I love Roger Corman. How could you not? He gave first chances and guidance to many of our favorite filmmakers of today, including two involved with his 1963 film, The Terror. I am talking about Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola- they were both involved in this hot mess of a movie. Both apparently had a hand in directing the damn thing as well... we all have to start somewhere.
You have to read up on this movie: I am not going to go into the whole mess. The short version is Corman still had the sets and costumes from another film he was making and decided to shot The Terror with the leftovers. The Terror had no real script, no direction, no clue. It did have Boris Karloff agreeing to take on the role of The Baron, and the young and eager Jack Nicholson to play Andre Duvalier, a French officer. It took me about an hour to figure out he was French. Nicholson was pulling a Costner before he was even a big shot! I mean he wasn't even trying!
The Terror is sort of a Gothic ghost story/thriller hybrid that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You can tell by watching the film that they were making it up as they went along. The continuity errors alone are worth the price of admission. It has great charm however. Karloff does his best (as he always did) as the guilt ridden Baron, and Dick Miller as Stefan, his manservant, is a revelation. Sandra Knight plays Helene, the love interest/ghost/melting face woman. She is beautiful and amazing but I had one problem: during one scene you can see her mustache. This sort of thing does not bother me. Really. But it really distracted me for the rest of the film. Why didn't they shave it!? I know this was filmed in 1963, but they must have had razors!
Here is the plot best as I can tell. Jack Nicholson was separated from his regiment. On the beach he sees a beautiful woman who leads him to drinking water and introduces herself as Helene. He falls in love with her instantly (as you do) and then gets very upset when she turns into a hawk that attacks him. He finds shelter with an old witch and her mute son. The witch owns the hawk, who is named Helene, but Nicholson doesn't believe the witch. The mute son, who actually can talk, tells Nicholson to go the the Baron's castle and find Eric. Because Nicholson had nothing better to do he goes to the castle. There he meets Boris Karloff and Stefan. They reluctantly let him stay. While there he sees Helene again, but she is acting like a bi-polar bitch. Nicholson confronts the Baron and he admits that Helene is Baroness Ilsa, his dead wife. Whom he killed. And Stefan killed Ilsa's lover: Eric. So far so good.
Nicholson goes back and spies on the old witch and discovers that she had possessed the body of a young woman with Ilsa's spirit to get revenge on the Baron. See, the witch was Eric's mother. We don't know who Helene/Ilsa is, but we know she is the pawn of the witch. She is trying to convince the Baron to kill himself by flooding the crypt where Ilsa is buried. And this is where I checked out. See, the crypt is at the bottom of the castle, and there is a special door that if opened lets the sea in. Why would anyone do this? What is the motivation for building something that can be flooded BY THE SEA by opening a door? I won't spoil the ending for you (you wouldn't believe me anyway) but lets just say it makes no sense.
But if you can, by all means see The Terror. It is cool in it's own weird little way and it is fun to see Nicholson before he was big. Here he is basically an asshole. I am off to buy some wax strips for my upper lip.