Welcome back to THE UNSEEN HORROR. Last time, we looked at a ruined world with THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, and it’s star, Vincent Price. That film came from the mind of legendary writer Richard Matheson. Price worked with many other literary films though. One of Price’s most famous series is Roger Corman’s Poe cycle, a series of films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories. Well, except for one. That is the story we look at today, a tale not from the dark corners of Poe, but from the twisted mind of another horror scribe. That man is the creator of the Cthulu mythos, the Old Ones, and cosmic horror from beyond the stars and seas– Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft. And the story is 1963’s THE HAUNTED PALACE.

The Plot

Charles Ward and his wife Anne journey to Arkham, Massachusetts. The couple has inherited a castle previously belonging to Ward’s ancestor, Joseph Curwen. The townspeople believed Curwen a warlock, and burned him alive; Curwen then cursed them in return and swore revenge. Ward does not believe the story, despite the townspeople’s genetic deformities.

As Ward and Anne stay in the castle, he becomes obessed with Curwen’s story and more specifically, a large portrait of Curwen. Curwen is a physical double for Ward, whose obsessions begin to bring about a change in personality at times. As time goes on, it is revealed that Curwen used black magic to summoun demonic gods, in the hopes of mating them with human women to form a new race. This has led to the townspeople’s deformities. Worse still, he has returned to possess Ward’s body, and begin his dark plan anew.

The First Lovecraft Film

THE HAUNTED PALACE is an odd film to categorize. Director Roger Corman wanted to break away from the Poe stories and choose to adapt Lovecraft’s THE STRANGE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. However, the studio pressured Corman to keep with the established Poe motiff. The film was then titled THE HAUNTED PALACE, after Poe’s poem. The film inserted eight lines from the poem to make a connection. Title confusion aside, Corman gave the film the same air and seriousness as his Poe films. Indeed, the films share the same look and design as the Poe films. Of course, Corman was also famous for reusing sets, but it still shows he gave Lovecraft as much care as Poe.

THE HAUNTED PALACE
Image courtesy of 10kbullets.com

It’s not only the look that Lovecraft fans respect though. This film introduced cinema to many of Lovecraft’s signature creatures and terms. The film names Arkham MA as a place of horror. It introduces the Elder Gods Cthulu and Yog-Sothoth. One look at the deformed townspeople is enough to call mind the similar character Lovecraft created in many of his stories. The story is also solidly respected, with the original plot largely intact.  LURKER IN THE LOBBY: A GUIDE TO THE CINEMA OF H.P. LOVECRAFT called it “cinematic high ground for the cosmos-crushing adaptations of [H. P. Lovecraft] to follow.” As someone that has seen his share of Lovecraft films, I can attest they are right.

(As a side note, the film famously is the first cinematic mention of Lovecraft’s demonic tome, the Necronomican, well known to fans of a certain chain-saw wielding hero)

THE HAUNTED PALACE
Groovy indeed. Image courtesy of http://bythecross2013.blogspot.com

Inhabitants of THE HAUNTED PALACE

The success of THE HAUNTED PALACE relies not only on Corman’s respect for Lovecraft. It takes a good set of actors to bring a film to life, and again, the movie excels. Vincent Price turns in another excellent performance, swapping between the gentle Ward and the frightening Curwen. A dual role such as this can be taxing to an actor, but Price handles it with ease. Indeed, it’s almost possible to believe he’s being possessed when Curwen takes over. Then again, Price was reportedly a very kind and charming man behind the villainous roles he often played, so this role may have been easier for him then we imagine.

The supporting cast is also solid. The most notable name is Lon Chaney Jr., making his only appearance for Corman here. The fillm uses Chaney’s age to great affect, adding makeup to give him a more dark, sunken look, especially in his eyes. Chaney plays the role of creepy groundskeeper to perfection, with his calm demeanor making his appearance even creepier.

It’s not just villains who shine though. Debra Paget gives a fine job as Anne, convincing us both of her love for Ward and her terror of Curwen. Her performance echoes the idea of the slowly creeping madness that pervaded many of Lovecraft’s stories. And the town doctor, played by Frank Maxwell, works as an opposite to Curwen. Initially, the doctor functions more as an exposition machine, to explain Curwen and name the Lovecraftian devices. However, he becomes more active as the story goes on, giving us a real hero to aid Ward and dispatch Curwen.

Come Into THE HAUNTED PALACE

THE HAUNTED PALACE may be mislabeled as a Poe film, but that doesn’t take away it’s effectiveness. The mood and tone fit with the other films in the series, showing the link between Poe and Lovecraft. However, the film is also a strong introduction to Lovecraftian lore, thanks to a plot that is loyal to the story, but still easy to follow. The performances are strong, and the imagery is surprisingly dark for it’s time. This is a great film to start your Lovecraft studies with. However, if you want more afterwards, come back next time for the most popular Lovecraft adaptation…

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