Tuesday, April 26, 2011

THE TERROR (Blu-ray & DVD)

One of producer Roger Corman's most notorious cheapies, THE TERROR (1963), starring the legendary Boris Karloff and the not-yet-legendary Jack Nicholson, makes its high definition debut on Blu-ray disc this week from HD Cinema Classics/Cultra.

A Napoleonic soldier named Lieutenant Andre Duvalier (Nicholson), separated from his unit, exhausted and near death, is riding alone along the shore of the Baltic Sea when he sees a beautiful woman (Sandra Knight) emerge from the surf. She leads him to a fresh water spring and then disappears. Passing out from exhaustion, he awakens in the tumbledown hut of an old witch and her mute servant, both of whom insist that there is no girl. Obsessed, he searches for her, and arrives at the castle home of the elderly Baron Von Leppe (Karloff) who also insists that there's no girl - even though the young soldier saw her in one of the castle's windows. The baron and his manservant, Stefan (Dick Miller) do their best to make Duvalier unwelcome, but he insists on staying until he can discover what's going on....

 According to his own account, Roger Corman was loathe to let the impressive castle sets from his 1963 Edgar Allan Poe spoof, THE RAVEN, be torn down without getting a bit more mileage out of them, so he spent two days shooting roughly half of a hastily-contrived script with Karloff & Nicholson (both of whom had been in THE RAVEN) on the lavish leftover sets. Then, over the next nine months, four other directors - Jack Hill (FOXY BROWN, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), Francis Coppola (APOCALYPSE NOW, THE GODFATHER), Monte Hellman (BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP) and Nicholson himself (THE TWO JAKES) - shot additional exterior sequences at various locations along the California coast, each filmmaker making script changes and adding things to the story. Despite this, the final film, edited by Stuart O' Brien, is surprisingly involving, and if the story isn't entirely logical, it plays out in an enjoyable fashion.

Karloff is excellent, bringing pathos and gravitas to his underwritten role. Dick Miller is also very good as the Baron's fiercely loyal servant. Nicholson is frankly unconvincing as a soldier - never mind a French one - but Sandra Knight (Nicholson's wife at the time) makes a lovely apparition as the mysterious object of Duvalier's - and Von Leppe's - obsession. The Daniel Haller-designed castle sets - the whole reason for the film's existence - are large and impressive, and the Ronald Stein musical score is suitably eerie and atmospheric.

Long in the public domain, THE TERROR has seen probably hundreds of home video releases from as many budget labels. To a one, they've all looked battered, faded and worn, the Pathe colors turned pink and green over time. Now, the HD Cinema Classics/Cultra label brings this PD staple to high definition Blu-ray with a new, remastered and restored print.

Presented in its original 1.77:1 aspect ratio, at 1080p HD, this is probably the best THE TERROR has ever looked on home video, with bright, color-corrected hues and virtually all print damage and dirt digitally removed. The company has applied considerable noise reduction to the transfer, which not only eliminates specks and scratches, but film grain as well. This leaves faces looking unnaturally smooth and waxy, and obscures fine details. Personally, I'd have preferred less noise reduction, but, graded on a curve, THE TERROR looks quite respectable, especially considering the degraded state of the original materials. The audio options include a slightly noisy 2.0 mono track and a rather pointless 5.1 Surround "remix."

The only extras are a newly-created video "trailer," a restoration comparison, and a postcard insert of the original poster art.

Fans of Roger Corman's Gothic horrors and/or the great Boris Karloff should be pleased by this new low-priced "Blu-ray/DVD Combo" edition, which includes a standard-resolution DVD, featuring the same new transfer in anamorphic widescreen - so, even without a Blu-ray player, this restored version can still be enjoyed. Recommended.

BUY: The Terror [Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack]