Napoleonic officer Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson), separated from his regiment, finds a beautiful young woman (Sandra Knight) who disappears into the sea. Searching for her, Andre visits the castle of Baron von Leppe (Boris Karloff), who explains that the woman is his wife, dead for twenty years.
Some films are made because there is an important message to impart. Some because a clever story cries out to be seen. And a very few because an actor is still under contract for four days and sets are still standing from a previous movie. Guess which is the case here.
Low budget filmmaker Roger Corman finished The Raven with four days still on Boris Karloff’s contract. So, using the same sets, he shot what he could in those days, enlisting Nicholson to be the young lead. Nicholson had also played a part in The Raven, although not a lead. Then he handed the project off to his underlings to finish over the next few months. Four other directors were involved, including Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholson. Considering how it was shot, The Terror has a remarkably consistent style. The acting is rough, with neither Karloff nor Nickolson looking as professional as they had in The Raven, but they can hardly be faulted for that. Karloff at least has a reasonable part to play. Nicholson is given an unpleasant hero we are somehow supposed to sympathize with, and who changes personality from scene to scene.
Unfortunately, with nothing of interest in the characters, acting, or message (there isn’t one), it is up to the story to carry the film, and it should surprise no one that doesn’t happen. There is hardly a plot for most of the film, and in the end, Corman was forced to shoot an additional scene where the butler could explain what is going on. And what he says is laughable. The twist, which involves people being other than they have appeared to be, could only work in a Monty Python sketch. Let’s just say the ages of the characters don’t match up.
Since the scenes were filmed without a finished script, I can have some sympathy for the opening, where Karloff finds a skeleton in a closet. It is never mentioned again and is irrelevant, not to mention incongruous, to the rest of the story. However, not even the shooting schedule can explain why the girl-ghost pops up twice in attempts to lead a random soldier (Andre) to his death.
Perhaps Corman should have considered another comedy with his unrelated reels of film.Or better yet, remembered that all filmmaking starts with a script.