Welcome to the Bad Movie of the Week! [Read more background or see the Bad Movie Archive.] This week’s installment comes from a double-movie DVD, and Will and I chose this movie over the 1936 “Revolt of the Zombies” due to what can only be described as temporary weakness of character. However, it was the right choice.
Plot: This early Roger Corman film — co-directed by none other than Francis Ford Coppola, among others — doesn’t lack for star power. It features a young Jack Nicholson as Lieutenant André Duvalier, a French Army officer separated from his regiment who comes across a mysterious young woman, Hélène (played by Nicholson’s wife at the time, Sandra Knight). After she saves Duvalier’s life, the ghostly Hélène vanishes, and her trail leads Duvalier to a dilapidated castle inhabited by Boris Karloff‘s Baron Victor Van Leppe. Van Leppe and his dour servant Stefan deny the existence of any such woman, but the persistent and fearless Duvalier investigates the mysteries of the castle to uncover the truth.
Best quote: This is not a quote from the movie, but rather from review site StompTokyo.com: “While filming The Raven, Roger Corman realized he was going to have a nifty set standing unused for a couple of days before it got torn down, and being Roger Corman, decided to make a movie on those few leftover days. He convinced Karloff to stay on, and Nicholson, and recruited character actor Leo Gordon to churn out the script. The real epiphany came, apparently, when they realized they didn’t have to write an entire script in a few days, just the parts that were to be filmed on the castle sets; these were shot and directed by Corman, with the same union crews still under contract for The Raven. Then came the problem of actually finishing the damn thing.”
Most implausible moment: There are more than a few unanswered questions. Why is a pagan witch so obsessed with the fact that Van Leppe’s suicide would be a Christian sin? Why does Van Leppe look twenty years older than the woman who turns out to be his mother? Who or what, exactly, is “The Terror”?
‘Gratuitous Hotness’ bonus: 0 (out of 1 possible). The sex appeal exuded by Hélène dissolves at the same time as, well, her face.
‘Gratuitous Violence’ bonus: ½ (out of 1 possible). Relatively little violence for a horror movie, but it deserves recognition for an out-of-the-blue cliff death scene, some subsequent ghostly gore, and a case of lightning-induced human combustion.
Final score: 2 (6 is worst). A slightly incoherent script gives what should be a straightforward ghost story some jarring twists, inhibiting it from reaching ‘1’ territory. However, good performances from Nicholson and the rest of the cast help keep the suspense alive (except for the times when Knight’s decidedly un-ghostly American accent breaks through). “The Terror” is classic low-budget Roger Corman horror, milking its outlandish sets and plot gimmicks, but effective acting and occasionally clever direction carry it to a solid ‘2’.