One of the earlier Roger Corman productions and one that he also directed, The Terror is probably better known today as one of Jack Nicholson’s earlier movies. It also features another staple actor in Corman productions, the great Boris Karloff. As it has fallen into the public domain you’ll easily find it almost any DVD cheapie bin and bundled in many collections of horror movies.
The opening sequence certainly gave me a bit of jolt as it shows a man riding a horse along an oceanfront beach shore with the sounds of crashing waves shot from an high outcropping. This scene just screams as a re-shoot of the iconic Planet of the Apes final shot but without the statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand. Sadly, this was as exciting as it got.
The horseman is Lt. Andre Duvalier (Nicholson), a wayward French soldier in the Napoleonic wars. He encounters a mysterious woman on the beach who gives him water and then disappears wading out to sea. Duvalier himself is overcome by the waters and wakes up in an old woman’s hut. Trying to find out more about the beautiful woman, Duvalier is eventually led to a castle perched high along the shore. There he finds Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Karloff) and his Bronx accented butler Stephan (Dick Miller), but all feign ignorance about the woman despite a large portrait of a woman who looks just like her in the foyer.
Slowly, we unravel the story about how long ago the Baron returned to find his wife Ilsa in the arms of another and how he killed killed them in a jealous fury. But for the last two years he has been haunted by her vision and even taunted by her ghost to end his own life so that he can rejoin her in the afterlife.
The sappy love story has elements of witchcraft and other twists (the clincher being downright silly) but it was not easy viewing only part of the problem was the terribly aged and faded print that made some scenes almost completely indiscernible if it wasn’t for the voices. (I wonder if all these public domain movies use the same print on all the DVDs or if some movies have both good and bad prints on DVDs?)
I guess this is for Corman purists alone. You can get much better performances from Karloff in other movies and Nicholson is just a young kid really, not having developed his bad-ass persona yet. The only few good moments was watching those classic stock footage shots of the dark castle and the lighting effects to really get any sense of an old horror story. As another curious note, Francis Ford Coppola was associate producer on this, being a Corman disciple as I mentioned in my review of Dementia 13.