The Terror (1938)

The Terror

Directed by Richard Bird [Other horror films: N/A]

This British adaptation of an Edgar Wallace play has many of the elements you would hope from an old dark house mystery, but falls just a bit flat due to some comprehension issues.

The story starts out more a crime movie than many other examples of the subgenre, what with a clever robbery of a rather large shipment of gold. Before long, though, we meet a large cast of characters, each one somewhat suspicious, including a drunkard who seems to have quite an interest in the grounds of an inn, a butler who seems to know far more than he says, and a parson who definitely doesn’t seem what he is, along with others.

It’s a good story with multiple red herrings and an enjoyable mystery, while also throwing in some delightful wit (much of it rather amusing) and characters that are rather memorable, such as Bernard Lee’s inept drunkard.

In fact, Bernard Lee, while being far from the main star, was probably my favorite performance of the bunch. Linden Travers did pretty good, but much of the time fell into the generic ‘hysterical woman’ that these movies always seemed to rely on. Wilfred Lawson didn’t make much an of impression until the end, and Arthur Wontner never really does. Iris Hoey’s character was pretty funny at times, but is representative of my main issue with the film.

Beforehand, I want to state that I know this may not be a necessarily fair criticism, but it was still a prevalent issue. Being a British movie of not the highest quality, some of the dialogue was hard to follow, especially from Hoey’s character, who had a rather rapid-fire delivery. I caught most of what Lee’s character said, slurred as it almost always was, but some character’s accents, mixed with the audio present, led to more than a few incomprehensible lines of dialogue. I still caught most of the story, but I know I missed some amusing quips, and even once, a whole conversation went over my head.

It didn’t help any that this movie had a rather staged feel, partially, I suspect, because it’s based off a play. A lot of conversations with different characters lead to increased opportunities of missed snatches of conversation, which happened multiple times. It’s not the fault of the movie, but it still impacted how I felt about it toward the end.

Otherwise, this is a delightful little film. I liked the ghostly monk, and his ghoulish chuckles, though he should have appeared more. The creepy organ music of mysterious origin was fun, and there were some desolate ruins too that played a part. Generally-speaking, the setting was pretty solid, as were the characters. It’s just the language barrier, as it was, that presented a problem.

I first saw this film some years back, though I don’t remember much about how much I enjoyed it. It probably came across as a somewhat generic old dark house mystery, which I guess it sort of is. Still, re-watching it certainly increased my appreciation of it, and were it not for the problem I had with it, I think it’d be getting a higher rating easily.

There was an American version of this play made in 1928, but unfortunately, it’s lost. It was apparently one of the earliest horror talkies, which makes it all the more a shame that it can no longer be seen. Elements of the film were then used in Return of the Terror, which came out in 1934. While this film does survive, it can only been seen from the Library of Congress, and as such, hasn’t had many words said about it.

As for the 1938 version, though, it certainly has it’s charm, much of it coming from the wit throughout, and if you’re a bit better at catching some fast-moving dialogue, you’ll probably get a bit more from the movie out of me. Still, by no means a bad movie, The Terror is an enjoyable late 30’s mystery/horror hybrid during a time when horror films were rather hard to come by.


Author: Jiggy's Horror Corner

Fan of the horror genre, writer of mini-reviews, and lover of slashers.

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