Ahh, we go from a random 70’s horror movie to an early Roger Corman movie. I always enjoy watching some of Corman’s early films because it is fun to see some of the early stars that he was able to get before they became big. Case in point, today’s movie stars a young Jack Nicholson and I am looking forward to seeing his performance in it. Being a Roger Corman movie, you would think that this might end up being a pretty bad movie and, as it so happens, other people think so as well because it wound up being included in a collection titled “The Best Of The Worst”, though I already had a copy of this movie in a Roger Corman collection. Now let’s see what exactly I am in for with today’s movie, The Terror (1963).
The plot: On a dark, stormy night in 19th century France, Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe follows a trail of water drops through his castle to his basement crypt, where he is confronted by the decaying body of a woman. The next morning, Lt. Andre Duvalier is riding along the coast, having been separated from the rest of his regiment, collapses from exhaustion at the water’s edge. He is saved from drowning by a woman and as she walks away, he calls out to her and asks for directions to Coldon but she doesn’t answer him and just walks away. Andre follows after her and she leads him to a stream that feeds into the ocean, but when Andre finishes slaking his thirst, the woman has vanished. Andre eventually finds her up a hill and asks her name and she laughingly tells him it’s Helene, then asks that he follow her. Helene leads Andre back towards the ocean and as the tide starts coming in, she walks into the rough waters and disappears. Andre heads into the water to try and find her but he is attacked by a hawk and the distraction causes him to be knocked over by the waves. Andre regains consciousness in the home of an old woman Katarina and, noticing her pet hawk, say that her bird attacked him but Katarina swears that isn’t the case as Helene, the hawk’s name, is a very friendly bird. Andre asks about Helene, saying that he talked to her, but Katarina swears that there is no woman by that name there, only her and Gustaf, who took care of Andre’s horse. Andre rests for the night when he is woken by the Helene (the hawk) as it eats a mouse, then flies off. Andre follows after it and finds Helene (the woman) sitting near the stream. Andre tries to find out more about her but Helene silences him with a kiss, then starts walking up the hill. Andre follows after her but is stopped by Gustaf, who shows him that the area is full of quicksand. Andre thinks Helene tried to kill him but Gustaf says she doesn’t know what she is doing and if he wants to help her, he must go to Von Leppe’s castle. Returning to Katarina’s house, Andre asks her about how to get to the castle but she refuses to tell him, then tries to discourage him from looking when he says he will find it without her. Andre makes his way through the area, managing to avoid being killed by a rock slide, and finally finds the castle. Seeing Helene looking down at him from a window, Andre knocks on the door continuously until the door is opened by Von Leppe. Andre manages to get invited in and after talking with Von Leppe for a few minutes, he asks about the woman he saw. Von Leppe tells him that there is no woman there and hasn’t been since his wife died. Seeing a picture of Von Leppe”s wife, Andre remarks about how much she resembles Helene but Von Leppe gets angry and says that Stefan, his majordomo, will show Andre to his room. That night, Andre sees Helene moving around in the graveyard heading towards an old chapel. Andre calls out to her, saying he will be right down, but finds that his door has been locked and as he goes to find something to pick the lock, he hears a loud commotion coming from outside his door. When the commotion dies down, Andre finds the door somehow unlocked and he starts to look around the castle before making his way outside. Once outside, Andre heads to the chapel only to find it empty but notices that all of the religious symbols had been removed. As he returns to the castle, Andre notices that the painting of Von Leppe’s wife has been removed and when heads back to his room, he is startled to see Helene there when he opens the door but when he looks again, she is gone and only a strange drawing of her is in his room. In the morning, Von Leppe tells Stefan that Andre is to leave at once and Stefan heads out to find Andre. Andre is looking in the chapel for signs of Helene when Stefan finds him and the two argue briefly before Stefan informs him of his horse’s disappearance. Andre then asks about Eric, whose name was on the drawing, and Stefan seems nervous and begs Andre to leave Von Leppe alone but Andre goes to confront the baron to get some answers. In the castle, Andre starts questioning Von Leppe and the baron reluctantly agrees to tell him the truth. Von Leppe says that his first wife had died some years ago and as he mourned her, he saw a village girl named Ilsa, who had just moved there with her mother, and he fell in love with her and took her as his new wife. Shortly after they were married, Von Leppe was called into military service and when he returned a year later, he found that Ilsa had taken a lover. In his rage, he killed Ilsa, while he had Stefan take care of her lover, and he has lived with the guilt for 20 years now. For the past 2 years, he has been haunted by Ilsa’s ghost, though nobody else seems to have seen her. Meanwhile, Gustaf is running along the beach and finds Helene there and, calling her Ilsa, tells her that she has to return to the sea, but Helene says she will when the sea enters the crypt. Stefan says that Andre will help her and Helene smiles when she thinks of Andre but they hear a bird call out above them and Helene turns to Gustaf and says the old woman warned him not to interfere, then leaves. Stefan approaches Katarina’s house and sees her talking to Helene, saying she will soon be strong enough to get her revenge. When Helene disappears, Stefan knocks on the door and enters, asking Katarina how long she has been living there. Katarina says she has been there for