playing's downright ludicrous. The worst offender being Jack Nicholson, performing with a degree of woodenness unmatched this side of Epping Forest."
Films and Filming

"Corman establishes himself as a highly creative producer-director with this excellent film. Much atmosphere chills & mood in tale of a drafty castle, witchcraft, haunted woods, tombs, and corpses that aren't really dead. Ingmar Bergman-like in many ways, this is one of the least heralded, most important films in many years."
Castle of Frankenstein

"All the traditional ingredients are included, the rambling castle with secret passages, almost continuous thunderstorms and ghostly appearances and disappearances, but too much footage is spent on suspense that hangs only on time, and the whole is not helped by a stilted script and a hero who registers emotion in a nasal monotone. Boris Karloff as the Baron is of course always worth seeing."
Kinematograph Weekly

"The whole thing is directed by Roger Corman, who is highly thought of in horror circles, but whose other recent effort, The Masque of the Red Death [1964], struck me as being nearly as metaphysically obscure as this one. He does have a nice eye for scenery and colour photography, though. Some of the shots in this one have a Bergmanesque quality of imagination."
Western Daily Press

"The Raven was polished off with three days to spare. Instead of giving his star, the venerable Boris Karloff, a breather, Corman had a script whipped up overnight, and while two assistants shot backgrounds in the Big Sur, he propped his aged trouper against those Raven sets still standing and called the hastily-pasted end-product The Terror."
Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies

"This complicated plot is hard to follow and even harder to believe..."
Peter Underwood, Boris Karloff and his Films

"Hodge-podge of horror with a dozen illogical plot twists fused into one Pathecolor puzzle. Boris Karloff loves his wife, who is dead, yet lives in his timeless castle of rotting bodies and the like...C'est la vie."
Ed Naha, Horrors: From Screen to Scream

"There's some notable incoherency and a smooth, rambling confusion in the film that, nevertheless, does little to detract from its amazing visual quality and mysterious fascination. It's all Karloff's vehicle from start to finish."
Calvin Beck, Heroes of the Horrors

"Roger Corman is famous for turnin' 'em out fast. This one was supposedly done in three days...Of course it's disjointed, but think of it as an exercise in economy and speed. A legendary mess."
Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

"A patchwork quilt shot by Corman in just a few short days using sets left over from his more accomplished Raven...An incomprehensible mess."
John McCarty, Video Screams

"...a confusing but enjoyable horror thriller..."
Paul M. Jensen, Boris Karloff and His Films

"There are many passages of Nicholson exploring the dark castle-obviously, this is filler. There are no scares and nothing really happens until the end of the film. It's pretty boring; enjoyable only for watching Karloff (who's good) and Nicholson (who's pretty lousy) wing it, and for ridiculous plot twists which were probably inserted just to confuse us."
Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic

"An honorary member of the Poe cycle by virtue of its necrophiliac theme, the film is likeable but indifferently acted (Karloff excepted) and lacking in any sort of compulsion."
The Aurum Encyclopedia of Film: Horror

"For such a hurried whim with so many cooks in the broth, The Terror is a surprisingly good film. Although it is an original work, it uses many of the tropes that Corman set up with his Edgar Allan Poe films - the tortured mood; people haunted by the crippling weight of past events; mysterious castles and their doom-laden residents; the innocent traveler who stumbles by; mystery women... Corman sustains the mood particularly well here."
Richard Scheib, The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review

"This is one of Corman's ingenious afterthoughts... Unfortunately, the burden of the film falls on the neophyte shoulders of young Jack Nicholson... Scenes fluctuate between campiness and Gothic splendor, which is no surprise, considering how the film was made."
Gene Wright, Horrorshows

"(Nicholson's) brash, uninflected performance is completely at odds with Boris Karloff's understated menace. Ultimately, The Terror's only relationship to Poe is that it featured the same stars and the sets used in The Raven."
Alain Silver and James Ursini, More Things Than Are Dreamt of

"Needless to say, the result is often uneven. Given the quality of the people involved, this could have been a much better film, but surprisingly, it really isn't that bad."
Welch Everman, Cult Horror Films

"Engaging chiller nonsense with Karloff the mysterious owner of a castle where eerie deeds occur."
Leonard Maltin Movie Guide

"Another surprisingly enjoyable prowl through a creepy Corman castle whose incidental pleasures, notably Karloff's commanding performance, compensate for the (largely) incomprehensible narrative."
Alan Frank, The Films of Roger Corman

"With scenes directed by Jack Hill, Francis Coppola, Monte Hellman and others, this is a curiously poetical, if sometimes incoherent hodgepodge, but a worthwhile diversion if seen in a clean print..."
Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

"While The Terror, in its finished form, made almost no sense at all (not surprising, since it barely had a plot) and Nicholson showed little sign of the actor he has gone on to become, it proved to become another box-office wonder."
Gordon B. Shriver, Boris Karloff: The Man Remembered

"For the record, the plot does so make sense."
Clayton Trapp, Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films

"A lot of separate components pasted together with Band-Aids."
Jack Nicholson, interviewed by Bill Davidson, The New York Times

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

back to top
The Terror (1963)

Andr: "It isn't an act of treason to talk to me. I'm a weary, disillusioned soldier and you're the only pleasant sight that I've seen in seven months."

