Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) is a soldier in the French Army who has been separated from his regiment. He is riding along the seashore when he passes out. When he awakes he sees a woman on the edge of a rock. He asks her for directions and tells her he is thirsty. She shows him a stream that comes down from the mountains. She says her name is Helene. After awhile she walks into the ocean. Andre tries to follow but the surf pulls him down. He loses consciousness.
When he once again awakes he is in the hut of an old woman called Katrina. She tells him there is no one named Helene in the forest except her pet Hawk. That night Andre goes out into the forest. He once again finds Helene the woman. He follows her. He is almost drawn into Quicksand but is stopped by a local man named Gustaf (Jonathan Haze). Gustaf tells him that Helene is possessed and needs his help. He tells Andre to go to the castle of Baron Von Leppe but to be careful as there is great danger there.
When he finds the castle Andre meets Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) and the Baron’s servant Stefan (Dick Miller). He asks for shelter for the night. Andre then asks about the young woman. The Baron tells him that there is no young woman. He tells Andre that what he imagined was the Baroness Ilsa, his wife. He also tells Andre that the Baroness has been dead for twenty years.
Andre learns that the Baron found his wife with another man. He killed Ilsa. Stefan killed her lover. The baron has lived alone since then. In the last couple years he has been haunted by her spirit. The spirit of Ilsa wants him to kill himself to be with her. Katrina is a witch who has been using Ilsa’s spirit to torment the Baron. There are more dark secrets to the Baron’s life that Andre eventually learns. Andre now caught up in all the treachery, secrets and lies tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding the castle.
“The Terror” was released in 1963 and was directed by Roger Corman. The film is best known for the floating rocks. It is also the movie that many attribute to Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe series of films even though it is not based on any of Poe’s stories.
The film was done during the time Roger was dabbling in his Poe movies. After finishing “The Raven” Roger had sets left over and not wanting anything to go to waste decided to use them for another film. After a brainstorming session with Leo Gordon they came up with the script for “The Terror”. Roger’s only requirement was that it had to involve a castle. In typical Corman style, everything was pretty much tossed together.
Vincent Price had been in most of the Poe series of films but was unavailable at that time so Roger hired Karloff. He then hired Nicholson and Miller. Dick Miller has done several movies with Roger. Usually his roles are more on the comedic side but here he is rather greasy and quite sinister. Needing a female lead Nicholson suggested his then wife Sandra Knight. It was the only time the two did a film together. Basically everything was on the fly.
AIP had financed “The Raven” and paid for the sets that Roger used for his little quickie film. Samuel Z. Arkoff figured out that Roger was using the sets for his own production. He wasn’t really worried about it. Eventually AIP ended up with the movie anyway since Roger had to go to them for a distribution deal.
After Karloff’s scenes were shot Roger had Francis Ford Coppola finish the film. It was mostly outside stuff with the other actors. Coppola went over time and over budget and basically did whatever he wanted. Some of the footage didn’t really gel with the scenes Roger shot but the stuff did look good. Roger then hired Dennis Jakob and Monte Hellman to shoot more outside footage. He then hired Jack Hill to write more scenes to incorporate the new footage which changed the original story. Back and forth went the script and more footage until it eventually ended up that Roger was doing a cut and paste to his own movie.
The result of all this was a spooky tale that unfolds slowly. The film has a Hammer Films feel to it. The sets are not quite as lavish as Hammer but they are just as vibrant and the ocean footage that Coppola filmed really was good. The only think that looked really weird were Roger’s floating rocks.
The film fell into public domain. In the nineties Roger once again added some new footage to the film using Dick Miller. It was a scene that introduced the film as a flashback. Roger added the footage for the overseas version of the film. With the additional footage he could copyright the new film.