There are a lot of films that I never expected to see on Blu-ray, at least not for many years. With so many blockbusters still not available in high definition, it’s not reasonable to expect that some of the gems you’ve loved for years, but with limited marketability, would soon find their way to your home theater in HD. If you had asked me a short time ago to list some of those treasures, I think that The Terror would have easily made the list. This is one of those times that it feels good to be wrong, and The Terror might end up being the best surprise release of the year.
Lt. Andre Duvalier (Nicholson) has been separated from his regiment in Napoleon’s French army. He finds himself somewhere in The Baltics on the coast. He’s tired and near exhaustion when he spots an attractive young woman named Helene (Knight). She leads him to fresh water and a chance to rest. But when she leads him into the surf and disappears, the young soldier is nearly killed. He’s rescued by an old woman named Katrina (Neumann). When he tells her about the girl, he’s admonished that there is no such person in the area. But he sees her again, and once again is nearly led to his death. Finally a servant of Katrina’s tells him he will find the girl at the castle of Baron Von Leppe (Karloff).
At the castle he finds the Baron somewhat unfriendly and unwilling to entertain him as a guest. With a little forcefulness he gains the invitation. Again he’s told there is no girl, but he spies her portrait hanging on the castle walls. The Baron reveals that the portrait was his wife, who has been dead for 20 years. The woman had an affair, and she and her lover were dispatched by the Baron and his faithful servant Stefan (Miller). Andre continues to see the girl and is quickly brought into the middle of a witch’s curse of revenge as well as some reach beyond the grave.
When Roger Corman finished filming The Raven for AIP, he discovered that he had Boris Karloff for an additional two days of filming. Corman is not a man to waste resources, so he immediately set out to do another movie. The Karloff scenes were all shot in those two days in much the same location and sets as he had used for The Raven. He then turned to his stable of production assistants and had them pitch in so that the film could be shot more quickly. Oh, and by the way, those “assistants” happened to be Jack Hill, Francis Ford Coppola, and even actor Jack Nicholson himself. They all put in directing duties during the film. Jack Hill also worked with Corman on the screenplay. You can listen to my conversation with Jack Hill here: Jack Hill Interview. By using much of the same sets and cast, the film was made swiftly. Jack Nicholson had a smaller role in The Raven and ended up with one of his first real feature leads through the happy circumstances. An even happier circumstance for Nicholson was that he married his co-star Sandra Knight. The two had met at an acting class. Dick Miller is a sort of lucky charm for both Corman and Jack Hill. He’s done many films for both directors.
The movie has lost some of its luster because it fell into a public-domain-style video release hell. There were a lot of cheap copies out there going back to the VHS days, and for most fans of the genre and period we had given up hope of ever seeing a good copy of the film. There’s no question it would have to be a pretty sight. Corman filled the film with wonderful atmosphere, and while it might not have ever been quite as good or popular as his Poe films for the same studio, it has always held a bit of a reverence from fans all over the world. The script might be pretty straightforward, but Corman and Hill provided just enough intrigue and plot twists to make the B project a very enjoyable ride indeed.
The Terror is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The original film was actually 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 33 mbps. The image is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It is certainly sharper and more vivid than I have ever seen before. There is a lot of restoration work evident here. The print has been cleaned so that there are few scratches or artifacts present. There is also, unfortunately, evidence of more DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) than I would have liked to see. The grain which was so much a part of the film’s original atmosphere is all but gone. There are also moments when the image becomes very soft. An early close-up of Nicholson is considerably soft and out of focus. The disc contains a side by side comparison and honestly, there are moments I really like the image before the restoration better. The print is in bad shape, but the grain and original elements add life to the film. Still, the image is usually sharp. There is a level of detail here that wasn’t even close to being there before. Colors often jump out at you. Corman always knew how to use reds, and they shine in this transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is not overtly aggressive, so it sits well with your expectations of the source material. It’s obviously cleaned up and has no hiss or distortion levels, to speak of. It is a bit soft, and you’ll need to crank your system a bit more than you are used to. Dialog is perfectly placed. The Ronald Stein score sounds better than I remembered.
Trailer and Restoration Comparison.
If you’ve seen the film before in any of its many video releases, I guarantee you’ve never really seen it before. If you haven’t yet discovered this little bit of buried treasure, there has never been a better time to uncover it. The film has always been obscure even for a Roger Corman affair. Perhaps its happenstance creation and hodgepodge construction have caused it undue wariness. It’s notable for being the movie screened at the drive-in during the climactic scene in Karloff’s Targets. It’s one of his last and most moving films. That movie, of course, was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, another Corman disciple. Whatever your past experience, or lack thereof, for this film, I encourage you to grab this one fast. No telling how long it will remain in print, and you could be “running out of time”.