Director: Roger Corman
Writers: Leo Gordon and Jack Hill
Starring: Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and Sandra Knight
While filming his 1963 film The Raven, director Roger Corman had the idea of using the sets to films some more scenes as the foundation for a separate movie, using the crew and horror legend Boris Karloff from The Raven, and then building the rest of the film around those initial scenes. There was a rough outline where essentially Corman was trying to capture the essence of an Edgar Allen Poe story. After those two days, Corman decided not to shoot the rest of the film himself and instead passed the film to his assistant Francis Ford Coppola who nearly finished the story, before it was passed on to others. The actual film only credits Roger Corman as director, but after Coppola there were others who directed segments of it, including Jack Nicholson, Dennis Jakob, Monte Hellman, and Jack Hill. The film would also be the basis for Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, which also reused some of the footage that Corman shot in those two days with Karloff.
What’s surprising, is that even though there were a lot of people working on the film, a lot of it was shot with no clear plot, it does feel quite cohesive. The story does get a little wild as it goes on, with bizarre moments, a few things that don’t quite make sense and some unintentionally funny moments. When you’re watching it, there’s not much that really gives it away that it had such a fragmented production. Still that, doesn’t mean that it’s a good film. It does feel very long, even at eighty minutes, it seems to go on much longer. It’s not scary, or particularly suspenseful, and hasn’t age very well.
Boris Karloff plays a baron in an old castle, who hasn’t stepped outside its walls for twenty years since the death of his wife. Jack Nicholson plays a soldier in Napoleon’s Army who is isolated from the rest of his platoon and ends up finding the old castle after following the ghost-like Helene, played by Sandra Knight who was married to Nicholson at the time. The baron clearly has secrets and wants to be left alone, but his politeness stops him from shutting his castle off completely. Throughout the story there are some twists and turns, but it plays out like you’d expect a gothic story to.
While it’s not brilliant in any stretch of the imagination, there is a cheesy charm to it all that stops it from being completely boring and stale. The longer it goes on, the sillier it gets, with a final plot twist that makes no sense straight away but by that point you just have to go with it. It comes close to capturing the feeling of a classic Gothic story and it would be completely believable as something that had been written a century or more before. It’s also very true that the story behind the film is more interesting than the film itself. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you’re a fan of old cheesy horror films, or unique moments in film history, then it’s worth watching.
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