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.
Floyd Crosby
Conrad Hall
Edited by Stuart O'Brien
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release date
  • June 17, 1963 (1963-06-17)

1991 (France)
Running time
81 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office 9,915 admissions (France) (1991)[1]

The Terror (1963) is a low-budget American Vistascope horror film produced and directed by Roger Corman. It was 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[2] and Elvira's Movie Macabre.

The movie is sometimes linked to Corman's contemporary series of films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, but The Terror is not based on any text by Poe.[3]


Set in 1806, the film tells the story of a lost French soldier in the Confederation of the Rhine 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 his wife while his servant killed Eric, 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 she believes was 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, Katrina's pact with the devil makes her unable to go into the consecrated ground of 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. the film ends as the two share a touching moment together outside before Helene begins to rapidly dissolve into a rotting corpse.


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.[4][5]

Boris Karloff later recalled:

Corman had the sketchiest outline of a story. I read it and begged him not to do it. He said "That's alright Boris, I know what I'm going to do. I want you for two days on this." I was in every shot, of course. Sometimes I was just walking through and then I would change my jacket and walk back. He nearly killed me on the last day. He had me in a tank of cold water for about two hours. After he got me in the can he suspended operations and went off and directed two or three operations to get the money, I suppose... [The sets] were so magnificent... As they were being pulled down around our ears, Roger was dashing around with me and a camera, two steps ahead of the wreckers. It was very funny.[6]

Corman says he had "a previous deal" with Nicholson, Miller and Knight to work two days on the film.[7]

Karloff's scenes were shot in two days by Corman, who later said, "I didn't have the money to shoot the rest of the picture union, which meant I couldn't direct myself because I was personally signed with the unions. So I would say that at one time half the young filmmakers in Hollywood did pieces on The Terror."[7]

Corman says when he cut together Karloff's footage he realised "it didn't make sense" so he filmed a scene between Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson (in close up because the sets had been taken down) and got them to explain the plot.[8]

Corman sent Francis Ford Coppola to Big Sur for three days to shoot additional footage. He ended up staying eleven days. Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Dennis Jacob and Jack Nicholson also directed some scenes. Corman says, "Jack Nicholson finally directed himself when we ran out of directors; and I think a couple of other guys worked in there."[7]

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).[4]


The film was released on a double bill with Dementia 13.[9]

The Los Angeles Times thought it was "spooky" with a "slow, lazy plot" and Excellent photography and settings... it moves like a stately pavan but the authors exhibit some of that old Edgar Allan Poe touch for haunted happenings".[10]

Later version[edit]

Today, the film is in the public domain since there is no copyright notice in the credits for the film.[11]

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.[4]


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 Peter Bogdanovich movie Targets (1968), which extensively used clips from The Terror.[5] Karloff was paid his deferred fee once he agreed to be in Targets.[4]

In 2010, the film was featured in the second episode of the revived, syndicated TV series, Elvira's Movie Macabre. The climax scene was shown in the 2013 film Avenged.

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.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  2. ^ "Cinema Insomnia, with your Horror Host, Mister Lobo! - SHOW INFORMATION". Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  3. ^ Jacobs, Stephen (2011). Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. Tomohawk Press. pp. 452–454. 
  4. ^ a b c d Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p211
  5. ^ a b Fred Olen Ray, The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors, McFarland, 1991, p 50-58
  6. ^ Lawrence French, "The Making of The Raven", The Raven novelisation by Eunice Sudak, based on script by Richard Matheson, Bear Manor Media 2012
  7. ^ a b c Goldman, C. (1971). An interview with ROGER CORMAN. Film Comment, 7(3), 49-54. Retrieved from
  8. ^ By, V. C. (1966, Sep 18). Roger corman: A good man gone to 'pot'. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. ^ Horror bill announced. (1963, Sep 19). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. ^ Harford, M. (1963, Sep 28). 'The terror' karloff's latest film thriller. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. ^ Ray, Fred Olen (1991). The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 51. ISBN 9780899506289. 
  12. ^ The Terror Press Release
  13. ^ Reviews

External links[edit]