e-mail:Smokey X. Digger
1963, Dir. Roger Corman
This video opens with a logo proclaiming "Greatest Film Classics". Apparently, this film is sold in some parallel dimension where the criteria for judging movies is different from ours. "The Terror" is another film I learned of from my new hero Dr. Freex, and he is spot on as usual when referring to this film as taking the most "tortuous route" to its plot. It seems like it's never going to pick up and when it finally does, it's over. It begins however, with Boris Karloff walking about secret passageways in a castle. He follows a trail of blood to a door which upon opening, spits out a ragged skeleton. We'll see these corridors many times in this film, but never the trail of blood or the skeleton. Corman probably just had it hanging around. The credits roll, and among the names of people who have since wiped this film from their resume we find Francis Coppola, who apparently had yet to align himself with an American car company.
Cut to a beach where Andre Duvalier (a young Jack Nicholson) is riding a horse, observed from afar by a cloaked man. Andre passes out from the heat, and is revived by the tide. When he awakes he sees a beautiful woman and explains that he is lost, separated from his regiment, and needs water. Wordlessly, she leads him to a brook from which he eagerly drinks. Her name is Helene, and she wants to show him something. Tadpoles. Then they run along the beach, but Helene forgets to stop when she gets to the water. Andre jumps in after her, and is attacked by stock footage of a hawk. He wakes in a shack, being tended to by an old crone. Her pet hawk (named Helene) is perched in the corner, and she has a mute servant named Gustav. Andre recognizes the bird from the stock footage and asks about the girl. The crone pooh - poohs the notion that Helene attacked Andre and denies the existence of the girl. That night, he awakes to find the hawk gobbling down a mouse before flying away. He leaves the shack to explore and finds the girl. They kiss, and again she walks away wordlessly. Hot in pursuit he is stopped by Gustav, who shows him that the girl was going to lead him across quicksand. Gustav, who's kind of hoarse but otherwise talks pretty well for a mute, informs Andre that the girl is possessed and that he should go to the Castle Von Leppe to find Eric.
Back in the crone shack, Andre is doing a coal drawing of the girl, whom the crone still insists does not exist. When he mentions the castle, the crone tells him that no one lives there. As he leaves to find it, she tells him not to tell the Baron that she's there. That's her story and she's sticking to it. Avoiding falling rocks along the way, Andre comes across a painting of the castle. He sees Helene in the window and begins knocking on the door, shouting some silliness about the Government of France. The Baron Von Leppe opens the door and reluctantly allows Andre admittance. As the Baron's servant Stefan brings in cognac, Andre grills the Baron about the young woman. The Baron claims ignorance, but then shows Andre a painting that resembles the woman. It is a portrait of Ilsa, She - wolf of the S.S. No, it's really Ilsa, the Baroness Von Leppe, 20 years dead.
That night, Andre's horse bolts from it's stable. From his window, Andre sees Helene enter the chapel on the Baron's grounds. He tries to go to her, but finds his door locked. After some strange noises and shadows the door unlocks by itself (doors in this castle have the ability to do so). Andre leaves his room and begins snooping. He enters the chapel and finds the tomb of the Baroness. Upon returning to the main hall, he finds the painting gone. He returns to his room and is startled by Helene, who dissapears. His drawing has been torn to shreds. Then Stefan and the Baron discuss their visitor. They agree that he must leave as soon as possible. Stefan comes across Andre in the chapel and they discuss the horse and the girl. Andre returns to the castle and plays twenty questions with the Baron until he is told the truth about the death of Ilsa. Apparently twenty years ago, the Baron returned from war to find Ilsa shacking up with another man. He killed her, and Stefan killed the man. For the last twenty years, he has lived a self - imposed hermit's life to make penance. He believes the mysterious woman to be the ghost of Ilsa. Meanwhile, Gustav and Helene are on the cliffs near the coast. Despite Gustav's pleading, Helene says that she must obey the old woman. Then Stefan spies on the crone as she instructs the spirit of Ilsa to possess Helene in order to "carry out her vengeance". Back at the castle, a snooping Andre hears the Baron talking to Ilsa and bursts into the room to find the Baron by himself. This is the first time that Andre gets kicked out. As Stefan sees him off, he reveals Eric's identity: the man that the Baron found with Ilsa. Andre rides along the coast and spots Gustav on the cliffs, waving frantically at him. The hawk shows up and attacks Gustav, pecking his eyes out. Gustav stumbles near the edge and ... DUMMY FALL!!!! Very nicely done. I never knew that people who fall off of cliffs hold their arms up like people on roller coasters. Anyway, Andre reaches the seriously hurting Gustav who tells him that Helene has fallen in love with him and he must help her.
