The Haunted Palace (1963)
Despite being marketed as yet another Gothic Horror based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe, The Haunted Palace is in fact a lose adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H. P. Lovecraft. The film's title is merely taken from a poem by Poe and is an example of the clever promotion often associated with the movies of Roger Corman. The poster's tagline as ever focuses on the more sensational aspects of the storyline, although audiences’ expectations are not exactly met. Yet there is often a great deal of merit to be found in Corman's output from this decade and as ever The Haunted Palace, like so many of his other movies transcends its modest budget with a sumptuous production design and atmosphere.
Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) and his wife Ann (Debra Paget) travel to Arkham to take custody of a palace he's inherited. Its previous owner was his great grandfather, Joseph Curwen, who was burned at the stake by local villages for practicing the black arts. Upon arrival the locals are hostile to Ward with the exception of Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell). Many of the villagers are afflicted with birth defects that are attributed to a curse that Curwen made as he died. Ward soon finds that a portrait of his ancestor bears a striking similarity to himself. It is not long before he finds his own identity under threat from the malignant spirit of Curwen, who seeks revenge and to resume his ungodly pursuits.
The Haunted Palace certainly has some noteworthy aspects. This was the only time that iconic horror actor, Lon Chaney Jr. appeared in a Roger Corman movie. Although his role is somewhat under developed, his presence is still tangible and suitably creepy. As ever, the production does a great deal with very little. The set designs by Daniel Haller are intricate and have an authentic feel. Many were built in forced perspective to create the illusion of scale. Floyd Crosby's cinematography is stylish and make great use of the widescreen format. There are is also some simple but eerie makeup effects by Ted Coodley,
After a captivating opening, The Haunted Palace embarks upon a story of possession, revenge as well as arcane rituals. There are quite a lot of elements from Lovecraft's source text, including the infamous Necronomicon. The concept of the Elder Gods seeking earthly form by cross breeding with humans is quite bold for the times. The movie also has some quite strong death scenes. One villager is dragged into the fireplace and burnt alive at the hands of his own mutant son. Another hapless local is immolated in the streets, resulting in a grim incinerated corpse. The film has a sinister ambience, especially during the scene when Ward and his wife are menaced by a group of deformed villagers.
Sadly, the final act fails to sustain this momentum and the ending is somewhat abrupt and predictable, especially with regard to the inevitable twist. It also fails to account for the fate of certain characters. It's a shame because this production strives to do something different from other Corman horror movies. It excels in many aspects of the production but simply over reaches itself at the end and cannot adequately bring events to a satisfactory conclusion. However that is not to say that the movie isn't entertaining and frequently demonstrates low budget creativity. Many of today's horror directors today could benefit from a close study of Corman's approach to film making and his innovative techniques.