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Film / The Terror

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Good luck figuring out what the "Terror" really is.

"Out of all the movies that Jack Nicholson's famous for, I wonder if anyone's ever talked to him about this one? If I had the chance, I'd say, 'Man, you gave me The Terror!'"

The Terror is a 1963 horror film directed by Roger Corman, starring Boris Karloff in one of his last film roles and Jack Nicholson in one of his first.

In 1806, a lost French soldier named Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) is saved by a strange woman named Helene (Sandra Knight). Seeking refuge in a castle owned by the mysterious Baron Von Leppe (Karloff), Duvalier again finds the woman, who the Baron thinks is the ghost of his long-dead wife. However, Duvalier is instead convinced that the woman has been hypnotized by a witch, tormenting the Baron to the brink of madness.

The film was infamously made using left-overs from The Raven (including both the cast and sets), which Corman finished two days earlier than expected. Having Boris Karloff on hand, Corman decided to write and film his scenes first, and then figure out everything else afterwards as there wasn't even a script. Also notable is that Corman wasn't the only director, as the movie had at least four other people directing scenes, two of them being Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson. The result is, as James Rolfe put it, "a mishmash of two things: 1, people walking around in dark rooms, and 2, people explaining new plot twists every other scene as if ten different M. Night Shyamalans were involved".

The movie is in the public domain, which means one can very easily find it either online or as part of a box set with other such movies. While it's not technically part of Corman's "Poe Cycle", it often gets lumped in with the others due to using the same cast and sets as The Raven, as well as generally feeling like something derived from Poe's works.

After filming of this movie was complete, Corman realized he still had two more days of filming with Karloff on the contract. He thus appointed a young Peter Bogdanovich to create a movie using stock footage from The Terror, starring Karloff. The result was Targets.

Cinemassacre's James Rolfe featured the movie as part of Monster Madness 2010: Camp Cult, and eventually did a feature-length commentary on it with Mike Mattei.

Not to be confused with the novel of the same title by Dan Simmons or the TV series based on it.

This film has the examples of:

  • Becoming the Mask: Eric has been impersonating the Baron so long that he has become convinced that he really is him.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: When Katrina (who's a witch) is forced to enter hallowed ground (a graveyard), a lightning bolt strikes her down.
  • Dead All Along: Helene, who withers away when Ilsa's spirit leaves her body.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Stefan accidentally killed the Baron on the night when the Baron caught Eric and Ilsa together. Eric adopted the baron's identity and locked himself away in the castle for 20 years, eventually Becoming the Mask.
  • Driven to Suicide: Katrina's ultimate plan is to drive the Baron to suicide to avenge her son's death. Ultimately, she succeeds.
  • Eye Scream: Gustav has his eyes pecked out by Katrina's falcon.
  • Feathered Fiend: Andre is attacked and nearly killed by a falcon when he arrives on the beach. Later, the same falcon attacks Gustav, gouging his eyes out and driving him off a cliff.
  • Gaslighting: Katrina is attempting to drive the Baron to suicide by making him think that he is haunted by the ghost of late wife. However, unusually for this trope, she uses supernatural means to do so.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jack Nicholson plays a French officer with a New Jersey accent.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: The opening sequence shows the Baron descending into the crypts, and being startled by a bloody corpse that falls out when he opens a door. The scene is never explained or even referenced again in the movie.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Stefan confronts the old woman living in the cabin on the Baron's lands. He knows she's a witch, has some sort of plan against the Baron, and threatens to burn her out if she doesn't leave. She tells him she's avenging Eric. What Stefan doesn't ask is who Eric is to her, thus setting up the rest of the movie.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Gustav stops Andre from walking into a patch of quicksand on the path to the Baron's castle. He demonstrates its lethality by tossing a large stone into it, where it is immediately sucked down. The quicksand in an unfired Chekhov's Gun, as originally Gustav was later supposed to die in it, but the script was changed so he was attacked by a falcon and fell of a cliff instead.
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: The climax involves the Baron opening a floodgate to let the sea into the crypts below the castle, drowning himself and anyone who is with him.
  • Styrofoam Rocks: During the climax, rocks which fall in water float on it.
  • The Von Trope Family: Baron Von Leppe
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Katrina's falcon is named Helene, which is the name of the young woman who may or may not be the ghost/reincarnation of Ilsa von Leppe: a woman who Katrina says does not exist.