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TERROR, THE(director: Roger Corman; screenwriters: Leo V. Gordon/Jack Hill; cinematographer: John M. Nickolaus, Jr.; editor: Stuart O’Brien; cast: Boris Karloff (Baron Victor/Erik Von Leppe), Jack Nicholson (Lt. Andre Duvalier), Sandra Knight (Helene), Jonathan Haze (Gustaf), Richard Miller (Stefan), Dorothy Neumann (Old Woman, Erik’s Mom); Runtime: 81; AIP/Orion Release; 1963)
“The Terror is more boring than it is scary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Terror is more boring than it is scary. The film is plodding and hardly seems up to being a B-movie of director Roger Corman’s usual medium standards for such low-budget works. It’s more interesting to know how the film was created in three days than to see it. Corman had three days left on the film he just finished shooting, “The Raven,” before the set would be removed. So he talked the actors into doing a quickie. He got character actor Leon Gordon to write the story revolving around the castle sets, as he shot the outside scenes later on. He also let a number of others direct various scenes that were not already written, which gives the film its muddled look. The others include: Francis Ford Coppola for a couple of days, then Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson, and there could have been others. It was filmed along the California coastline of the Pacific Palisades.

It’s an early 19th century tale about a French officer in Napolean’s army, Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson), travelling on horse, who has been lost for a month from his regiment. He falls for a woman called Helene (Sandra Knight-Nicholson’s wife at the time) who leads him to a mountain spring where the water quenches his thirst, but she keeps disappearing as if she were an apparition when he tries to converse.

When Andre can’t follow her anymore because he was attacked by a hawk, he faints and wakes up in the farmhouse of a crone (Neumann) and her mute servant Gustaf (Haze). Andre’s being lied to when the old woman tells him he’s imagining he sees a girl, and when he sees her again and tries to follow her through the woods she almost leads him into quicksand. He was saved from that misstep by Gustaf and from him he finds out about a castle where the Baron Von Leppe (Karloff) lives, as the servant turns out not to be a mute. The servant tells Andre that Helene’s soul is possessed and that she hangs out in the castle. So lover boy gallops on to the castle and meets the chilly baron, who reluctantly takes him in as a guest.

The baron’s servant, Stefan (Miller), tries to follow his master’s orders and get the intruder to leave on his own accord. But the soldier decides to stay after he notices a painting of Helene and is told told by the baron that it is a portrait of his wife Ilsa, the Baroness Von Leppe, who died 20 years before. The servant goes on to tell him how he married the peasant girl from the village and immediately went off to war, but when he returned he found her with her lover Erik. The baron said he killed her while Stefan took care of Erik, and he buried her in the crypt so they could be together when he dies. The baron is now haunted by visions and voices from Ilsa.

The intense soldier finally puts it together that the old woman is a witch, who possesses the hawk and Helene/Ilsa, and her secret is that Erik was her son. She now aims after 20 years to get revenge on the Baron for killing her son, as she possessed Ilsa to lure him into committing suicide.

Warning: spoiler to follow.

Its silly premise was filled with too many holes for comfort. But there’s more hokum. It turns out that Stefan admits the real Baron got killed by Erik and that he took the place of the Baron all this time. The imposter has become so insane, that he believes that he’s the Baron. The finale builds to where the soldier is trying to save the girl he loves from being possessed by the witch.

There’s not much to this story; it’s all Gothic atmosphere (a spooky castle with Boris Karloff sitting by a fireplace while attired in a regal bathrobe). That might be just enough to satisfy some hardcore Corman and Karloff fans.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”