Or Hardly Any Terror At All, Really

Movie critics do have fears. Among the worst is preparing to write without having any idea what happened in the movie just watched. Case in point: The Terror.

At 80-minutes long, nothing much happens during The Terror. Most time is spent with Boris Karloff wandering a barren castle studio set with Jack Nicholson close behind trying to sort out the mysteries within. There’s an angry bird, a ghost woman, a servant, and a witch woman, all somehow involved in a murder that happened twenty years ago.

… nothing much happens during The Terror

Luckily, there’s no fault in struggling to piece together The Terror – on set, no one had any idea what was happening either. Obvious overdubbed lines fill in gaps, trying to make this all sensible, and by the end, The Terror invokes ghosts, zombies, crypts, and suicide, but without ever establishing what form this all takes. If star Jack Nicholson woke up and said it was a dream, that’s fair game.

Nicholson doesn’t, of course. Instead, he ponderously searches for answers as a soldier separated from his troop, discovering Karloff’s castle, then settling in until a ghostly woman appears before him. That’s the plot, at least what plot there is. Set in 1806, that appears more of an excuse to use leftover sets from The Raven, which director Roger Corman filmed immediately prior.

The Terror’s value comes partly from Nicholson, not necessarily Karloff who starred in far better low budget thrillers than this. It’s also an interesting footnote of Francis Ford Coppola who shot second unit footage, but that’s only interesting historically – it’s not as if The Terror becomes a notable piece of Coppola’s career, or that any of his work is evident on style alone.


Released to Blu-ray previously by Cinema Classics, this Film Masters transfer is miles better. Preserving the source print sans any egregious noise reduction (which Cinema Classics used extensively), The Terror now looks natural, with a clean print, free from damage. For an early ’60s public domain offering, that’s impressive. The grain structure doesn’t pose any challenge to the encode.

While not the richest in texture and detail (the source print isn’t known), the scan brings out definition lost in countless other public domain video offerings. Close-ups find facial texture intact and clear. While medium/long shots lack the same refinement, the clarity is there, even if the source materials skew soft. Dissolve edits are especially brutal, but unavoidably so.

Better regulated than in the past, color saturation doesn’t bleed or overpower the screen. Flesh tones, in the brightest light, can clip to pure white. In darkness, even with firm black levels, overexposure will naturally increase grain, which is rightfully retained. It’s doubtful The Terror can ever look better.


While the score doesn’t hold completely firm (especially the wobbly low-end), The Terror’s audio sounds otherwise fine, but notably analog. Stable highs catch the horn sections as well as they can, slight waning at their peak aside. Fidelity in the dialog holds a natural, aged quality (at times puffy and scratchy though), and is in balance with all other elements.


C. Courtney Joyner teams with Dr. Steve Haberman for a commentary track. A beefy 44-minute visual essay comes from Howard Berger and Kevin Marr. Joyner also pens an essay for the booklet inside the case.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Terror
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Slow and ponderous, The Terror has more value in seeing the cast than watching the clumsy story.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 29 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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