The Summer of Lovecraft: The Haunted Palace (1963)

The film makes it clear that the 'honour' is all hers.
The film makes it clear that the ‘honour’ is all hers, and another alternate tagline asks more accurately: “What was the terrifying thing in the PIT that wanted women.”

“A warlock’s home is his castle…Forever!”

Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Vincent Price, Deborah Paget and Lon Chaney Jr.

The Story

Although the film is called ‘Edgar Allen Poe’s The Haunted Palace‘ and ends with a line from the titular poem, it is actually based on H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ (as was The Resurrected,) in which the eponymous New England gentleman’s fascination with his sorcerous ancestor Joseph Curwen leads him to resurrect the long dead, serial killing warlock from his essential salts. At first Curwen instructs Ward in alchemy, but soon takes advantage of their uncanny resemblance, murdering the young man and taking his place to continue his work, raising and torturing the smartest folks in the graveyard for their wisdom. When his anachronistic ways lead to his committal, Ward’s friend Dr Willett uncovers his work, releases a being he has summoned and abused, then kills Curwen and reduces his body to the ‘essential saltes’ from which he was raised.

The Film

18th century warlock Joseph Curwen (Price) is accused of stealing the souls of young women, and burned to death by the people of Arkham village, swearing vengeance from beyond the grave before the flames take him. 110 years later, his great-great-grandson Charles Dexter Ward (also Price) moves into Curwen’s palace along with his wife Anne (Paget).

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First becoming obsessed with his identical ancestor’s portrait, then – with a little help from ‘caretaker’ Simon (Chaney) – possessed by Curwen, Ward becomes first detached, then monomaniacal, murdering the identical descendants of several of his/Curwen’s killers and attempting to rape Anne, even while trying to raise his former mistress Hester from the grave. Meanwhile, the townsfolk are getting twitchy to booze up and riot after generations of deformed children supposedly born of the mating of Curwen’s kidnapped victims to hideous things.

Finally, Curwen tries to sacrifice Anne to a fiend in a pit below the palace, but Ward makes a final burst of will and releases her. Curwen’s associates vanish and Charles and Anne are saved from a villager-related domestic blaze by the local physician, Dr Willett, but Curwen is shown to be back in control.

What’s wrong with it?

First up, the music: It’s not that it’s bad, just that it’s relentless, and often misused, as with a number of repeats of the histrionic ‘walking around the palace’ theme which plays over many scenes which really need to be quiet and tense.

The creature: Barely mentioned for 95% of the film, as Curwen puts off his ‘great work’ for revenge, it is eventually revealed as a plastic dude shot through a distorting lens.

The mutant townspeople. Considered the results of the curse, or possibly an Elder God breeding programme, they are a bit… Dunwich for Arkham.

What’s right with it?

While the film is pretty by the numbers Corman, it is notable for being one of the first to bring names like the Necronomicon, Yog Sothoth and Cthulhu to the screen.

How bad is it really?

It’s a perfectly adequate gothic horror, but while the basic plot is Lovecraft the atmosphere is pure Poe; or Corman’s Poe at least, and combining these two unique writers results in something strangely generic.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The villagers get ready to set some fires and run through their arson checklist. It’s as if they’ve been drilling for this for generations.

What’s up with…?

  • The identical ancestry? Everyone looks just like their ancestor.
  • The possession of Ward? It doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything; it just happens.
  • Hester’s suicidal neckline? Was she buried in that thing?

Ratings

Production values – Good, but generic costuming, but the few SFX are poor and the music overwrought. 13
Dialogue and performances – B-movies didn’t stint on their scripts back in the day, and this particular load of impressive tosh is spoken by genuine stars of the genre. 10
Plot and execution – The plot is basic, but greatly overstretched, with an awful lot of Price flip-flopping between Ward and Curwen, and the villagers procrastinating over whether they’ve had enough liquor to riot yet. 12
Randomness – The absolute lack of genetic drift, and the primary non-presence of the monster are significant. Also, the deformed villagers only appear when needed. 11
Waste of potential – As is becoming de rigeur, what is lost is the chance to make anything unique, and the result is just… like a great many other films. 9

Overall 55%

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