Friday, 22 October 2021

Hallowe'en Movies - The Haunted Palace (1963)

Roger Corman's place in the history of cinema is assured by his prodigious output of low-budget genre films. He jumped on the horror bandwagon that was set rolling by Hammer in the late Fifties, and made a decent job of several Edgar Allan Poe tales. The best of these is arguably House of Usher (1960). Rather oddly at the end of this 'Poe Cycle' Corman turned his attention to the (then virtually unknown) H.P. Lovecraft. Taking a fairly free adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and retitled it Edgar Allan Poe's Haunted Palace - the credits include a reading of Poe's poem, which is sort of marginally relevant.

Charles Beaumont's script does a neat job of making Lovecraft's story more concise and shifts the main  action back in time to 1875. Out with automobiles and electricity, in with big frocks and flickering lamplight. Vincent Price plays both the warlock Roger Curwen and Ward, the hapless chap who buys the rambling edifice that looks down on Arkham. The town is smaller and grottier than that envisioned in by Lovecraft, and absolutely chock full of people with grotesque deformities. These, it later transpires, are the results of Curwen's experiments, that involve a Thing that dwells in a pit. As Ward becomes obsessed with Curwen's portrait, history seems set to repeat itself.

This is arguably a good bad movie, in that the liberties taken with the original story sometimes amount to cheesy folderol. Debra Paget (in her last role) plays Anne, Ward's wife, who is menaced and alarmed and generally chased about, sometimes by Lon Chaney Jnr. as the dodgy caretaker. More interesting is the supporting cast of Arkhamites, among them Elisha Cook Jnr. A key scene in which the genetically wounded descendants of Curwen's victims surround the Wards remains effective. The overall look of the thing, plus Price's performance, make it a good bit of Gothic. Lovecraft would almost certainly not have approved, but you might.

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