The rest of the movie goes as follows: Andre tries to take Helene away but she can't leave because she's "possessed of the dead". Helene / Ilsa tries to convince the Baron to kill himself to no avail. Andre and Stefan investigate a strange light in the Baroness' sealed chamber and break in, earning Andre his second ejection from Castle Von Leppe. Helene / Ilsa finally does convince the Baron to do himself in. Andre beats up Stefan. The crone reveals her plot, to avenge Eric, her son, by tricking the Baron into suicide. Stefan then drops the bombshell that it was rally the Baron who died twenty years ago and not Eric, who took the Baron's place and now believes that he is the Baron. The crone gets struck by lightning. The Baron opens Ilsa's casket and is somehow surprised to find a decaying corpse. He then opens the floodgates, letting the sea into the crypt. As the crypt floods, Andre and Stefan dive in. Andre saves Helene. He takes her outside and kisses her. She melts. The End.
Did parts of that review seem tedious? Well the whole movie was tedious. Clocking in at one hour and twenty minutes, we get an hour and ten minutes worth of set - up and ten minutes of action. Let's look at some other problems.
1. Where the hell are we? Andre Duvalier is obviously French, but he is lost. The name Von Leppe and the names of towns such as Kolben and Karlschtadt make me think Germany. Keep in mind that everyone in the film speaks fluent English with no trace of accent except for Dick Miller's Stefan, whose Bronx heritage shines through.
2. Who's killing who? We 're first told that the Baron killed Ilsa and Stefan killed Eric. Then we find out that it was the Baron who died, not Eric, and it was Stefan who killed the Baron. Why? Was he in league with Eric? So now the crone has mistakenly set up her own son. If she can control the spirits of the dead, why can't she figure out that Eric's alive?
3. As the crypt floods, Helene / Ilsa calls the Baron Eric. So she knows that he's Eric. Why does she want revenge on him? He didn't kill her.
4. Why the hell does the Von Leppe crypt have a tunnel leading to the sea?
IN CLOSING: Well, if your suspension of disbelief can keep itself from burying its head in the sand through all of that, you'll be able to find the one plus in this movie. Watching Karloff and Nicholson is like watching a sun set and a star rise. Karloff, despite being on his last legs, portrays his role with a sense of dignity that rubs off on those around him. Nicholson is beginning to develop his presence, and his now trademark snarl starts to creep out every now and again. Both of these men also appeared in Corman's "The Raven", which also boasted Vincent Price and Peter Lorre (I must find this movie!). What does this all mean in the greater scheme of things, you ask? Well, it means that Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price all have Kevin Bacon numbers of one, and Bela has a Bacon number of two by extension. Nicholson was in "A Few Good Men" with Bacon, and in the aforementioned Corman classics with Mssrs. Price, Karloff, and Lorre. And then we go Bacon - Nicholson - Karloff - Lugosi (in 1936's "The Raven"), to get Bela's number of two. Anyway, if you're a fan of Roger Corman, go for it. Other than that, curiosity value could be the only reason to watch this. Fans of Nicholson who want to see what Jack did before he got famous will be entertained, as will fans of Karloff. Otherwise, leave this one alone. Quick shout outs to my good friend Khary who gave me this video for Christmas, and to my girlfriend Cara who, when I tried to force this upon her on Corman's birthday this year, fell asleep 20 minutes in. You have much to learn, grasshopper.
A review by someone who knows what they're doing: THE BAD MOVIE REPORT