Caterina: "Gustaf sometimes imagines things. If he could speak, I think you would find that his mind is warped. Such is the will of God...to endow and deprive."

Andr: "Quicksand. The girl was trying to kill me.
Gustaf: "She knows not what she does. Her will is not her own."
Andr: "You mean she's insane?"
Gustaf: "Possessed."

Baron: "What you see, Lieutenant, are the remains of a noble house. Relics. Ghost of past glories."

Andr: My father was the Compte du Duvalier...was until they spilled his head into a basket one morning in the Place de la Concorde."

Baron: "She has been dead for twenty years."
Andr: "With all respect, Baron, for a ghost she's a very active young woman."

Caterina: "Oh powers of darkness, let the spirit of Ilsa sink deeper, deeper into this mortal form. Helene, be as though you never were. Spirit of Ilsa, see through these eyes. Seek revenge. Do my bidding, for only then shall you find relief from your torment. You are becoming stronger now. Quite strong. Soon you shall have the strength to carry out my vengeance. Vengeance! And the dark powers will set you free, for I have promised them a richer prize. Soon you shall have the strength to carry out my vengeance. Vengeance!"

Baron: "For twenty years I've not set foot beyond the walls of this castle. I've lived here alone with the memory of the dreadful thing I did that night. That is my penance."
Andr: "And now you believe what...the ghost of Ilsa has come back to relieve you of your penance, is that it?"
Baron: "Yes."
Andr: "How long has the spirit been coming to the castle?"
Baron: "It-it all began two years ago. The first time I was terrified, but now I-I'm eager for our every meeting."
Andr: "One more question, Baron. Has anyone else except yourself seen the spirit? Stefan, for instance?"
Baron: "You think I'm mad, don't you?"
Andr: "Right now, Baron, I'm not sure just what I think."
Baron: "Ah... but don't forget, you saw her too. Perhaps we're both mad."

Helene: "Ilsa. The name sounds strange to me here by the sea."
Gustaf: "It's your name. Don't you remember?"
Helene: "My name is Helene. The Old Woman told me."
Gustaf: "She lies."
Helene: "She summoned me from the sea."
Gustavf "You must go back. Your soul is troubled, Ilsa."
Helene: "Go back? To Eric?"
Gustaf: "To the sea."
Ilsa: "Only when the sea enters the crypt. We shall rest there together, he and I, there beneath the sea."

Baron: "The crypt is no concern of yours."

Andr: "You wander in strange places at strange hours."

Helene: "When the night comes, I get cold. My arms and shoulders get cold. I don't like the night."

Helene: "The crypt... it must be destroyed, and with it the dead."
Andr: "Don't speak of the dead anymore. You're with me now."
Helene: "I am possessed of the dead."
Andr: "You're a warm living woman. Who has told you these things?"
Helene: "The dead."
Andr: "In Paris, they're doing wonderful things to discover the nature of the mind. I'll take you there. There are doctors who can free you from this-"Helene: "From the dead?"

Baron: "Ilsa my love... you are not alone. I am here with you. Soon I will join you in eternal sleep. Stefan will flood the crypt and seal us here together, with our love."

Baron: "Take this gun. Escort this gentleman from the castle. If he resists...kill him."

Caterina: "You're too late. Tonight he damns himself. Yes, even now she taunts him to his own eternal doom."
Andr: "You control the girl just as you control that bird. How? Mesmerism?"
Caterina: "Mesmerism, you fool.
Andr: "Why? Answer me old woman or I'll break your neck."
Caterina: "To revenge myself on the Baron Von Leppe. She will drive him to God's one unpardonable sin. Suicide."

Helene: "I have damned you as you damned me. The part of me that loved you lies there, Victor, rotting in the coffin. Look at it! See what your evil love has done to me and die with that vision in your brain."

