Set in the 18th Century a young French lieutenant in Napoleon’s army, Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson), gets separated from his regiment. While searching for his troops Andre encounters a beautiful woman, Helene (Sandra Knight), who he watches walk into the sea and disappear. Andre attempt to go after the woman but is overcome by the rough tide. When Andre awakes in the home of an old woman, Katrina (Dorothy Neumann), he is told that Helene is merely a figment of his imagination. Believing that what he saw was real, Andre is determined to find Helene at all costs. Andre eventually receives a tip that the answers he seeks are within the walls of a castle owned by the reclusive Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff). Andre uses his army clout to get inside the castle, yet he soon realizes that the truth he seeks is far more terrifying than he could ever imagine.
The Terror relies heavily on the audience suspending their disbelief on pretty much every single aspect of the film. It is hard to believe that Andre would be so infatuated with Helene based on one mere encounter. Especially in regards to the lengths at which he goes about finding information is just ridiculous. He uses his status in Napoleon’s army as a means of doing whatever he wants in the Baron’s home.
The problem with giving Andre so much free reign is that it takes away from other character development. This film is suppose to be the Boris Karloff show, but he does nothing more than mourn a former love for the majority of the film. The fact that the Baron is so underdeveloped hinders Andre’s character as well. Jack Nicholson is essentially asked to carry the film yet he plays everything so straight. Nicholson does not even attempt to somewhat try and make himself seem French. In his scenes with Karloff, it is clear that Nicholson does not want to upstage Karloff at all; which results in their scenes together being rather uneventful.
Even the campy Roger Corman horror and action sequences were not enough to raise this film up to a mild recommendation. The opening credits are the most chills that Corman offers until you reach the final couple of frames. While the ending “scare” is good, it is not worth sitting through the entire movie for. Frankly Corman, Karloff, and Nicholson have all done better work than The Terror.