The Terror (1963 film)

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The Terror
Directed by Roger Corman
Francis Ford Coppola
Monte Hellman
Jack Hill
Jack Nicholson
Produced by Roger Corman
Written by Leo Gordon
Jack Hill
Starring Boris Karloff
Jack Nicholson
Sandra Knight
Dick Miller
Jonathan Haze
Music by Ronald Stein
Les Baxter
Cinematography John Mathew Nickolaus, Jr.
Edited by Stuart O'Brien
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release date(s)
  • June 17, 1963 (1963-06-17)
Running time 81 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Terror (1963) is a low budget American horror film produced and directed by Roger Corman. It is famous for being filmed on sets left over from other AIP productions, including The Haunted Palace. The movie was also released as Lady of the Shadows, The Castle of Terror, and The Haunting; it was later featured as an episode of Cinema Insomnia[1] and Elvira's Movie Macabre.

The movie is sometimes linked to Corman's series of "Poe films," which were made between 1960 and 1964 based on the public domain works of Edgar Allan Poe, but The Terror is not actually based on any text by Poe.[2]


Set in 1806, the film tells the story of a lost French soldier named Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) who is saved by a strange young woman named Helene (Sandra Knight). She looks like Ilsa, the wife of the baron (played by Boris Karloff), who died twenty years before.

Investigating who the woman really is, Andre stumbles upon a hidden secret of the Baron: After he found Ilsa sleeping with another man named Eric, the Baron killed the two of them, or so he explains.

All the while, the phantom of Ilsa remained under the control of a peasant witch (Dorothy Neumann), who has commanded the ghost to torment the Baron for the previous two years. Over the course of the film, Ilsa's ghost beseeches the Baron to kill himself, so they could be together. After much hesitation, the Baron decides to do so, perhaps to atone for his crimes.

During the climactic scenes, Andre, as well as the Baron's butler Stefan (Dick Miller), try to stop him, eventually forcing the witch into compliance. Here it is revealed that the witch Katrina is in fact the mother of Eric, who was allegedly killed by the Baron twenty years before, and that is why she has tried to make him commit suicide and damn his soul to hell. In a stunning revelation, Stefan reveals that Eric never died, that it was the Baron who was killed. Eric then took the Baron's place, living his life until he deluded himself into thinking he was the Baron.

Katrina, realizing her folly only too late, goes with the two men to stop Eric from flooding the castle crypt and killing himself. However, she is unable to go into the mausoleum and ends up being struck by lightning and burning to death to the ground as she tries to escape.

In the climax of the film, Ilsa's ghost attempts to kill Eric while the crypt floods, and Stefan joins the struggle. However, by the time Andre gains access to the crypt, it is already flooding and crumbling, and he is able to carry only Helene's body away. as the two share a touching moment together outside, Helene begins to rapidly rot and melt. Katrina's familiar hawk flies away as Helene's body continues to turn into a rotting skeleton then the movie abruptly ends.


  • Boris Karloff as the Baron von Leppe/Eric. He worked with Roger Corman on The Raven.
  • Jack Nicholson as Andre Duvalier. The actor had previously worked with Corman on The Little Shop of Horrors and The Cry Baby Killer and The Raven.
  • Dick Miller as Stefan. His previous work with Corman included a leading role in A Bucket of Blood and a supporting in The Little Shop of Horrors.
  • Sandra Knight as Helene/Ilsa. Jack Nicholson's only wife, Knight is visibly pregnant with their daughter, Jennifer, during the climax of "The Terror." Jennifer Nicholson grew up to become a fashion designer.
  • Dorothy Neumann as Katrina the Witch. Neumann was previously directed by Roger Corman in "Carnival Rock," "The Undead" and "Teenage Doll" (all 1957).
  • Jonathan Haze as Gustaf. He is best known for his leading role in The Little Shop of Horrors.

Production notes[edit]

Corman decided to make the movie to take advantage of sets left over from The Raven. He paid Leo Gordon $1,600 to write a script, and made a deal with Boris Karloff to be available for three days filming for a small amount of money plus a deferred payment of $15,000 that would be paid if the film earned more than $150,000.[3][4]

Karloff's scenes were shot in three days by Corman. Corman then sent Francis Ford Coppola to Big Sur for three days to shoot additional footage. He ended up staying eleven days. Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson also directed some scenes.

Leftover sets from other AIP films were used when shooting the film, notably those from The Haunted Palace, a Vincent Price horror film made earlier the same year. The tree against which Sandra Knight expires in The Terror is the same one to which Price was tied and burned in The Haunted Palace.

The uniform worn by Jack Nicholson was used by Marlon Brando in Désirée (1954).[3]

Later version[edit]

Today, the film is in the public domain since there is no copyright notice in the credits for the film.[5]

In the early 1990s, actor Dick Miller, who plays Karloff's major domo, was hired to shoot new scenes to use as a framing sequence for an overseas version of The Terror. Under this scheme, the main action of the film is presented in flashback. This was done for Corman to establish some sort of copyright in the movie. Dick Miller says the payment for these scenes was the most he had ever received from Corman.[3]


In May 1966 Corman told Karloff he would not be getting his deferred $15,000 since the film never made $150,000. However he said he would pay the money if Karloff worked on a new undetermined future project for Corman. This turned out to be the 1968 Peter Bogdanovich movie Targets, which extensively used clips from The Terror.[4]

In 2010, the film was featured in the second episode of the revived, syndicated TV series, Elvira's Movie Macabre.

Karloff was paid his deferred fee once he agreed to be in Targets.[3]

Home video[edit]

The Terror, restored from original 35mm elements, was released April 26, 2011 from Film Chest and HD Cinema Classics. It is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16 x 9 and 5.1 surround sound mix. Enclosed is a collectible postcard reproduction of the original movie poster and special features include Spanish subtitles, before-and-after film restoration demo and trailer.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cinema Insomnia, with your Horror Host, Mister Lobo! - SHOW INFORMATION". Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 452-454
  3. ^ a b c d Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p211
  4. ^ a b Fred Olen Ray, The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors, McFarland, 1991, p 50-58
  5. ^ Ray, Fred Olen (1991). The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 51. 
  6. ^ The Terror Press Release
  7. ^ Reviews

External links[edit]