It’s not often you get to see a young Jack Nicholson alongside one of the greats of horror, Boris Karloff. Add to the mix being directed by Roger Corman (at least partially) and if you still have not seen this movie you are truly missing out. Jack’s signature brow line and voice combined with Karloff’s equally recognizable appearance do a lot to keep you starring at the screen for more than just the twisting storyline in this 1963 AIP film.
Shot on leftover sets from previously made films, including Vincent Price’s The Haunted Palace, The Terror tells the story of Baron Victor Von Leppe (Karloff) and his deceased wife, Ilsa. At the start, a French Lieutenant by the name of Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) is separated from his regiment and washed up on a shoreline. Upon awakening, Andre spots a beautiful young woman by the name of Helene (Sandra Knight). He follows Helene, both for water and conversation.
Helene, who bares a striking resemblance to the dead Ilsa, is a pawn in an old witch’s plan for revenge. The witch Katrina is the mother of the now dead lover of Ilsa, Eric, and believes the Baron killed her son. She is using Helene to try to sway the Baron to commit suicide, thereby damning his soul for eternity; a fitting punishment for his crime in her eyes. Andre, sensing something is wrong, decides to try and figure out exactly what is going on. In his discoveries though, he finds that not everyone is who they say they are. All this deception does a tremendous job of making the last 20 minutes of this movie hard to turn away as everything becomes revealed.
A motley crew of other characters including Stefan (the Baron’s butler) and Gustaf (the old witch’s handyman) have small parts in trying to help or hinder Andre from saving both Helene and the Baron. A bird, also controlled by the witch, makes a few appearances as well. In one scene it pecks out the eyes of Gustaf, sending him walking blindly over a cliff wall. Re-used castle sets from Corman’s The Raven, which had just finished filming days earlier with Vincent Price, can be seen throughout and add a lot to the atmosphere.
Nicholson is one of my all time favorite male actors, second only to the late Lorne Greene, however he is truly young in this film and not very convincing in his authoritative role of a Lieutenant in Napoleon’s army. The best performance has to be Boris Karloff playing the aged hermit, the Baron. He outshines everyone even at 76 years old of age. Karloff’s line “You think I’m mad, don’t you?” is the films most memorable. His tone and facial expressions throughout the movie are still visible in your mind long after the movie ends.
The Terror is an excellent movie that is both chilling and suspenseful. It is a must-see film for fans of Jack Nicholson that want to see him in his youth, and is a great example of a horror film that focuses on story over scares and effects.
This is a public domain film and we have included the full version of the movie below. For a better quality version, check out the Blu-ray/DVD combo edition of The Terror that was released this year.