THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) A VINCENT PRICE/ROGER CORMAN FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE PARANORMAL INCIDENT (2011) and THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL (2013). A DOUBLE BILL OF GRISLY HORROR FILM REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE PARANORMAL INCIDENT and THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL- A DOUBLE BILL OF GRISLY HORROR FILM REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE PARANORMAL INCIDENT. (2011) DIRECTED AND CO-WRITTEN BY MATTHEW BOULTON. STARRING OLIVER RAYON, CHELSEA VINCENT, BRETT EDWARDS, DERRICK SCOTT, SABRINA VILLALOBOS, NADIA UNDERWOOD AND AMANDA BARTON.

THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL. (2013) DIRECTED BY KEVIN GATES AND MICHAEL BARTLETT. STARRING CRAIG STOVIN, CRISELDA CABITAC, KEVIN GATES, MICHAEL BARTLETT, MARK JEAVONS AND ROB WHITAKER.

‘Six students venture into an abandoned asylum to prove the existence of the paranormal…

Only this footage remains…’

I wasn’t crazy about THE PARANORMAL INCIDENT, although I was vastly looking forward to it because it’s set in one of my favourite settings for a horror film, an abandoned mental asylum. It’s an American found footage film, and the sole survivor of the trip to the deserted loony bin is being blamed for the murders and murder-disappearances of his five friends.

A po-faced lady detective or FBI Agent is going through the found footage with John, the handsome sole survivor. John went into Odenbrook Asylum for the weekend with five college friends, all of whom were there to either prove or disprove the existence of the supernatural for the purposes of a college paper they’re all doing. Wish I could go to Ghostbusters College too, lol.

I already firmly believe in the existence of the paranormal, however, and I’m of such an imaginative and easily-spooked nature that I’m surprised- and kind of a bit miffed!- that a million ghosts aren’t queuing up to show themselves to me every night of the week. Well, it’s their loss, haha. I’d have been so receptive and open-minded as well, but hey, them’s the breaks.

Anyway, the really annoying sextet of eager-beaver college students do indeed spend the weekend- without official permish from any authorities, I might add- in the infamous old Odenbrook Sanitarium, empty and out-of-business since a mass suicide there sixty years ago. Clearly it wasn’t a nice place to live, as indeed most such places weren’t.

Sounds great, doesn’t it, but in reality very little happens in the old insane asylum. A couple of doors slam shut or open of their own accord, a girl’s curly hair is ruffled slightly in the night (as observed through the irritating, ever-present bloody night-vision goggles), but that’s about it.

The ending, with those agents- are they FBI guys or what?- looks like it’s going to be really cool but, as the film-makers leave even this bit unexplained, I was still none the wiser. A disappointing film all round, I’m sorry to say, despite the exciting starting premise.

The bit about the room known as ‘the Dental Suite’ was fascinating though, I’ll give them that. Very ‘MARATHON MAN,’ if you get me. Not a room I’d ever wish to enter, put it like that. I have good choppers but a terrible fear of dentists…!

‘In God’s Church, the devil built his altar.’

THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL is based in and around an ancient old English country church that’s supposed to be haunted and has a history of actual supernatural happenings taking place there. St. Mary’s Church, the old ruined one as opposed to the later-built one that’s in use now, is the edifice in question.

What makes the film look like a real documentary are the interviews, interspersed throughout the film, with historians, local people and folklorists who all claim that Clophill is haunted to buggery, a site of black masses, black magic rituals and satanic orgies. Well, they didn’t mention any orgies, but you can imagine ’em, can’t you, lol.

A film crew, all playing themselves, a local paranormal investigation group and even a small security team (hiya, Gerry and Dana, y’awright?) set up shop in Clophill, outside the ruins of the old church, over the period of one summer solstice.

It sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it? It’s such a fabulous green, woody area as well, I absolutely love the rustic setting. An old English country churchyard, especially a ruined one, can’t be beaten for the old gothic atmosphere.

Not much happens in these real-life-action bits, just a load of typical night-vision shots of peoples’ eyes glinting like demons. I’m so bored of the greenish night-vision bits of horror films. They all have ’em. It’s like a bloody plague, so it is. 

There’s talk of a demonic face which I didn’t see too clearly myself, there’s an actual sinister figure in a monkish cowl standing still and silent in the back of one shot, and then there’s footage of A, a drumming circle and B, a load of figures dressed in monks’ robes tying a naked blonde girl with very dark pubes (collar and cuffs definitely DON’T match) to a tree and painting a red cross on her naked body.

Don’t get excited now, you randy lot, that bit’s over very quickly. The police are called and they can’t find any traces of the cult activity. Boo-hoo, lol. The film crew, at least the main two ghost-hunters, a married couple called Craig and Cris, go home to find their small daughter standing in the darkened kitchen with her long dark hair all over her face, in the best traditions of every boring horror movie DVD cover ever.

They really lost me at this bit. It demeaned everything they’d been trying to achieve thus far, everything they had achieved thus far. Girls like this, in long white nighties, their faces obscured with long dark hair, are ten-a-penny now. Since the early days of films like RING and THE GRUDGE, in fact. They’re on the covers of half the DVD boxes nowadays, the pictures often bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the contents of the film inside.

For crying out loud, there’s a girl exactly like that on the cover of THE PARANORMAL INCIDENT, carrying an axe, and there’s no such person in the actual film, and no axe murderers in it whatsoever either.

What makes it worse in the case of the CLOPHILL film is that Craig says that this unexplained appearance of his daughter in the kitchen in the dead of night with her hair all over her face is proof that ‘something evil has followed them home from Clophill.’ Meh.

The best parts of the film are the stunning shots of gravestones, tangled overgrown grass and thorny bushes and the ruins of the old church itself, faintly outlined against the darkening sky.

What a place this must be to visit! During the daytime, that is. Not for all the iPhones in Apple would I set foot near there once the sun had gone down. There’s something evil there. That’s one thing the film did convince me of…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS. 

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. 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, womens’ 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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor