Let’s be clear: The Terror is a pretty bad movie. It contains long stretches of nothingness, the sets are familiar (pulled from two prior productions), and what limited effects there are barely qualify as “special.”
But, through a series of lucky casting choices, The Terror is also fairly memorable. Jack Nicholson, even this early in his career, was a dominant force on screen. Going head-to-head with an aging Boris Karloff, things do carry some tension and dramatic weight, Karloff’s looks and droning voice enough to give anything a bit of ominous energy.
The Terror even has a rapidly paced climax, with people set on fire, others melting, and multiple others drowning in a flooded castle crypt. Through all of the usual Corman cheapness, a slate of directors almost too numerous to mention, and bouts of sheer boredom, there is something here, even if it’s not much. There might even be a hint of intrigue in this narrative, Nicholson convinced Karloff’s dead wife is still roaming the castle grounds in early 1800’s… uh, someplace with a beach (California if filming locations count)?
Maybe it’s some unmistakable charm that pulls this one together, the joy of seeing actors on opposing ends of their career, in-between them the always likeable Dick Miller and beautiful Sandra Knight. It can be creepy too, that ungodly screeching sound Corman would utilize more often than not becoming a stock icon for his horror features. The studio castle sets are wonderful to look at, especially as Miller hacks away at some “rocks,” revealing their wooded origins. There’s even some gore, one character meeting an untimely end after his eyes are pecked out by a raving mad eagle, certainly more graphic than usual for 1963.
Film Chest Inc. (under a HD Cinema Classics label) returns after issuing a couple of film noirs a few months back, and The Terror is given the same treatment. That’s not exactly a compliment. Before getting into anything, it should be stated that this Corman piece has been in public domain for what seems like forever, and if you ever picked up one of those “100 DVD Horror Packs,” this was on there, guaranteed.
So, with that, by comparison to those dubious releases, this is a bit of a revelation. Clarity is better, print damage has all but disappeared (save for the effect shots where not much can be done), the print itself is stable, and colors richer. It’s even in the proper aspect ratio, the days of cropped TV prints hopefully long over. All of these pleasantries come at a cost though.
Cinema Classics performs what is (for them) becoming an all too familiar grain reduction here, leaving a light layer of film grain, or possibly even adding a little bit back in digitally. The results lead to some rather awful smearing during close-ups where characters turn their heads. When stable, facial detail does show through, not always consistently, although this is one of those filmed with likely whatever was available. It would be far easier to accept if we could assume the detail wasn’t there to begin with, but with the level of DNR applied here, that’s something you can’t be sure of. The mid-range is all but lost to the softness, a muddy, even blurry mess.
Colors are artificially saturated, the red of Nicholson’s uniform bleeding regularly, and many of the castle decorations doing the same. Blues are overblown, and the greens that oddly light the castle crypt gleaming brighter than any cheap light source could ever produce. Contrast seems elevated on both ends, black levels taking every ounce of shadow detail with them, and outdoors in the daylight, the whites blooming (bleaching detail in the process).
Of course, the best part of all is the restoration comparison on the disc where the original 35mm elements are compared side-by-side with the end result of the tampering. Even though the aspect ratio is squished the difference remains apparent, more so in some shots than others, but the original source (which seems potentially close to a first generation camera print) wins out almost every time.
Audio is compressed via Dolby Digital, either in 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround. Neither track is a winner, the 5.1 mix choosing to insert obvious after market effects. Most of the scenes in the forest, the first at 12:50, contains insects and birds chirping in the rears that don’t even come close to matching up. Dialogue isn’t even placed in the center, but split across the fronts equally, the hallmarks of 2.0 mono effort.
Maybe Film Chest heard the dialogue and thought better of pushing it through the center. Every line is muffled, sometimes even lost to a light layer of static and minor popping. The score never reaches any sort of peak and easily breaks down when it tries. An attempt to add some bass comes through inconsistently to beef up the music, muddy and almost lost to render the addition pointless.
A trailer and that above mentioned restoration comparison are your extras.
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