THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) BASED ON THE POEM BY EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ON THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD BY H.P. LOVECRAFT.
DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN.
STARRING VINCENT PRICE, DEBRA PAGET, LON CHANEY JR., FRANK MAXWELL, LEO GORDON AND CATHIE MERCHANT.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh- but smile no more.’
This is such a lush luxurious film, sort of the cinematic equivalent of a really fancy box of chocolates. The same can be said of all of the films in American International Pictures/Roger Corman’s Poe cycle: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE RAVEN and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. All of these star Vincent Price in the lead role, except for THE PREMATURE BURIAL, in which Ray Milland is on leading man duty.
This film is book-ended by part of a Poe poem, which allows it to be included in the Poe cycle of films, but it’s mainly based on the Lovecraft story, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD.
I much prefer Poe to Lovecraft; the tentacles thing espoused by the latter isn’t really for me. I love a nice psychological horror story or haunted house tale, and my preferred ‘monsters’ are the Universal ones, lol. Still, there’s much to praise in this visually sumptuous first major filming of a Lovecraft work, even if you can’t help noticing the odd plot-hole.
Vincent Price plays the titular Charles Dexter Ward who, together with his lovely wife Ann, arrives at the spooky New England harbour village of Arkham in order to take possession of the family residence, the titular Haunted Palace, abandoned for a century or more.
The villagers are all horrified because Ward is the spitting image of his evil ancestor, Joseph Curwen, who was burned at the stake exactly one hundred and ten years earlier for being the male equivalent of a witch.
Curwen was a much more interesting individual than his insipid descendant Ward. In the mid-1700s, he lured the virginal young women of Arkham to his house and tried to mate them with ancient deities spawned in his vast underground dungeon. Kick-ass, huh…? His ultimate goal was the resurgence of a master race of Old Gods, ‘such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.’
Unfortunately, these dubious ‘matings’ gave rise to several generations of hideous mutant or mutated eyeless monstrosities, some of whom are still alive and kicking and hidden in the locked rooms of the villagers of Arkham by the villagers themselves, whose progeny they are.
Some of the less dangerous, but no less physically shocking, mutants are brought out in force to scare the Wards away from Arkham, but Charles Dexter Ward has a destiny to fulfil, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet, and he opts to stay in his newly-acquired residence. There’s no law against a man living on his own property, is there? Of course there isn’t, more’s the pity for the poor doomed villagers…
To the horror of his loving wife Ann, Ward becomes possessed with the evil spirit of Joseph Curwen, through a magnificent portrait of the latter which hangs in the palace. Determined to carry out Curwen’s unfinished work of creating the master race of ancient gods through the mating of local young beauties with his basement ‘experiments,’ Ward/Curwen gathers around him his undead assistants of old, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr., aka the Wolfman) and Jabez Hutchinson. Now he can pick up where he left off…
He seems to waste a lot of his newly-recovered time in trying to revive his long-dead mistress Hester Tillinghast, and also in revenging himself against the villagers who are direct descendants of the ones who burned Joseph Curwen to death over a century ago.
His two helpers beg him not to waste his time in petty vengeance, but Curwen feels that, after being dead for a hundred and ten years, he’s entitled to a little fun. Well, okay, fine, Master, but will there still be time to create a master race by forcibly mating your terrified wife Ann to the ungodly thing you’ve got hidden in your basement prison? If there is, there is, lol. We’ll have to see…
The movie, as well as being the first of Lovecraft’s works to be filmed, marks the first screen appearance of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a sort of mythical Book of the Dead which contains spells for conjuring up those ancient deities we mentioned earlier.
It’s the sort of really cool book which, if it really existed, you’d need permission from the Vatican to consult it, and you could only consult it by accompanying a grim-faced, disapproving elderly clerk in rusty black togs through several locked doors, the keys to which he keeps about his person.
In a huge, book-lined room, he’d take the book out of a locked safe, blow the dust off it and place it reverently on a table, and then he’d watch you like a hawk while you leafed nervously through its yellowed pages, looking for the bits you want to read. Oh, and you’re only allowed to consult the specific pages you’ve requested to see and no more. Can’t you just picture it…?
Vincent Price is perfectly at home in his two roles. Joseph has fancier, frillier togs and a sneerier, more menacing tone of voice than his nineteenth century counterpart, but Vincent Price is well able to chop and change between the two characters.
The sets are gorgeous, the costumes exquisite and the fog rolling in from the sea good and plentiful. The mutants are disturbing, the silhouette of the palace awe-inspiring and Lon Chaney Jr. as cuddly and loveable as ever he was in his Universal Wolfman films of the 1940s.
(I’m sure he thought he was being terribly frightening in that role, lol, but I’ve only ever thought of him as cuddly and loveable, with his cute little furry face and matching clodhoppers…!)
I heartily recommend this Poe-Lovecraft mash-up. The critics had a lot to say about it- and not all good, either- but that doesn’t mean that it’s not both enjoyable and entertaining. Never mind the critics. What do they know? We’ll make up our own minds. Can I get an answering harrumph…?
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: