"One becomes accustomed to the darkness here."
The Haunted Palace (1963) is an AIP horror film directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr. The film is considered part of Corman's series of eight films largely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, dubbed the Corman-Poe cycle. Unlike the rest of the Corman-Poe cycle though, this film is actually based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft entitled The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. This is actually the first film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story ever made! As Roger Corman made more of these films he started to play with different things as he went on: Tales of Terror (1962) is an anthology film, The Raven (1963) is a comedy, and The Haunted Palace only takes it's title from Edgar Allan Poe.
The story takes place in the town of Arkham where 110 years ago it's residents burned-alive a warlock by the name of Joseph Curwen. In present day Arkham a man named Charles Dexter Ward comes to town to inherit the property left to him. One problem, Charles Dexter Ward is the spitting image of his long dead ancestor, Joseph Curwen. And the people of Arkham do not want him to stay.
As with the rest of the Corman-Poe cycle the sets are great in this film, but dare I say they seem a bit more lavish in this one than rest of the series? I really dug the design of the mansion/palace sets here.
All in all, The Haunted Palace is a very fair adaptation of the H.P. Lovcraft story, It's not an exact telling, but they got the "gist" of the original story and worked from there. I think it works very well, Roger Corman did well to combine the spirit of the story with his already established style of the other Poe films he did.
Overall most of the acting is good, I could have done with better actors for the villagers but let's face it, they didn't have much of a role anyway. Debra Paget is particularly good as Ward's wife, Anne. And Lon Chaney Jr. is great as always, I only wish he had more of a role because essentially just a glorified henchman. He's effective though, he's got that "nice guy" charm that makes you believe whatever he says.
The biggest problem with this film is the loads of exposition needed to explain some of the finer aspects of the Lovecraft tale, and the details of the supernatural Cthulhu Mythos behind what's happening in the story. This film would have a hard time explaining it visually so it just has the characters lay out the necessary details which seems pretty awkward at points. And honestly, you'd be less truthful to the story but I'm not sure you need them to name the Great Old Ones and could have just said he's summoning a demon for all I care!
I also didn't understand why every single villager from one hundred years ago has a descendant that looks exactly like them, and remembers what the Warlock looked like 100 years ago. Come on, no one thought this through?
I really like the ending, but it is a very open ended scene to end on. Ending on that note actually makes it seem that the story isn't actually over in the slightest. I'm kinda surprised no one tried to make a sequel?
Vincent Price loves these kinds of roles and honestly he's the perfect guy for it too. It's hard to imagine this whole film working at all with a different actor playing those roles though so props to him. He plays both roles with a real level of conviction and it's not the "hammiest" role I've seen him in, but there's a bit of that too.
One thing I really loved was this story's focus on Ward's wife, Anne. They could have probably done more with her, because essentially she just does whatever her husband tells her... something I attributed to the timeframe this is supposed to take place in (but still we could have seen more struggle with obeying her husband). But letting the story focus on her (even partially) is an interesting move because as Charles gets wrapped up in the scheme, she's able to witness it all first hand. Kind of a cool idea.
The 31 Nights of Macabre Movies continue tomorrow with a far less successful Lovecraft adaptation, Die, Monster, Die! (1965).
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