The Terror

The Terror (1963)
HD Cinema Classics
Cast: Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Dick Miller
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Restoration Clip

I am a huge fan of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations from the 60s and, though not a Poe adaptation, when the 1963 gothic horror film "The Terror" arrived in high definition on my desk I simply had to check it out.

A young French soldier in Napoleon's army, Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) is separated from his regiment and trying to find his way he awakens on a beach one day, seeing a beautiful young woman. But strangely she disappears, only to show up again later, luring him, yet evading him once again. Duvalier ends up at the towering castle of Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) who vehemently denies any knowledge of a woman in or around the castle — though the description fits that of his long-dead wife.

As Duvalier tries to learn more, it turns out that the Baron has secrets as dark and ominous as the castle's dungeons themselves.

"The Terror" is a weird movie, to be sure. When Corman had finished the wonderful horror comedy "The Raven," starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson, he realized that he had a few days before the magnificent set would be torn down. He decided to shoot additional footage on the set, asking Karloff, Nicholson and other actors to help him, and together they created a series of shots and scenes playing inside the castle. However, at this point they had neither a real script, story or plot. It was only later, that a number of writers – including Francis Ford Coppola and Richard Matheson – scrambled to create a story surrounding the castle footage, trying to turn it into something cohesive and sensible. With that script in hand, the remaining scenes were then shot and the film put together.

Unsurprisingly, the result is a weird hodgepodge of a story that lacks real suspense and is often outlandishly weird — not to say, nonsensical or too convenient at times.

And yet, despite all of its fallacies, "The Terror" oozes atmosphere. It is a true Corman movie of its era with all the great imagery and gothic dread. The castle interiors and the cemetery shots with wafting fog are setting the mood for the rest of the film, allowing viewers to overlook some of its other shortcomings with ease.

HD Cinema Classics, a studio I had never heard of before, has released "The Terror" in high definition now, bringing the film to Blu-Ray Disc for the first time. While arriving in a 1080p high definition transfer, as a viewer you will never get the impression that this is truly a high def presentation. While free of defect and blemishes, the presentation is excessively soft and feels out of focus almost the entire time. In addition, contrast is excessively harsh, creating an image that creates completely blackened shadows without definition while countering them with over exposed highlights. The fact that the exterior shots for this movie have been shot day-for-night entirely may have contributed to this incredibly harsh and unnatural look. The castle interior shots are clearly the best ones with lavish colors — like "The Raven" — and proper shadow balance. However, even these shots are riddled by the unnatural soft focus.

I am not sure why the image is so poor as a whole on this film. Though the Blu-Ray case states that this transfer was created from original 35mm elements, it seems to me that those most have been multiple generations down from the original negative.

The release contains a 5.1 surround track, but sadly it has not been remixed. It is horribly unbalanced with the music generally drowning out everything else. In addition, dialogue is often of such low volume that it is impossible to even hear — let away understand — in many instances. A proper reworking and balancing of the audio would have greatly benefited the movie, no doubt. Sadly, to make matters worse, there are no English subtitles on the release either, which might have been able to gloss over the audio shortcomings somewhat.

As extras, the release contains the movie's trailer and a short "Before & After Restoration" clip. Without wanting to sound too critical, the word "Restoration" is being used very liberally here, as it appears that the only thing that has been done was a despeckling pass to get rid of dust, scratches and blemishes in the print. Neither color balance, color stability, nor actual image detail improvement has been done. I do not think true restorations, like Warner's magnificent treatments of their classics, invite the comparison to what is being called a "restoration" here. In the eyes of most viewers, this here was merely a clean-up.

A DVD version of the film is also included on a second disc, and the packaging contains a reprint of the original movie poster as a post card.

For Roger Corman and Boris Karloff fans, and the fans of gothic horror, this film is always exciting, but sadly this high definition presentation is not at all what fans would have hoped for. Rent it, if you want to check it out.