Archive for Dick Miller

It’s Getting Eerie Around Here

Posted in Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by Andrew T. Smith

Sorry for the lack of any new posts recently, I promise to clear out those cobwebs and oil that creaking door soon. The truth is I’ve been cheating on you with Tachyon TV. My latest offering for that illustrious site, a tribute to the fantastic and unduly neglected Eerie Indiana, can be found here.


The Great Unwatched #2: The Terror

Posted in Ramblings, The Great Unwatched with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Another week, another Boris Karloff movie! Until now, The Terror has been one of those films I have seen bits of, an opening here, an action sequence there, a trailer over in the corner. Perhaps not the best way to see a movie, but this scattered viewing approach somehow seems appropriate in this one case; in more ways than one, Roger Corman’s 1963 film, is a patchwork film. Famously produced in order to make use of a number of standing sets from Corman’s last production The Raven and to captilalise of a deal that allowed him to use veteran horror icon Boris Karloff for another day, the resulting film makes little sense, betrays its hastily assembled roots but in the end still ends up providing a fun viewing experience.

The story of The Terror‘s construction has been told before but it is probably worth telling again as it must be unique in the history of film production. Always eager to save a buck in making his films, Roger Corman was keen to take advantage of the fact that actor Boris Karloff still owed him a number of shooting days as a result of the filming of a previously contracted film coming in early. To make his star, crew and some impressive standing sets the director had to act quickly and so had some hasty scenes drafted up and got to work for two days shooting sequences involving the veteran horror star without a clear idea of how the whole thing would fit together. A lot of coverage was shot with Karlof and his main co-stars, Dick Miller and Jack Nicholon. When time ran out, the rest of the script was pieced together and because Corman had other commitments, other directors including rookie Nicholson, veterans Monte Hellman and Jack Hill, as well as an aspiring young filmmaker named Francis Ford Coppola, were drafted in to complete the picture. Although Karloff’s scenes may have been completed in two days, the rest of the film was assembled over the course of nine months!

I’ll attempt what they eventually ended up with the best I can. The year is 1806, and on a secluded beach, Andre (Jack Nicholson), a lost and dehydrated French soldier, is rescued by a beautiful young mystery woman named Helene who may or may not be a ghost/falcon. Soon after meeting him, she walks into the sea and vanishes. After trying to rescue her, Andre himself is rescued by the powerful, raspy throated Gustaf and an old woman who appears to be his guardian/keeper and who may or may not be a witch. Both deny all knowledge of any girl, even when she continues to reappear to lure Andre into ever more certain danger. Gustaf tells the soldier that the answers he seeks may be found at the castle of a man who may or may not be the Baron Von Leppe (Karloff). Making his way to the castle, Andre discovers that Helene happens to be the spitting double for the Baron’s dead wife, who was murdered at the hands of her husband some twenty years ago when she was discovered to be having an affair. Despite the protestations of the Baron and his faithful servant Stefan (Dick Miller!), Andre intends to get to the bottom of the matter and win the heart of the beautiful Helene. Phew, and that isn’t even half way!

At one point near the end of the film, Jack Nicholson grabs Dick Miller by the collar, pins him against the wall and demands, “Where’s the Baron!?” On cue, Miller spills his guts and explains the whole plot to the protagonist which is incredibly cathartic to any audience who has been sitting open mouthed throughout this tangled mess of a storyline!

Somehow, though, The Terror still manages to entertain. For starters it retains the general mise en scene of Corman’s recognised classic Poe adaptations, taking advantage of stock effects shots, sets and an imaginative behind the scenes team. In fact the script reads like the writers, asked for something similar in a hurry, randomly tore pages from the author’s complete works, threw them in the air, and kept what landed on the table. We have, haunted women, lovers driven mad with guilt and remorse, villainous birds and decaying corpses. This all combines for a rather hokey effect, in no way truly comparable to great works like Richard Matherson’s adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher or Charles Beaumont‘s version of  The Masque of Red Death. Still, despite it’s ad-hoc production, the film is watch-able and even includes some genuinely eerie moments and an ending that I certainly didn’t see coming.

I have a huge amount of respect for what Roger Corman was able to achieve with the frequently limited recourses available to him and one truely great thing to come out of The Terror was the director/producer’s ability to get even more work out of his star. Seeing that Karloff still owed him a couple more days shooting, Corman charged a young Peter Bogdanovich with the task of assembling a film out of:

a) Twenty minutes of Karloff outtakes from The Terror.

b) Twenty minutes of new footage shot on the days Karloff owed Corman.

c) Thirty minutes of footage shot over three days without Karloff.

Bogdanovich didn’t quite stick to these rules, he retained hardly any footage from The Terror, but the film he made, Targets, remains one of my all time favourites. It features an elderly horror actor, played by Karloff, who tires of making pap for low budget producers (represented by clips from The Terror!) as he comes to realise that his brand of gothic horror can’t hope to compete with the truly horrific events unfolding on the streets of modern America. A parallel story stand features a series of seemingly unmotivated killings perpetrated by the very picture of wholesome America and by the end of the picture the two worlds violently collide.

Targets is one I’m sure I will get around to writing about some day. To tide you eager beavers over until then, here is one of my favourite sequences.