It has a been a month or so Since I have done another edition of my Movie of the Week. This week is the Roger Corman classic The Terror from 1963. I know most of you have seen this film millions of times and you find it in the bargin binds of video stores and catch it on late night TV, but has mostly shown in the crappy faded scratched up dupe. This weeks movie of the Week presentation has The Terror taken from a pretty clean 35mm print and a nice scan done. Its almost like seeing the film for the first time,in its wide screen glory much better than the cropped version.
The Terror (1963) is a low-budget American Vistascope horror film produced and directed by Roger Corman. It was filmed on sets left over from other AIP productions, including The Haunted Palace. The movie was also released as Lady of the Shadows, The Castle of Terror, and The Haunting.
Set in 1806, the film tells the story of a lost French soldier in the Confederation of the Rhine named Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) who is saved by a strange young woman named Helene (Sandra Knight). She looks like Ilsa, the wife of the baron (played by Boris Karloff), who died twenty years before.
Investigating who the woman really is, Andre stumbles upon a hidden secret of the Baron: After he found Ilsa sleeping with another man named Eric, the Baron killed his wife while his servant killed Eric, or so he explains.
All the while, the phantom of Ilsa remained under the control of a peasant witch (Dorothy Neumann), who has commanded the ghost to torment the Baron for the previous two years. Over the course of the film, Ilsa’s ghost beseeches the Baron to kill himself, so they could be together. After much hesitation, the Baron decides to do so, perhaps to atone for his crimes.
During the climactic scenes, Andre, as well as the Baron’s butler Stefan (Dick Miller), try to stop him, eventually forcing the witch into compliance. Here it is revealed that the witch Katrina is in fact the mother of Eric, who she believes was killed by the Baron twenty years before, and that is why she has tried to make him commit suicide and damn his soul to hell. In a stunning revelation, Stefan reveals that Eric never died, that it was the Baron who was killed. Eric then took the Baron’s place, living his life until he deluded himself into thinking he was the Baron.
Katrina, realizing her folly only too late, goes with the two men to stop Eric from flooding the castle crypt and killing himself. However, Katrina’s pact with the devil makes her unable to go into the consecrated ground of the mausoleum and ends up being struck by lightning and burning to death to the ground as she tries to escape.
In the climax of the film, Ilsa’s ghost attempts to kill Eric while the crypt floods, and Stefan joins the struggle. However, by the time Andre gains access to the crypt, it is already flooding and crumbling, and he is able to carry only Helene’s body away. the film ends as the two share a touching moment together outside before Helene begins to rapidly dissolve into a rotting corpse.
Corman decided to make the movie to take advantage of sets left over from The Raven. He paid Leo Gordon $1,600 to write a script, and made a deal with Boris Karloff to be available for three days filming for a small amount of money plus a deferred payment of $15,000 that would be paid if the film earned more than $150,000.
Boris Karloff later recalled:
Corman had the sketchiest outline of a story. I read it and begged him not to do it. He said “That’s alright Boris, I know what I’m going to do. I want you for two days on this.” I was in every shot, of course. Sometimes I was just walking through and then I would change my jacket and walk back. He nearly killed me on the last day. He had me in a tank of cold water for about two hours. After he got me in the can he suspended operations and went off and directed two or three operations to get the money, I suppose… [The sets] were so magnificent… As they were being pulled down around our ears, Roger was dashing around with me and a camera, two steps ahead of the wreckers. It was very funny.
Corman says he had “a previous deal” with Nicholson, Miller and Knight to work two days on the film.
Karloff’s scenes were shot in two days by Corman, who later said, “I didn’t have the money to shoot the rest of the picture union, which meant I couldn’t direct myself because I was personally signed with the unions. So I would say that at one time half the young filmmakers in Hollywood did pieces on The Terror.
Corman says when he cut together Karloff’s footage he realised “it didn’t make sense” so he filmed a scene between Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson (in close up because the sets had been taken down) and got them to explain the plot.
Corman sent Francis Ford Coppola to Big Sur for three days to shoot additional footage. He ended up staying eleven days. Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Dennis Jacob and Jack Nicholson also directed some scenes. Corman says, “Jack Nicholson finally directed himself when we ran out of directors; and I think a couple of other guys worked in there.”
Leftover sets from other AIP films were used when shooting the film, notably those from The Haunted Palace, a Vincent Price horror film made earlier the same year. The tree against which Sandra Knight expires in The Terror is the same one to which Price was tied and burned in The Haunted Palace.
The uniform worn by Jack Nicholson was used by Marlon Brando in Désirée (1954).