Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Terror (1963)

Among many Corman's cult classics "The Terror" occupies a very particular space as the only picture, which took more than three weeks to wrap up. In fact, it took nine months before any editing might have taken place as the story kept missing and missing from the reels, even if five directors were busy closing in on Corman's wacky idea. Have you ever seen a low-budget picture, which can hardly pull off any storyline? Well, meet "The Terror", which doesn't have any plot at all. Basic concept of this legendary gibberish, heavily outlined by the cast, critics and Corman's fans invaded director's brain when he's been finishing the shoot of „The Raven” (1962). He mentions looking at the beautiful, gothic set and feeling kind of upset from a necessity to tear it all down a day after. Thus he got touched by a genie and came up with another movie, which could have been shot over two days, without any need to cut between the scenes to save time by keeping the camera on!

Although one thing he still missed was the screenplay, Corman solved it quickly by calling his fastest writer, Leo Gordon, who eventually agreed to write some loosely linked pages in few days. Director now had a set, very basic story and a cast brought up in a jiffy. Jack Nicholson agreed to play a French Army officer – Duvalier, who wandered off of his regiment along Baltic Sea shoreline during Napoleon's military campaign. Sandra Knight (Jack Nicholson's wife) played Helene, a mysterious ghost dragging him into... that's the problem as nobody knew what exactly. Then there was Boris Karloff as Baron von Leppe, who got paid $30,000 by AIP to commit two more days to next Corman's movie. Finally, the role of his servant was filled by Dick Miller. Eventually it proved to be a rather poor triangle for a thrilling, gothic romp, hence two other characters were created to buzz it up – mysterious mute named Gustav and The Witch. The roles were grabbed by Jonathan Haze and Dorothy Neumann respectively.

As nobody really knew initially what the story was about and what the motivations of their characters were, Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff were forced to stroll around the props for two days occasionally exchanging nonsense lines. After two days shooting Corman had to leave to Europe in a rush, where he was planning to make another quickie, "The Young Racers" (1963). Thus a task of finishing the movie was laid on Francis Ford Coppola, who was to direct exterior scenes linking the castle sequences with another part of the story or more precisely he just had to work up it's foundations. He manged to improve the story though by bringing Duvalier and Helene outside and making them interact, which unfortunately bent it out a little bit, leaving retarded "castle plot" even more problematic.

Confronted with an obvious gap in a storyline and missing more footage Corman gave a camera and some film to his assistant Dennis Jakob – fresh UCLA graduate. But Dennis shot his own movie about a Civil War in three days instead leaving Corman in a real despair. This time Monte Hellman was picked and asked to shoot additional scenes on the cliffs of Palos Verdes. He was happy to do it and filmed everything he was told to, but felt that the scipt should have been changed even more, so promptly rewrote an already messed up story overlapping it with another absurd twist, which made The Witch look for revenge and Gustav talk... but at least he was able now to explain the mystery of this movie to a beat up viewer. While Corman was pondering his long over time project, he figured he needed another man to round up the story by shooting some more footage.

Jack Hill jumped onboard and carried on for a bit, but Corman still needed one more day of filming and this time Jack Nicholson persuaded him he'd do it if everybody was doing it anyway. As the story didn't sparkle anyway – it definitely missed a beat – Corman decided to go for the ultimate twist. Baron was not a Baron, but Eric, witch's son, who took his place long time before by killing him in a duel. Bad news was, the witch didn't know that and tried to kill him all this time by using Duvalier and Helene to drive him completely crazy! As Jack Nicholson said: They don't make movies like The Terror anymore. The movie has become a cult trash since and was featured as a tribute by Corman's pupils in such movies as: "Mean Streets", "Targets" or "Hollywood Boulevard". A real chunk of low-budget movies history, where the movie itself is the least important thing!

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