Monday, 15 October 2012

Halloween Movie 5. The Haunted Palace (1963)

Roger Corman successfully emulated the Hammer horror model in America, adapting stories of Edgar Allan Poe for the big screen. Unfortunately the number of Poe stories that make halfway decent movies isn't that great, and Corman's production line approach got through them rather quickly. So he tried his hand at an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The result is a film originally billed, with typical Hollywood accuracy, as 'Edgar Allan Poe's Haunted Palace'.

On one level, it's all ludicrous. In 1765 warlock Joseph Curwen is burned by the usual angry mob, but for some reason his castle (imported to New England from Europe, stone by stone - like London Bridge, I suppose) is left standing. Not only that, but his ghoulish retainer/disciple, played by Lon Chaney Jnr., is still looking after the place when Charles Dexter Ward and his new bride Anne arrive to take possession of the ancestral pile. Vincent Price plays Ward and Curwen, because of course the latter's spirit gradually takes possession of the former.

The film works, somehow, because it has an excellent cast, looks rather good, and somehow avoids the campery that can mar Price's performances (when it's not actually required, as in Theatre of Blood). Even Lovecraft's Mythos is worked in rather well, with Curwen and his disciples not merely conjuring up demons but seeking to produce a hybrid race for vaguely idealistic purposes. Unfortunately this includes offering attractive young ladies, such as the lovely Anne (Debra Paget), to a Thing in a Pit.

The film does sag a little in places, but it has enough energy and panache to remain watchable today, long after costume-drama approach to horror was consigned to oblivion. More or less.

No comments: