Synopsis: Based on an Edgar Allan Poe poem, this Roger Corman chiller starring Vincent Price is “filled with terror and macabre events [and] guaranteed to bring shudders” (Boxoffice)! A perversely evil 18th-century warlock is burned at the stake. A century after the human barbecue, the warlock’s great-great grandson returns to the family castle where he falls under Gramps’ ghost’s spell… beginning the evil all over again!
eyelights: Vincent Price. Debra Paget. Cathie Merchant. its elaborate sets. its eerie mood.
eyesores: its abrupt ending. its tenuous link to Edgar Allan Poe. its crap mutant make-up.
“I’ll not have my fill of revenge until this village is a graveyard.”
You gotta love the movie industry. They call it that for a reason: its purpose is to make money; it’s not an art collective, that’s for sure. That means that the bottom line will almost always trump artistic considerations.
At least, in Hollywood it does.
In 1963, after having made four successful Edgar Allan Poe pictures, Roger Corman wanted to branch out: he decided to tackle H.P. Lovecraft instead. With Charles Beaumont, he adapted ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’.
But American International Pictures wanted to guarantee the success of the film so, against Corman’s wishes, they tacked on a reading of Poe’s “The Haunted Palace” by Vincent Price at the end and then renamed the picture.
It was a hit.
Mind you, it could have been a box office success without the Edgar Allan Poe connection, anyway: ‘The Haunted Palace’ finds Roger Corman in top form here, producing probably one of the strongest films in the series thus far.
Set in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, it tells of the arrival of Charles Dexter Ward and his spouse to claim a palace that has belonged in the family for generations – with the intention of selling it.
When they arrive, they get a hostile reception from the villagers, who claim that his great-grandfather, Joseph Curwen, was a wizard – and that, before his untimely death at the hands of their ancestors, he’d cursed them.
At first skeptical, Ward and his spouse make their way to the palace, but it isn’t long before they start to realize that something is indeed wrong. By then it’s too late: Curwen has returned to continue his evil deeds…
As can be expected from that era’s horror films, ‘The Haunted Palace’ is a slow boil: its story could probably be told in a third of the time today – but it wouldn’t have nearly the same sinister atmosphere as this one does.
Corman has a very steady hand on this film; all the pieces are put together with the utmost precision. At no point does one feel that the picture’s been padded for time or that there are unnecessary indulgences.
In fact, the only scene that’s remotely sketchy is the one in which Ward and his spouse go back to the village and find themselves surrounded by aberrations; they easily could have outrun them, but instead waited needlessly.
The picture is also helped by Vincent Price’s performance, who is in top form here. Whereas he had tended to chew the scenery in previous Corman films, he played both Curwen and Ward with aplomb, defining each carefully.
This is Price at his best.
The rest of the cast is also solid, filled with Corman regulars and other character actors playing both the original villagers and their descendants. I was particularly taken with Debra Paget in her final screen role.
The production is also stunning: though it was clearly shot on a soundstage, not on location, the sets are elaborate and quite impressive – especially when we explore the many bowels of the creepy Curwen palace.
Even the score is excellent. Though it’s a tad melodramatic, it neither feels strident or cheap. The only technical problem is that the aberrations were pretty crappy-looking, as though they has been made with Silly Putty.
Um… welcome to low budget filmmaking!
The monster, thankfully, is out of sight most of the time – and, when seen, briefly, is all blurred out as though it were in an alternate dimension. Which, given that the picture’s rooted in Lovecraft, was probably the intention.
And that’s probably the only true issue with ‘The Haunted Place’: Though it has an eerie vibe, it never really takes advantage of its sinister origins – the creature is barely present and its purpose isn’t explained whatsoever.
And yet that‘s the strength of Lovecraft: creating a terrible dread, an ominous feeling that there are forces beyond our perception and comprehension that are trying to corrupt and destroy what little there is of humanity.
Perhaps it would have been too heavy for this particular production, given the overall tone and the time it was made in. But it’s the one aspect that I think could have been dialed up; it lacks that Lovecraft grimness.
Still, overall, ‘The Haunted Palace’ is a very solid film. It falls in line with all the other pictures in Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle from a tonal and quality standpoint, but it exceeds many of them in execution.
Let’s just forget the fact that it’s Poe in name only; a rose by any other name, pricks just as deeply.
Date of viewing: February 19, 2017