One hundred and ten years after the warlock Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price) was burned to death, his descendant, Charles Dexter Ward (also Vincent Price), and his wife (Debra Paget) arrive in Arkham to examine their inheritance. Unfortunately for them, Curwen’s spirit possesses Ward, and plans to avenge himself on the townspeople. He also re-teams with Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr.) to finish their experiment that they hope will bring the elder gods into our world.
In the early ’60s, producer/director Roger Corman teamed with Vincent Price for a string of successful Edgar Allan Poe inspired films. The sometimes titled Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace is not one of them. That is, it has no connection with Poe, but is based on the story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft. It is hard to fault American International Pictures’ decision to imply an association. The Poe films had been hits, and The Haunted Palace has the same ambiance, the same intended audience, and the same overall quality.
If you are a Lovecraft fan, you will be reasonably pleased by this adaptation. While far from faithful to the story, it does incorporate much of Lovecraft’s mythology. It is set in the town of Arkham (never, ever, visit a town named Arkham; it just isn’t a healthy place to go), Curwen has a copy of the Necronomicon, and the old gods are unknowable and horrible. More important than the specifics, it has a feeling of dread about it.
Price gets most of the screen time, and that’s as it should be. He is always entertaining, and is in prime form. He doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen in ten or twelve other Price films (assuming you watch his movies), playing both his standard, shy, good-natured dupe and his often used glaring evil psycho. He is more than adequately supported by the beautiful Debra Paget and classic stars Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) and Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon), who both have fun with characters that they’d done many times before.
The Haunted Palace is good afternoon fun, but it isn’t anything special because it never tries to go beyond rehashing 1940s horror. There is even an angry mob with torches at the end. A little less revenge and glaring, and more Lovecraftian gods, would have made this a standout.
The Corman/Price Poe films are: The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).