Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blu-ray Review: The Terror (1963)

[Blu-ray + DVD Combo]

Label: HD Cinema Classics
Region: [Blu-ray] Region FREE [DVD] 0 NTSC
Rating: R
Duration: 79 mins
Video: 1080p 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 with Spanish Subtitles
Director: Roger Corman (Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, uncredited)
Cast: Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Dorothy Neuman, Sandra Knight

Tagline: A New Classic of Horror Comes to the Screen!

Film: Roger Corman's The Terror is set in France in 1806. Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) is a soldier in Napoleon's army who's become separated from his regiment, he awakens on a beach where he encounters a hauntingly beautiful woman named Helena (Sandra Knight) whom walks into the surf and disappears. Thinking she must have been overcome by the waves Duvalier follows her in and nearly drowns himself all the while being dive bombed from above by a vicious hawk. Losing consciousness he awakens (again) inside the villa of Katrina (Dorothy Neumann), an old witchy woman. He inquires if she knows of the young woman and she replies that he must have imagined her during his near fatal drowning.

Undeterred Andre further searches for the woman through the forest until he comes to the castle of Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein) who reluctantly allows Andre to enter after he flashes his Napoleonic credentials. As if Nicholson and Karloff weren't enough for a ticket to this film legendary b-movie character actor Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood, Gremlins) also appears as the Baron's major domo. Inside the castle Andre happen upon a portrait of a woman whom bares an uncanny resemblance to the mysterious woman he seeks. The Baron informs him that he is mistaken as the woman in the portrait, his wife, died twenty years prior. Andre is obsessed with the young woman and continues to search for the woman's identity despite everyone's insistence that she is merely a figment of his distressed mind. He continues to encounter her but starts to wonder if he has gone mad, is she an apparition, a restless spirit, who is she really? And how does the witch Katrina figure into the story?

The acting is suitably melodramatic with pre-New Hollywood Nicholson giving a decent performance, he's definitely charming but not nearly French, fun stuff. Karloff seems a bit lost at times, he gives it a good go though but it's obvious this is just another paying gig. While the film is uneven, it's a wonder that the film is as watchable as it is given it's strange production, the sets are fantastic stuff. The towering Gothic castle, a macabre cemetery steeped in fog, creepy crypts and eerie red, green and blue lighting really go a long way towards creating an entertaining and atmosphere spookfest. It's a bit slow at times but the film's final 15 minutes are wonderfully twisted and memorable. 

The legend of this film holds that once wrapping on The Raven, which starred Boris Karloff as Dr. Scarabus, Corman immediately went into production on The Terror utilizing sets from The Raven and A Haunted Place. He tossed Karloff a few extra bucks to remain on for four additional days of shooting. While Corman shot the bulk of the film with Karloff in four days the film's production went on for nine more months, making it one of the longest Corman shoots ever I would imagine. In those nine months Corman left it to a handful of aspiring directors on staff to shoot second unit, and they're notable names, too. They included star Jack Nicholson who would go onto direct the Going South among others, Francis Ford Coppola  (The Godfather)who that same year would direct Dementia 13 and reportedly shot for 11 days only get 10 minutes of footage in this film, Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Coffy) and Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop). Not too shabby.  

DVD: The film gets a AVC encoded 1.78:1 widescreen transfer in glorious 1080p HD. More so than either the Poor Pretty Eddie or Dementia 13 Blu-rays from HD Cinema Classics I thoroughly enjoyed the 1080p bump here. Perhaps because this film has for so long languished in the public domain that to see a nice HD presentation with vibrant colors, nice deep blacks and digitally restored has breathed new life into a film I've seen numerous times but never so eye popping as this. So, it looks pretty great, better than we've ever seen it on the home entertainment front, but there is that usual HD Cinema Classics application of DNR which removes the film grain which in turn smears the fine detail and textures, particularly in the facial features but I found the plasticine tendencies less bothersome here than with previous HDCC Blu's. Audio option include both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Mono with optional Spanish subtitles. The 5.1 opens it up a bit but only minimally, the 2.0 is thin but adequate for what it is. None of the HDCC Blu's I've reviewed feature lossless audio, c'mon folks it's 2011 let's get with it. Special features are limited to a trailer and a digital restoration trailer. That's a bummer but to see the film given a 1080p spit shine is pretty great, too.

Special Features:
- Movie Trailer (1:15) 1080p
- Before and After Restoration Demo (1:06) 1080p
- DVD of the film with same special features in SD.

Verdict: In years past I've not found myself particularly enamored with this film, no doubt the lacklustre presentations we've seen haven't exactly aided the film's reputation. HD Cinema Classics have given us a very attractive 1080p presentation of the film that enhanced my viewing experience, it's like watching it again for the first time. The Terror while not great is quite an entertaining Gothic melodrama from the master of b-movie cinema with decent performances from a pre-New Hollywood Nicholson and late-era Karloff. Neither are at their peak but this Blu-ray comes recommended, it's a definte good time.
3.5 outta 5