The Terror (1963)

*. The Terror is a movie that fell into the public domain because the copyright notice was left out of the credits. I doubt at the time that anyone would even have considered that an oversight, but today it has a certain cachet primarily because of those credits and the story of its making, leading it to enjoy a second life on DVD. When I first saw it, however, it was on a really awful print that was almost unwatchable. Did this impact my reaction to it? Probably.
*. Still, going back over my notes from that earlier viewing I seem to have liked The Terror better back then. I just recently saw it again in a restored version that looked much improved but I came away thinking it wasn’t as good as I remembered. Maybe, I thought, it’s like one of those albums that you needed to listen to on vinyl to get all the hiss and pop as part of the experience. Or maybe I was in a grumpier mood the second time. Or maybe it really isn’t a very good movie.
*. Well, it certainly isn’t a very good movie, even though it is kind of interesting. Basically it’s a movie that Roger Corman pulled out of his ass trying to make use of the sets from The Raven before they were torn down. He apparently shot most of it in four days, with a script that he seems to have been partly making up as he went along. Some scenes had to be added later just to try to make sense of what was going on.
*. As far as the interesting credits go, there’s Jack Nicholson looking all of 18 years old and hopelessly miscast as a French cavalry officer. And rumour has it that both Nicholson and credited producer Francis Coppola spent some time behind the camera, along with “half the young filmmakers in Hollywood” in Corman’s own remembering.
*. The story opens with a couple of scenes involving Nicholson’s character falling asleep or passing out, which adds to the dream-like sense of whimsy the whole thing has. There’s also a bit of a literary air to it in the stilted dramatic dialogue, making it feel like it should be an adaptation of Poe (which is what it is usually lumped in with among the other vaguely Poe-derived productions Corman was busy with at the time).
*. Ultimately though the whole thing swallows its own tail. There’s something about it that I don’t think makes sense, but I can’t muster the strength now to unwind the plot to the point where I think it falls apart. Is Ilsa mad at Eric? Is she working together with Katrina, or at cross-purposes? I can’t figure it out.
*. I’ll grant it’s a bit of fun. Say what you will about Corman but he was a competent filmmaker even under the most extreme conditions. I just don’t think he had any upper range. So, sure, this is all kind of silly but at least it’s a decently told joke.

3 thoughts on “The Terror (1963)

  1. Tom Moody

    I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s Corman’s film, but it’s interesting to note that one of the “young filmmakers in Hollywood” involved in the project was Monte “Two Lane Blacktop” Hellman (along with Jack Hill, Coppola, and Nicholson). Hellman said in an interview: “I made the last version of the movie; there’d been several versions before but I made the one that finally got released.”

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I think Corman informally called his production company the academy or something like that because so many people worked on his movies as a way of getting hands-on training. It was a sort of film school. I’m not sure why anyone would want to take credit for the final cut of this film though. Not saying it’s anything to be ashamed of, given the budget and schedule, but I wouldn’t think there were bragging rights involved either.

  2. Tom Moody

    Ha ha, I think Hellman needs every credit he can get. I’m a fan of his work but he wrote the book on “checkered film career”: an interesting resume of half-finished, unfinished and quirky-but-flawed” projects. (And a couple of standouts — Blacktop and Ride in the Whirlwind.) Within such an alternative career arc, having final cut on something in the “good/bad cult canon” like The Terror counts for something.


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