The Haunted Palace (1963)
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by H.P. Lovecraft
Starring Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr and Frank Maxwell
Before I start I would like to clear up a mistake that is so obvious to those who’ve seen the poster title and then seen who actually wrote the story. When this film was made in 1963, Roger Corman had made a string of highly successful Edgar Allen Poe films. However, for The Haunted Palace he had took the story from a novella written by a little known author named H.P. Lovecraft. The studios decided that H.P. Lovecraft was not a big enough name and to sell the film, they used a name from a poem of Edgar Allen Poe’s (The Haunted Palace), and renamed the film “Edgar Allen Poe’s The Haunted Palace”. To seal the deal, the studios also added a verse of Poe’s poetry at the end of the film, spoke aloud by Vincent Price. However, to anyone with a keen interest in literature, this is a H.P. Lovecraft tale and has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe. The tale in question is The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and whilst the film takes it’s main story from the novella, it’s not completely loyal to the book, disappointingly. Nevertheless, its a decent enough film and I shall enlighten you on the Roger Corman’s take on Lovecraft’s story.
Like many actors in the film, Vincent Price plays the role of two characters, set in different centuries. The film opens up with Joseph Curwen (Price), who’s dabbling in the black magic and interest in the Necronomicon leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the townspeople of Arkham. When young women go missing and are found dazed and confused after visiting Curwen’s palace on the top of the hill of Arkham, the townsmen decide to take the law into their own hands. Armed with flaming torches, they march up to the Curwen place, tie Joseph to a tree and burn him alive, but not before Joseph places a curse upon the men of Arkham, promising to take revenge on them and their children in a future life on Earth.
Fast forward 150 years and a young gentleman, Charles Dexter Ward (Price), and his wife arrive at the quiet, eery town of Arkham, having inherited the Curwen house. The couple ask for directions in a pub aptly named “The Burning Man”, but the residents prove unhelpful, especially after learning that Charles is Curwen’s great great great grandson. As they go to leave, the town’s doctor, Mr Willett (Frank Maxwell), shows them the way to their house. The towns people are worried and disgruntled, with the legend of the curse having been passed down from father to son. They know that Charles’ arrival at the village spells doom for them all.
Once the couple arrive at the palace, they are greeted by the caretaker, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr) and the couple, uneasy at first with the house, decide to stay the night. Above the mantlepiece in the lounge area is a portrait of Charles’ great great great grandfather, Joseph Curwen, and Charles’ wife, Anna (Debra Paget), can’t help but notice the strong resemblance between old Curwen and her husband. It isn’t long before the curse comes to light and it appears Joseph Curwen is back in Arkham to exact revenge on those who burnt him alive….
If you are familiar with the story of Charles Dexter Ward, you will realise from the snippet of the plot above that it’s not strictly to the book, but it does take all of the names and major elements of the H.P. Lovecraft story. Lovecraft’s monsters also make an appearance, as Curwen has plans to give birth to a new species of being, a hybrid of the Elder Gods and humans. His experiments are seen through Arkham, as numerous deformed offspring walk about the town, with their eyes and mouth fused together. A reference is also made to the Elder Gods, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, by Dr Willett, as he tries to convince the Ward’s to leave Arkham.
The music is very dramatic as you would expect for a film from 1963. It sets the scene and gives the uneasy feel to the story.
The set of the town is very small and limited, being reused over and over, however the Curwen palace is quite bigger in comparison, with hidden doors and secret passageways, giving a truly evil feel to the whole affair. The use of mist in the town is unsettling, especially at night time, when the locals walk home alone though the dark alleyways. Fire is also a key element in the film, with it being used to kill Curwen at the beginning of the film, the fireplace in which the portrait of Curwen hangs above and also the reference in the name of the public house.
I can’t write this review without mentioning the legend that is Vincent Price. As the film opened, Price played Curwen down to a T. Vincent Price was born for horror roles. He was such a suave man, but with a dark, demonic quality. I also think Christopher Lee has this talent. However, my biggest jaw dropper was when Vincent Price appeared as Charles Dexter Ward. Here was this quiet, sensitive, gentle man, accompanied by his beautiful wife. I’ve never seen a film (bar Edward Scissorhands), where Vincent Price has been a ‘nice’ character. It was a shock to the system, but a nice one. Here was a man you could take home and meet the family, such a gentlemen. Later on in the film, Vincent Price has the difficult task of flitting between two roles with two very different demeanors. For this seasoned actor, its a walk in the park, with Vincent convincingly playing the two, and making them distinguishable to the viewer. With Vincent, it’s all in the eyes. You know exactly which character he is by merely observing his expression and stance. This is what makes Vincent one of the greatest actors of all time.
Vincent is accompanied by Debra Paget, a stunningly beautiful actress who I believe has a strong female part. She plays the concerned wife brilliantly and has a great chemistry with her on-screen husband.
Frank Maxwell as Dr Willett is the neutral, investigative type in the film, aiding the couple in helping them understand the legacy of old Curwen. When the whole of the town turn against the Ward’s, only Willett is there for them.
The Haunted Palace is an entertaining horror film with an usual plot which you wouldn’t normally run into, thanks to the use of Lovecraft’s novella, something which is always a winner in my eyes. I would have loved to have seen a faithful adaptation of his work, but this was a fine enough film as it stands. Vincent Price steals the show as he does with most of his movies and I would recommend this film to anyone who’s into the classic horrors of old.
THE HAUNTED PALACE will be released on Arrow Video Blu-Ray on 23rd February 2015 in high definition, transferred from original film elements by MGM, with original uncompressed Mono PCM Audio, optional isolated music and effects track and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. The disc will feature audio commentary by Vincent Price s biographer David Del Valle and writer Derek Botelho, a look at the relationship between Lovecraft and the cinema by critic Kim Newman, an interview with Roger Corman, stills and poster gallery and original theatrical trailer. The release will also feature a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin as well as a Collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Roger Luckhurst, illustrated with original archive stills.
THE HAUNTED PALACE is also currently available as part of the Six Gothic Tales box set from Arrow Films, which contains six Edgar Allan Poe movies starring Vincent Price. The Six Gothic Tales boxset includes a 200 pages Collector’s book containing new writing on the films, an interview with Roger Corman, extracts from Vincent Price’s autobiography and full reproductions of tie-in comic books for Tales of Terror, The Raven and The Tomb of Ligeia.