Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Terror

The horror... The horror... where's the freakin' horror?

Sorry: I'm a day late in posting this, as I was pretty sleep deprived last night and couldn't keep my head up.

What's it about?

Tonight's "Spooky Movie Tuesday" pic is "The Terror" (Roger Corman Productions, 1963). When French Lieutenant Andre Duvalier (played by Jack something-or-other) gets separated from his regiment while moving through Prussia, he finds a beautiful young woman who tells him her name is Helene (Sandra Knight) precariously standing in the ocean near the rocks.

"Wait 'til they get a load of me!"

Rushing to save her, he is attacked by a hawk and nearly drowned and rendered unconscious.
The wistful Helene... or is it Lissa?

He awakens in the home of an old woman named Katrina (Dorothy Neumann), who tells him that her servant, the mute Gustaf (Jonathan Haze) rescued him from the sea.
"Girl? There's no girl. There never was a girl. There never will be any girl. Ever. Anywhere. I'm not being evasive -- YOU'RE being evasive!"

When Andre asks about the girl, Katrina feigns ignorance. Gustaf, who is not as mute as he lets on, later tells Andre that he must go to the castle of Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) to save the girl.
"I'm Baron Generic Von Evil of Sinistershire."

Andre goes to the decrepit castle only to stumble upon the girl again, who disappears suddenly. Andre enters the castle and discovers that the Baron and his servant Stefan (played by 'B' movie legend Dick Miller) are the only apparent occupants. As Andre investigates further, he begins to untangle a web of murder and deceit that spans decades.
DICK. FREAKIN'. MILLER. I had to do a double-take when he showed up.

Can he uncover the story and save Helene -- or himself?

Some background

While this film isn't based on a book by Edgar Allen Poe, it absolutely has the vibes of one (specifically, "The Fall of the House of Usher" and the poem "Lenore"), and director and producer Roger Corman has acknowledged that it's his love letter to that particular storyteller (it was filmed using assets from Corman's previous E.A. Poe film, "The Raven" -- also featuring Karloff). By this time the lead of this movie, Jack Whatshisface was already a 'B' movie regular, appearing in several Corman pictures since the late 1950s.

"You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

Whatever. He'll never amount to anything, unlike his elderly costar and horror movie legend Boris Karloff, who had appeared in over 180 movies and TV shows BEFORE this came out, and who starred in over 20 more after this (even a few after his death in 1969 -- he was that prolific). And we have Dick Miller, who only just recently passed away, and had almost as many acting credits as Karloff! I have listed Jack, Karloff, Miller, Knight, Neumann, and Haze, and that is the entire cast of this film, other than the animal actors. While Corman has the directing credit, he shared directing duties with his protégé Francis Ford Coppola (the famed eventual director of "The Godfather" trilogy) among others doing second unit filming, including the lead actor John something.

The good stuff

Let's try to get the good out of the way. The acting is solid, and everyone gives a solid performance. The setting of the old European castle on the rocky cliffs by the seashore is fittingly haunting, the music is appropriately creepy, featuring a shrill and spooky score that is appropriate for this sort of film. There are even some minor animations at the beginning in some macabre fashion. The story is one of those, "is it really supernatural, or is it a fake-out" tales that will keep you guessing (although maybe not necessarily for the right reasons). The costumes look good, and the production is mostly on-point. The camera work is exceptional for a film from this era, appropriately angled with many full-face close-ups, unlike the often mid-range single frame dialogue scenes found in many old low-budget horror films.

The bad stuff

Now for the bad, and I'm afraid that there's a lot of it. The film starts with a promising jump scare, as the Baron opens a secret door and is set upon by a horrific skeleton… which is never explained or mentioned again. The script is… not that strong. The dialogue just isn't on-par with other horror and thriller classics, and that limits the delivery of the actors, which is a major problem, as most of the movie is just talking. While you learn more about the characters, their connections, and their motivations, the last act is just sort of dropped on you out of nowhere and makes no sense. Seriously, it's a twist so stupid and out of left field that I'm shocked that M. Night Shyamalan hasn't stolen it yet. Just when you think that the plot is going to wrap up at the end with the supernatural exposed for something sensible, the movie pulls the rug out from under you. Here is an example: Late in the runtime, Andre and Stefan break into the sealed room of the Baron's dead wife Lissa, finding a cradle. It would make sense that Helene is the child of the Baron and his wife Lissa, and that is why she resembles her and that is why she has been brainwashed into killing the Baron at the behest of another character. BUT NO -- the cradle has NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING ELSE IN THE MOVIE. And that is a major problem with this work -- there's too many red herrings and senseless twists that aren't even alluded to in the rest of the film. I won't ruin the ending for you, but it is similarly dumb.

I mentioned the sets, the setting, and the costumes were legitimately impressive earlier, but it’s all for naught; most of the movie is shot in horrid "day for night" scenes that ruin the aesthetic. It is hard to feel creeped out when every scene looks like a sunny California day with a blue filter slapped over everything. I know: Making a motion picture in the dark with film is challenging and requires a large crew and technical know-how, but this is just fails so hard. Also, this has that low-budget sixties overblown color, so despite the gothic setting people bleed bright red blood that isn't so much gross or realistic as it is laughably unbelievable.

"AAAAH! I got strawberry jam in my eyes, and I can still see the sun at night!"

By far the biggest failing of the movie is the pacing. While only about an hour and a half long, it feels like it drags. What facts we are given are trickled out slowly, and as stated before many of them are misleading, which makes them feel even more insulting in hindsight.

Don't watch with kids.

This film came out before the rating system, though I would say that it is probably PG-13. There is no nudity, swearing, tobacco or drug use, but there are a few scenes of horrific gruesome effects, though the most graphic is a simple time-lapse camera trick that seems laughable by today's standards. It is not appropriate for young children, although they'll absolutely fall asleep if you try to show it to them.

Where can you find it?

"The Terror" is available on a wide variety of free streaming services and is included with Amazon Prime Video at no extra charge as of this review.

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