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The Terror/Little Shop

Film Masters scores with two Roger Corman classics in a fun Blu-ray package

By Jim Bray
January 4, 2024

Two new Blu-ray titles may not have a lot of thrills and chills, but there's some creepiness coupled with laughs in the two-disc package.

Film Masters, to mark the 60th anniversary of Roger Corman's The Terror, has paired it with one his most famous other flicks, a horror comedy that also inspired a classic musical.

The Terror, which isn't particularly terror-inducing, is a relatively spooky tale about 18th century French Lieutenant Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) who comes across the ghostly figure of a woman (Sandra Knight), a vision that leads him to the castle of one Baron von Leppe (the great Boris Karloff), where he discovers an old portrait of the Baron's long-dead wife, Ilsa.

It turns out that Ilsa is a dead ringer (pun intended) for the ghostly figure he saw earlier. This makes him determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, uncovering in the process some of the Baron's supposedly frightening secrets.

It isn't particularly frightening, let alone a "Terror", but it's a pretty neat yarn anyway, and it's wonderful to see Nicholson near the beginning of his career and Karloff near the end of his. I'm not a real Nicholson fan, though, apparently, I'm in the minority, but Karloff always brought his A game and he does that again here, too. In fact, I though he was the best part of the movie.

Roger Corman, the king of low budget movie making back in that era, got directing credit for The Terror, but it actually took five directors to pull it off, including Francis Ford Coppola who, of course, would go on to make classic films such as the Godfather movies, Apocalypse Now and, my favourite gangster movie musical, The Cotton Club.

The revolving directorial door doesn't really make The Terror into the dog's breakfast it could have, fortunately. In fact, if it weren't publicized in the extra materials and the press materials, I wouldn't have known.

This reasonably forgettable ditty has been given a wonderful new suit of clothes, thanks to the folks at Film Masters, just like they did a while back with the Giant Gila Monster/Killer Shrews combo I reviewed a few months ago. According to the company's president, Phil Hopkins, "The Terror has languished in the public domain for decades. We're delighted to have put together a celebratory and thought-provoking version with an award-winning team of contributors. Fans of the film will appreciate the editorial bonus features, which take a much-needed deep dive into this infamous Corman classic."

He isn't blowing smoke, either. Not only do you get the movie, looking probably better than it has since it first premiered, but there's a bunch of supplements on the disc and The Terror also shares space with Little Shop in a booklet that comes in the Blu-ray box.

The Terror features a widescreen 1.85:1 picture, supposedly restored into high definition, and the image is very clean and clear, with lovely details. Audio is in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (mono), and it's pretty decent all things (age, budget, etc.) considered.  

Extras include a full-length commentary track by C. Courtney Joyner and Dr. Steve Haberman, which offers some pretty interesting insights into The Terror. There's also a visual essay by Howard S. Berger and Keven Marr (a.k.a., supposedly, the "Flying Maciste Brothers"). You also get a 2023 trailer for the movie, supposedly made from restored film elements.

It's a pretty good package, perhaps even more than the film deserves.

Which brings us to the second disc in this Blu-ray release: The Little Shop of Horrors. I first saw this film when I was a kid, and it really disappointed me. Not because it's a lousy film, mind you: I didn't like it because I saw it on my local TV station's late night horror movie show, where I spent many an otherwise productive hour grooving to whatever scary story they were showing that week. And when The Little Shop of Horrors unspooled in front of my teenaged eyes, I was appalled that it was funny, not scary at all! The nerve of the TV programmer!

Since then, of course the late Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and, partly, Aladdin) brought new life to the film with their "off-off Broadway" version. That story, which is reasonably close to the original found in this Blu-ray set, was turned into a major Hollywood movie directed by Frank Oz and Starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, with innumerable cameos along for the ride.

I love the musical, as much for the Ashman/Menken songs as anything, but it's a terrific movie in any regard.

When putting the new Blu-ray of the original Corman version into my player, I didn't expect much. I'd dabbled with the title a couple of times over the years – I found a version with horrible audio and video streaming from one of the apps on my Roku – and the video snob in me wouldn't let me get past the opening scenes.

Ah, but this new high-definition version, in its widescreen glory, is wonderful! Its 1.85:1 aspect ratio virtually fills today's 16x9 TV's and the remastering process has left it looking great.

And since this time around I knew to expect laughs rather than chills, I enjoyed it a lot more. A lot! My favourite shot is Jack Nicholson (playing the part Bill Murray did in the musical) leaving the dentist's office after being worked on by horticulturist Seymour (not, as in the movie, by Steve Martin's sadistic dentist). I won't spoil it by telling you any more than that, though.

Suffice it to say that The Little Shop of Horrors is a lot of fun and I just may watch it again soon. In the meantime, I enjoyed it so much that my wife and I slipped the musical version into our player a few days ago, and enjoyed it yet again.

Audio, as with The Terror, is presented in DTS-HD, mono again, and it's pretty good. 

Extras include a commentary track featuring author Justin Humphreys and the movie's star, Jonathan Haze. There's also a documentary called "Hollywood Intruders: The Filmgroup Story: Part Two, though there's no Part One on either of these discs. Still, it's an interesting featurette.  You also get a new version of the original trailer.  

And that isn't all. There's a pretty neat booklet in the box, and it contains a couple of essays. The first one, "Boris Karloff and the long shadow of Poe (written by C. Courtney Joyner) is pretty self explanatory but well worth reading. Little Shop is the focus of Faster! Faster!, by Mark McGee, which looks at the film as well as Corman's techniques in filming it.  

I enjoyed both of these fine-looking releases, even though neither will go down in history being considered side by side with such legitimate classics as Ben-Hur and the like. But they don't have to; instead, they're lovingly restored versions of what could be considered guilty pleasures and I'm glad I now have them in my library in versions that do them whatever justice they deserve.

Once again, Film Masters has done a nice job here. Here's how company describes its raison d'etre: "a consortium of historians and enthusiasts who seek to celebrate the preservation and restoration of films. We are archivists, committed to storing film elements for future generations and reviving films that have been sitting dormant for decades. By scanning in 2K and 4K, we give these lesser-known films the red-carpet treatment they deserve."

Perhaps even more than they deserve! Still, I'm glad they're around and I applaud what they're doing. I also look forward to some of the titles they're planning to release, such as The Devil's Partner coupled with The Creature from the Haunted Sea. I haven't seen either movie before but, since Film Masters has done such a great job on the two sets I have seen,  I relish the opportunity.

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

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