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

back to top
teaser The Terror (1963)

There might be more love for The Terror (1963) if cinephiles were able to think of it as less of a Roger Corman film and more of a Jack Nicholson film. The job came Nicholson's way relatively early in his career, post The Cry Baby Killer (1958) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) but well before his emergence as a standard bearer for New Hollywood with the success of Easy Rider (1969). Nicholson's performance in The Terror has drawn more than its share of brickbats ("hopelessly lost" crowed biographer Patrick McGilligan) but it's actually acceptable (if unexceptional) work, especially given the piecemeal nature of the project, with its domino line of directors calling the shots, and an impromptu script that trowels on outmoded vernacular to give the proceedings the stamp of antiquity. The chief complaint lodged against Nicholson's acting is that his patented disaffection clashes with the old school charm of top-billed Boris Karloff (in one of his last fully ambulatory performances). While that observation is spot on, the criticism could be applied against a number of classic films made in the gloaming of Hollywood's studio system. James Dean was at odds in and out of character with on-screen father Raymond Massey in East of Eden (1955), as was Marlon Brando with his classically trained Julius Caesar (1953) co-stars. While the Jack Nicholson of The Terror hasn't quite matured or coalesced yet into the magnetic leading man of Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown (1974), his signature Nicholson-isms are all present and accounted for, from the Devil-may-care flatness of his delivery to the reptilian gaze that Stanley Kubrick would take to its hellish apotheosis in the actor's return to the horror genre in The Shining (1980).

Set during the Napoleonic Wars (which resulted in the Little Corsican gaining control of western and central Europe), The Terror's protagonist and sole voice of normalcy is young lieutenant Andr Duvalier (Nicholson), to whom we are introduced as he wanders a stretch of foreboding Baltic beachhead after becoming separated from his regiment. His compass spinning out of control, Duvalier is aided and then ditched by a mysterious young woman (Sandra Knight, Nicholson's wife at the time) named Helene, taken in by an enigmatic crone (Dorothy Neumann) and sent by a laryngitic half-wit (Jonathan Haze) to the crumbling schloss of secretive Baron Von Leppe (Karloff).

The subsequent pastiche of Ann Radcliff, Edgar Allan Poe and Raymond Chandler that is The Terror was variously directed by Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill and Monte Hellman, with additional footage shot by Dennis Jakob and purportedly even Nicholson himself for one day. Leftover sets were utilized from Corman's The Premature Burial (1962) and The Raven (1963) and Corman was still shooting scenes when The Haunted Palace (1963) went into production. To pad the running time, Corman relied heavily on location footage grabbed in a park in Santa Barbara and along the dramatic coastlines of Big Sur and Palos Verdes Peninsula, as well as stock footage from House of Usher (1960) and even the recycling of footage from The Terror itself!

Because every chef who had his fingers in the batter modified the scenario somewhat, The Terror is often branded as incomprehensible but that tireless canard is likely reflective more of copycat criticism than the film's actual merits. The Terror follows a labyrinthine but not unfathomable narrative arc as it onion peels its way towards its grim resolution but anyone making the sincere cry of "incomprehensible!" might as well confess they've never seen a ghost story before. With its ad hoc assembly the work of some dozen hands and the story no more contradictory than the average nightmare, The Terror pushes the art of collaboration towards the mystical realm of table tilting, with the finished product reflecting less a unified vision than an unconscious collective will.

Yet take away its Gothic blandishments and Freudian curlicues and The Terror is very much a detective story, with Duvalier knocking down doors like a born gumshoe as he trails the elusive Helene through a grapevine of interested but less than candid parties. "I'll ask the questions," Duvalier informs shifty family retainer Stefan (Corman regular Dick Miller), who of course knows more than he lets on about past events that have shaped the present mystery. With his insatiable curiosity and disdain for liars, Duvalier is an obvious predecessor to Jake Gittes, the shady but resolute private dick Nicholson played so indelibly in Chinatown and somewhat less indelibly in its belated follow-up, The Two Jakes (1990).

As the mendacious Baron von Leppe, Boris Karloff could be seen as a pencil study for the hateful Noah Cross character played by John Huston in Chinatown; both films have protagonist and antagonist locking antlers over a table of food. Chinatown's incest-driven "She's my sister/She's my daughter" dialectic is anticipated here by Sandra Knight's dual-natured Helene/Ilsa; both films share a water motif as well as a downbeat ending that finds their detective heroes unable, for all their savvy, to save the women they have come to love. That the much-lauded Chinatown might possibly have been informed in some small way by Corman's "super quickie" (to quote British critic Alan Frank) is not so far fetched. Chinatown scenarist Robert Towne had written (and appeared) in Corman's The Last Woman on Earth (1960) and provided the script for Corman's masterful The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) a decade earlier. Finally, it's worth noting that, when producer Robert Evans and director Roman Polanski read Towne's first draft for Chinatown, they both considered the script - you guessed it - incomprehensible.

Producer: Roger Corman
Director: Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman
Screenplay: Leo Gordon, Jack Hill
Cinematography: John Nicholaus
Film Editing: Stuart O'Brien
Assistant Editor: Donald Shebib
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Costume Design: Marjorie Corso
Music: Ronald Stein, Les Baxter
Cast: Boris Karloff (Baron von Leppe), Jack Nicholson (Andr Duvalier), Sandra Knight (Helene), Dick Miller (Stefan), Dorothy Neumann (Caterina), Jonathan Haze (Gustaf).
C-81m.

by Richard Harland Smith

back to top