Well, there's good and bad news about how Film Chest and HD Cinema Classics have presented The Terror on Blu-ray.
The good news is that the 1.78:1 image has been restored from its original 35mm print, and looks sharp and clean. The withered old Pathe colours have been re-timed and now look quite gorgeous at times. Thus, the decrepit and beaten-up image that many may be familiar with has been replaced with a much crisper and often quite detailed one.
But here's the bad news. Going hand-in-hand with the improvements made to the film, this restoration has also seen fit to incorporate extensive DNR that really does rob the image of its natural film-like texture completely. Of course the original prints were scratchy, worn and pockmarked – and a touch-up here and there is certainly more than welcome. But the original grain has been removed and the bland waxy surfaces that we don't want to see are highly in evidence throughout. There are several occasions when the image moves from crisp and clean to murky, darker and grubbier – a variance you would expect to see from the vintage and the type of film-stock used – but, even here, the effects of DNR can clump and distort the grain. And you can add some aliasing to this, too. Not a lot, but there are a couple of easily spotted instances. Edge enhancement isn't a problem, though. There is a tiny amount, but nothing to worry about.
Blacks are very strong. In a couple of instances, perhaps too strong. Thick walls of utterly impenetrable shadow occasionally dominate vast swathes of the frame. Although this does allow for some striking contrast with the characters poised at the brink of investigating them, there is the fact that detail may well have been lost within them. Whites can vary in integrity, but there is little in the way of unsightly blooming. The colours, now spruced-up and properly adjusted to convey that melted stained-glass palette that Corman's early gothic shockers revelled in, are actually terrific. The primaries throb more than I have seen them do on any previous version, with great red and blue lighting that create a majestic and well-saturated neon-like vista. The blue skies during the daylight exteriors now look properly blue, and not the muted, wan efforts that we've seen in the past. The avenging witch puts on a spinning light show via a coloured lantern that Stefan peeks in at through the window and, folks, this looks quite fabulous. The film is very deliberately colourful and this transfer, at long last, is able to bring all this to vivid life.
But the image is still soft and the detail on offer, which can be something of a revelation to those who have endured the far more ropey transfers of the past, is really only displayed in the close-ups.
Overall, this image is still very likeable. Despite the sometimes over-zealous use of DNR, this is transfer that restores the film's fidelity to something akin to what must have been its original gaudy glory.
HD Cinema Classics provide The Terror with two lossy audio tracks. We get a DD 2.0 option and a 5.1 alternative. Basically, it makes little difference which one you choose, as there is virtually no surround activity at all. I did notice some atmospheric effects for wind, thunder and lightning, and the like, with the 5.1, but this was only brief and not at all convincing. The rest of the audio is pretty much indivisible in either track. I was hoping for more width and depth with the surround option, at least, but this is not the case. There may be a smidgeon more “room” to the 5.1 but, truth be told, the effect is hardly worth mentioning.
The opening main title from Ronald Stein's score is wretchedly reproduced here. It sounds brittle, harsh and forced. Frequent crackle and distortion plagues it, which does distract from what is a powerful and striking title sequence thanks to that wacky animation. Thankfully, once we get past this, the audio sorts itself out and doesn't become a victim to such aggravating and adverse wear and tear. Now, it is more than likely that this effect was purely down to the age and damage of the original track, so I doubt that we can blame the transfer for this. The score, elsewhere, is not too shabby. Strings weave and soar. Brass blurts and roars. It won't be a pretty sound to some ears, but this is still a (mostly) fine reproduction.
There are times when dialogue sinks to a level below the norm (and I don't mean when the semi-mute Gustav is croaking) but, by and large, there aren't any problems with clearly understanding the speech. You can tell when the dubbing takes over from the voices recorded live, but this doesn't have any detrimental effect. The crashes, bangs and wallops of the action can be a little less impressive, perhaps, than they ought to be, although there is nice amount of bass to things like the rock-fall, the crumbling walls and the weird unearthly assault on Andre's door.
So, whatever you opt for, this is basically a 2.0 track. Pick the 5.1 and you'll get the same 2-channel audio … but with a tiny and ineffective amount of surround bleed.
There's nothing here really. Just a restored trailer and a brief before-and-after montage of that restoration. Now, to be honest, folks, this may well rankle … because there, in the “before” elements is the original print, warts 'n' all, but with its grain happily intact. The “after” shots are supposedly something for us to cheer about, but, despite the fact that I find myself liking the look of the film in hi-def overall, there is a profound shock at being confronted by what is unmistakably a deluge of DNR. All those who sit on the fence about the debate will plainly see how much integrity is robbed from the image once the process has been over-judiciously applied.
This release also features a DVD edition of the film with the same restoration feature and trailer. Oh, and a postcard.
One of Roger Corman's celebrated "shoot-it-in-a-week" Gothic chillers, The Terror re-uses the sets from The Raven, as well as a few of the cast members to weave a low-rent tale of hauntings, obsession, murder and revenge. Despite its threadbare budget, it is all very spirited and blunders clumsily along with great atmosphere and that wickedly gaudy aesthetic that made sixties gothique so alluring and hypnotic. It is fun to see Jack Nicholson acting like a bull in a china shop and prancing around the moodily-lit castle and crypt in his snazzy Napoleonic uniform, but it is slightly sad to see the great Boris Karloff reduced to such a simpering wretch. The plot is simple, yet too many cooks see to it that it makes little sense ... but, once again, as with the best of Corman's canon of supernatural Poe-inspired tales, it is the prevailing sense of limbo-locked doom that generates most of the film's power.
Mean and moody, but as daft as a brush, The Terror is a hoot. Plus, it has the infamous "bouncing body" to commend it.
HD Cinema Classics have restored the film from its 35mm print. Lovely. But they've used a lot of DNR in the process. Not so lovely. However, the image now gleams with a smothering of that luxurious and lurid colour scheme that Corman was so enamoured with - something this film has been denied on virtually all home video editions that have gone before. Thus, it is a case of restoration yin-and-yang. Personally, I'm happy with the re-timed colours, but I know that the DNR will be off-putting to many. The audio is perfunctory - nothing more. The DD 5.1 mix is a joke. But I think you'd be mad to have expected anything other from such a cut-price production.
Extras-wise - forget it.
But the bottom line is this ... until we get The Masque Of The Red Death, The Haunted Palace or The Tomb Of Ligeia ... The Terror is all that hi-def can offer from Corman's garish and redolent period of Gothic horror. With some concessions, though, this remains vigorous fun and a true guilty pleasure with plenty to enjoy.
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