only 2 months but Stefan says he knows she has been there for over 2 years. Stefan then asks about the girl and when Katarina says that there is no girl, he says he saw her sitting in the chair before he entered. Stefan warns Katarina to leave or he will be forced to kill her and she comments about the previous tenant of the house being Eric, causing Stefan to pause. When Stefan returns to the castle, Von Leppe asks if Andre has left and Stefan tells him no, as he refuses to leave. Stefan suggests killing Andre but Von Leppe refuses, saying he has enough on his conscience without adding another death to it. That night, Andre hears Helene’s voice and goes looking for it but is forced to hide when he sees Von Leppe coming towards him. After Von Leppe passes, Andre follows after him and when Von Leppe enters another room, Andre thinks he hears the baron talking to someone inside. Andre barges in to find Von Leppe sitting by himself and he apologizes for the intrusion and Von Leppe says that Stefan went to get Andre a horse and suggests he leaves as soon as Stefan returns. Andre does so, with Stefan saying it is for the best, but as he rides along the shore, he sees Gustaf standing on a cliff, waving for him to wait. Suddenly, Katarina’s hawk swoops down and attacks Gustaf, clawing out his eyes, and a bloodied Gustaf ends up tumbling off the cliff to his death. Andre races down the cliff to check on Gustaf, who tells Andre that Helene loves him, which is why she saved him, and he must save her tonight. Andre returns to the castle and finds Helene in the chapel and the two kiss, then Helene asks if he will stay with her. She tells him that the crypt must be destroyed but Andre tells her not to worry about the dead and to come away with him to Paris. Helene says she loves him and the leave the chapel but as Andre goes to get his horse, he finds Helene has disappeared. Heading inside the castle, Andre sees Von Leppe opening the entrance to the crypt and heading down into it, so Andre follows after him. Andre watches as Von Leppe begins speaking with the ghost of Ilsa, who asks him to kill himself so they can be together for eternity. Von Leppe says he can’t do that, as his soul would be damned for eternity and Andre calls out to the ghost, knocking Von Leppe aside when he tries to stop him, but the ghost vanishes. Andre carries Von Leppe to his chamber and summons Stefan to tend to him, then asks Stefan for the key to the chapel’s inner room, as he wants to get to the bottom of this mystery. Stefan agrees but they find the hinges rusted shut and head back to get a crowbar. When they notice a light coming from the tower that the baroness lived in, they quickly head upstairs and Andre kicks the door open. Inside, they find a cradle and Andre asks if Von Leppe had a child but before Stefan can answer, Von Leppe appears and orders Stefan to escort Andre from the castle and to shoot him if he refuses to leave. When they leave, Von Leppe is approached by Ilsa’s ghost and she convinces him to kill himself and destroy the crypt so they can be together. When they head outside, Andre and Stefan see Helene in the graveyard and Andre manages to knock Stefan out, then chases after Helene but finds Katarina there instead. Andre tells Katarina to call off the attack on Von Leppe but she refuses, saying that he moment of vengeance is at hand as Eric was her son. Stefan heads back inside and sees the baron heading for the crypt but when he tries to stop him, the baron strikes him, then seals himself in the crypt. When Stefan stumbles outside, Andre grabs him and explains that Katarina is Eric’s mother, which is why she is trying to get the baron to commit suicide. Stefan then says that 20 years ago, the baron did kill his wife but during the struggle, the baron also died and Eric had been taking his place for the last 20 years, no believing himself to have always been the baron. Realizing what she has done, Katarina runs off to try and stop what is happening, while Andre and Stefan try to get into the crypt. Seeing Katarina cowering in the graveyard, Andre grabs her and heads with her to the chapel but she says she can’t enter the House of God as she made a pact with the Devil. When she breaks free of Andre’s grip, she goes to leave but is struck by lightning and set on fire. In the crypt, Von Leppe opens the floodgate to allow the crypt to be flooded, and Helene attacks him and starts trying to strangle him. Stefan manages to arrive and dives into the flooding chamber to try and save Von Leppe but the all end up dying as the crypt starts to cave in. Andre manages to make it into the crypt through the chapel and, seeing Helene floating in the water, drags her out and carries her to safety before the whole place is destroyed. Carrying Helene outside, Andre tells her that it is over and she is free now and goes to kiss her but when they part, he sees Helene turning into a rotting corpse while the hawk cries out above them as it flies off.
Not quite what I was expecting but this was also not as bad as I thought either. The acting wasn’t that bad, with Jack Nicholson (Andre) and Boris Karloff (Von Leppe/Eric) doing a fairly decent job with their roles, though I will admit that Jack did seem a little stiff in this movie. However, he was not as bad as Dick Miller, who really seemed stiffer than he normally is in his roles. The story was interesting, mixing a ghost story with a good old bit of revenge, but I feel like the whole love angle between Andre and Helene felt a little off. I think they could have done a better job of getting Andre to the castle than that but I will say that it did make for a good shock ending when he saw her rotting away. The special effects were decent and about what you would expect, with some cut-aways serving to mask the need for more serious effects, such as the actual gouging out of the eyes by the hawk, but they weren’t too bad. All said, I think this movie might be getting a bad rep, as there are plenty of movies that are much worse than this out there, and this one is worth a look, if for no other reason than to see a young Jack Nicholson in action.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5