I love finding an old movie that, as of seeing it, doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Any movie that can’t be bothered with by Wikipedia’s legion of unpaid of workers has to be shit. Terrified, the last feature from longtime director Lew Landers, is a shitty movie. It’s also quite violent for its day, and, were it not for epic cheapness and laziness with the production, might have been a halfway decent flick.
From 1963, Terrified comes from the pen of Richard Bernstein, who began his screenwriting career with From Hell It Came. That movie was spectacular cheese about a killer tree. Nothing so original in this flick. There doesn’t seem to have been a budget for a foam rubber monster, so in this film, the baddie is just a guy in an ill-fitting suit and homemade stocking mask.
As the film opens, a viewer could be forgiven if they think this film takes place in the old west. The first shot is of a bunch of old-timey storefronts straight out of an episode of Have Gun – Will Travel. The vast majority of outdoor shots in Terrified were filmed at one of the Los Angeles area’s many western movie ranches. If I had to guess, Landers and company used the location because it was available, and then worked the idea of a western ghost town into the script to justify it.
Soon after this most bizarre of establishing shots for a horror flick, we see the unfortunate Joey (Robert Towers), who is lying bound in an open grave, with concrete being poured on top of him by the bad guy in the mask. This intro does much to make up for the location.
Next, we meet Joey’s sister, Marge (Tracy Olsen). She’s an Annette Funicello clone, whose character has attracted the attentions of Dean Martin clone David (Steve Drexel), and James Dean clone Ken (Rod Lauren). We learn that some time has passed since Joey’s encounter, which he survived, and which has resulted in him being committed to an asylum, unable to speak or remember what happened to him.
Marge decides this is a good night to go out to the old ghost town and talk to resident wino Crazy Bill, to find out if he saw or heard anything the night Joey was attacked. Discount Dino escorts her, and the two are subject to some funhouse trickery from the masked man before his real target, Ken, joins them. Here’s where the movie starts to get fun.
While Marge and David leave the ghost town to do some expositing for the audience’s benefit, Ken is put through the ringer. In succeeding scenes, he is locked in a cellar, strangled into unconsciousness, almost drowned in freezing water, knocked on the head with a club, tied to a chair, attacked in a cave, shot at multiple times, and introduced to his own grave. The man in the mask is pissed off at Ken. David has a convoluted theory as to why, but I won’t spoil it here. I suffered through those expository scenes, now you viewers will have to.
The violence in the film is graphic for the day. This was released the same year as Blood Feast, so I won’t pretend for a second that Terrified was groundbreaking in its depictions of violence, but the man in the mask gave good strangle.
There is sense to the plot, as long as one doesn’t try to make sense of it before the big reveal at the end. Before that, it’s a confused jumble of misdirection. If one has a little difficulty following things in the middle, the blame rests on Landers, and not anyone watching. There was little care shown to continuity from shot to shot, so it’s no surprise the nuances of storytelling were absent from this film, as well. Sorry, Lew, but this was a bad way to wrap up a career.
There is some life to this film, but it’s outweighed by the incompetence of the production, all the flubbed lines from the cast, and by Rod Lauren’s bizarre tic, where he couldn’t get through his lines without flaring his nostrils. Once one sees it, it can’t be unseen.
Lauren and his nostrils land in the bottom half of the Watchability Index, Terrified being slightly more watchable than The Haunting in Connecticut 2, at #189.