The Terror, by guest reviewer Paul Kane

As an experiment, and to broaden the scope of Ramblings of a Tattooed Head, please let me introduce the first in what I hope is an occasional series of reviews by guests. To kick things off we have a review of Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, written by author Paul Kane.

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The Terror (1963, Pegasus Entertainment DVD) Out 9 August. £5.99

Not to be confused with Dan Simmons’ masterly novel from a couple of years ago, The Terror is actually one of Roger Corman’s pretty much forgotten early movies –  worthy of note because it features not only Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff, but also a very young Dick Miller (Gremlins) as a butler. The movie marked Nicholson’s third appearance in a Corman flick, after 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors and 1963’s The Raven, but also led to the actor going behind the camera – in an uncredited directing capacity (along with Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman and Jack Hill). Ever the opportunist, Corman reportedly shot footage of Karloff and other actors walking across sets (most notably those left over from AIP films like The Haunted Palace) in the hopes some kind of story could be woven around it later. Little wonder then, that the whole thing has a certain disjointed quality to it.

Separated from his regiment on the north German coast, Napoleonic soldier Lt Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) collapses from his horse onto the beach and sees a vision of a beautiful woman. After helping him, the mysterious Helene (Sandra Knight) walks into the water and vanishes. Duvalier follows, but quickly finds himself out of his depth and is this time rescued by a strange old woman, Katrina (Dorothy Neumann): the local peasant witch. Once recovered, his efforts to find out who Helene is take him to the castle of Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Karloff), who is convinced she’s the ghost of his dead wife, Ilsa, coming back to haunt him.

As Duvalier investigates further, he uncovers the truth about what happened the night Ilsa died – and why she might have reason to plague the Baron. But at the same time there seems to be something else going on, a revenge conspiracy that is fated to backfire on the person initiating it. Can Duvalier get to the bottom of who Helene really is, and help save the Baron at the same time?

Though not as slick as Corman’s other offerings in this vein – how could it be when there were five people filming the picture? – and while it doesn’t quite have the charm of the Poe films he’s probably best known for, this is nonetheless an intriguing and hypnotic film. Somehow the filmmakers manage to come up with a genuinely surprising twist at the end, that throws everything we’ve learnt up to then into confusion, and some of the horror set pieces – in particular one where a man gets his eyes pecked out by a bird – still hold up today (although fans of more modern shockers will no doubt snigger at a few of the other, cheaper effects). Nicholson hasn’t really come into his own by this time, though there are hints of the OTT performances to come, but the ever reliable Karloff more than makes up for this: a master of drumming up suspense and tension in a scene. The lack of extras are a pain, but this one’s definitely worth getting your hands on if only for nostalgia value alone.

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Paul Kane is a professional journalist and author of horror/dark fantasy short stories and novels. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed book The Hellraiser Films and their Legacy.

I also encourage others to submit reviews of films, books and other media. Leave a comment on here with your proposal and I will get back to you as soon as I can!

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2 Responses to “The Terror, by guest reviewer Paul Kane”

  1. Carl Ford Says:

    It’s alwaya a pleasure to read reviews of the older American International Pictures movies in order to see whether other viewers feel they pass the test of time. AIP are a particular favourite studio of mine not only for their Poe adaptations (which were decidedly loose, but visually captivating), but for their innovative Blaxploitation / horror crossovers that included “Blacula”, “J.D.’s Revenge”, and “Sugar Hill” (which I’ve still, sadly, never seen an uncut print of!). Of course there’s dozens of other worthy AIP movies worth catching. Hopefully, there will be more featured in the ‘Tattooed Head’ guest review blogs.

    • I would certainly love it if people offered me reviews of other, more obscure, films… that would certainly be a fantastic development for “Ramblings…”, Carl…. trying very much to broaden the breadth and depth of this blog….

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