Napoleonic California: The Terror

terror32017.71: The Terror (1963)

An impossibly young Jack Nicholson plays a Napoleonic officer with a lazy californian accent, Boris Karloff plays a reclusive Baron with a shady past (with a twist straight out of leftfield) and Dick Miller plays his tough-guy servant as if he somehow stepped straight off a tough New York street. Its one of those old films full of utterly bizarre casting, a cheap-as-chips exploitation b-movie (Karloff filmed his scenes in just four days, using sets from Corman’s previous flick, The Raven, I think, just before they were torn down) that doesn’t make any sense at all.

And yet there is a certain charm about it. Partly it is that fun, twisted casting. It is strange indeed to see Nicholson phoning-in a performance so early in his career, or maybe it’s just that he isn’t taking any of it as seriously as Karloff, who clearly relishes it like it’s his crack at Shakespeare (but that was true of Karloff in every film). Any historical accuracy is purely coincidental, simply adding to the dreamlike sensibilities of the confused script and the vibrant, richly colourful lighting that reminded me of ’60s Star Trek.

Indeed, it’s almost shocking to reflect that as a ghost story (before it veers off into something else) this film almost works, in spite of all that is so wrong about it- the plot-holes and inconsistencies lend it an air of dreamlike strangeness that threatens to make it a much better film than it is. But of course, it’s all accidental, a combination of rushed and fractured shooting and a script that looks like it was cobbled from out-takes from other scripts (like the sets themselves, evidently, as many props and scenery look like leftovers from earlier Poe films by Corman). With its cast and strange sensibilities it’s a rewarding curio, if nothing else.

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