THE TERROR (1938) Reviews and overview

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“Mad, who said I was mad? Mad? They’re all mad”

The Terror – also known as Edgar Wallace’s The Terror – is a 1938 British black comedy crime film with a macabre old dark house sub-plot about satanic monks who apparently haunt the property. It was directed by Richard Bird and stars Wilfrid Lawson, Linden Travers and Bernard Lee. It was based on a play by Edgar Wallace.


Mysterious criminal Mad O’Shea masterminds a gold robbery and then informs on his partners, sending them to prison for ten years. When the pair, ‘Soapy’ Marx (Alastair Sim) and Joe Connor (Henry Oscar) are released, they swear vengeance, and somehow or other connect their betrayer to a guest house run by Colonel Redmayne (Arthur Wontner). There’s only one problem – they don’t know what O’Shea looks like.

Staying at the guest house are Mary Redmayne (Linden Travers), the Colonel’s daughter, would-be psychic and crime enthusiast Mrs Elvery (Iris Hoey) and her daughter (Veronica), Mr Goodman (Wilfred Lawson) and new arrival, the perpetually drunk – or IS he? – Ferdy Fane (Bernard Lee). One of these people is the infamous O’Shea, but who? Well, given that we know he’s male and has been at the house for some time, there’s no really mystery.


The Terror takes a long time to get to where it needs to be. A couple of ineffectual murders don’t do much to keep excitement levels up, and much of the film takes a comic edge, which would be fine if it was actually funny.

Alas, characters like Mrs Elvery, whose mix of cut-glass accent and high speed delivery often renders her dialogue near incomprehensible, comedy policemen and stereotypical servants (naturally, the lower orders know their place in this film) are more irritating than entertaining.

Bernard Lee is better – years before becoming James Bond’s M, it’s interesting to see him showing his comic chops as a romantic lead. Alastair Sim is as solid as ever, but he really doesn’t convince as a hard man villain.

The film builds to a fairly frenetic ending, as the organ-playing madman holds captives in his dungeon lair – and although none of it makes any real sense, there is at least a certain urgency about the finale, and the return of one seemingly dead character is impressively creepy. Unfortunately, it’s really too little and too late to save The Terror from mediocrity.

David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA

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