It’s the year 1963 and Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson are riding the high of a horror buddy comedy (no, seriously), so clever director/producer/writer/Francis Ford Coppola enabler Roger Corman decided he would take advantage of the madness that follows success to convince both men to come back into his world and create The Terror, a film that would become “famous for being filmed on leftover film sets from other AIP productions“. Not the riveting plot, not the brilliant acting, but the fact that other films had been shot where other things had been shot once.
That boded well when, fast forward to 2013, we (the Enabler and I) sat down to watch it on youtube (the wonders of public domain). It came via a list of films found free–legally free, to be clear–and was worth every penny. Crap quality, crap acting on everyone’s part besides Mr.Karloff (who I will talk about at great length later on), and crap plot (“That bird attacked me!” is something at least two of the characters can and do say in the film, if that is any clue) all meshed wonderfully together to make a hilariously weird and wicked film with special effects that included face melting and a burning witch. Great!
So, on with the plot synopsis!
We meet French Chasseur Andre Duvalier (played by brilliantly/stubbornly unaccented Jack Nicholson) as he huffs along the seaside on his put-upon horse, looking forlorn and tired of all this shit, being a Chasseur just no longer his cup of tea.
Blogger’s Note: I didn’t know what a Chasseur was until this film, so I am going to pretty much use that word as much as possible in this blog and then never again. Promise. Chasseur.
Chasseur Andre meets a hot girl on the beach (as you do) named Helene who “saves his life” (I’m still not clear as to how, if only because she was hot and he walked towards her and ended up finding water, which he could of done by just following his horse who was probably more reliable and less ghostly) and he proceeds to become so obsessed with her that you aren’t entirely sure if you want him to “win” or just shut up about Helene already by the time you get to the middle of the film. They only met once and a hawk attacked him. Bad omen, dude. If I am hitting on a guy and an Eagle kicks me in the face, I am bailing. Just saying.
Then comes the weird bit where Chasseur Andre is being fed by an old woman in a shack who denies the existence of the girl, has a hawk (say what!) and a semi-mute guy who really plays no part besides crazy-bitch/hawk fodder. The old lady talks at Andre a bit, basic weirdness, before she mentions the castle down the road–down the road being the way Chasseur Andre saw Helene run off. Well shit, Andre seems to think, I am so going to that castle.
Thank God he stupidly did, or else we wouldn’t have the wonder that is Boris Karloff in a blue velvet dressing gown enter our lives after twenty minutes of accents from all over the shop assaulting us. Boris plays Baron Von Leppe, a tortured soul with a spooky lisp–no, a spooky history, sorry, which includes adultery and murder (related, obviously). He insists on keeping the pesky Andre around due to manners, even if the man keeps reminding him of his dead wife and insisting she is alive and being kept prisoner or something. “Or something” being that she is sorta alive and sorta a prisoner but not in the way that anyone thinks, including the audience.
I would go on, but the trailer (found here) sums it up: Boris is “THE TERROR” (OR IS HE?), he killed someone, he has a gun to escort Andre with, he has “evil, mystic powers”–wait. What? No, he has evil mystic dressing gowns and wears a tuxedo after six (since he’s not a farmer), but no powers. Trailer, come on. That hawk isn’t even his. I do like the add on of “that a man can enjoy” about Helene being a “blood and flesh beauty”, though. No ghost action approved of in this flick. If you want supernatural hijinks like that, you watch Ghost Dad, thank you. Anyway, phrases like “gossamer myth” and “distorted desires” have me sold, so I don’t even know why you would watch the rest of the trailer before running to watch the whole darn thing on youtube, but then it claims to have the “Frankenstein monster from ALL horror motion pictures” in it, which I assume is a hybrid beast-man of Boris, Christopher Lee, Charles Stanton Ogle, Percy Standing, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Gary Conway, Michael Gwynn, Mike Lane, and Harry Wilson, making it even better. It’s his “most blood-chilling screen experience”, so that tells me either this film is terrifying, or Boris can’t handle his shit. Who knows! Cue the natural disasters followed by the sexy water wrestling followed by some footprints in the sand, and you have me hooked. I don’t even care that the skeleton scare wasn’t even in the film. Don’t even care.
Boris Karloff was amazing in this film. He is always amazing (shut your whore mouth if you believe otherwise), but in this film you got to see his range from polite coldness to passionate pleading to cries of dismay and terror. All while wearing an array of dressing gowns and dealing with fake-Frenchmen! His troubled self got more and more pathetic as the film went on, and yet he never lost his regal presence (able to loom into a room with the best of them). His plot is interesting enough, and then when you learn the twist (which is huge and then confusing) of his identity, you are at a loss as to how completely awesome this man is for not going over the top with what becomes a clear issue with his mental stability. Now, I hear you taunting “If you love him so much, why don’t you marry him?” and my reply is that you are heartless bastards for pointing that out because I would if he weren’t dead, and am now weeping into my pillow from the loss. He’s brilliant. Full stop.
The film, on the other hand…
The plot was weak. The dialogue was weaker. Someone’s face melts at the end…I don’t know. I wouldn’t suggest it for many, as the quality is pretty low in both the film sense and the story sense, but it is well worth a watch just to see Boris in action.
Or you could just watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas over and over for that. Your choice!
P.S.: we also watched Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Dementia 13 (the aforementioned Coppola’s first swing at directing, which made one wonder why anyone gave him another go), the former reviewed here by my boyfriend. Enjoy!