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Although a few lines from Edgar Allan Poe's 1839 mood poem "The Haunted Palace" are heard being read by Vincent Price near the ending credits, there is no justifiable reason that American International Pictures could advertise this film as "Edgar Allan Poe's The Haunted Palace" because the story comes from another American author of the macabre, H. P. Lovecraft. Following AIP's releases of House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), and The Raven (1963), producer-director Roger Corman felt the need to change gears a bit and adapt the Lovecraft story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Corman later said that AIP was "...having me have a little bit of freedom to move from Poe to Lovecraft - the periods were about the same and it looked a little bit like a Poe picture" but he later suspected that "I think they had planned to turn a Lovecraft story into a Poe story all along."
The original story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was not published during H. P. Lovecraft's lifetime. After the author's death in 1937, his friends and fellow pulp writers August Derleth and Donald Wandrei went through his papers and voluminous unpublished work. The short novel was first published in an abridged form as a two-part story in the May and July 1941 issues of Weird Tales magazine, and the unedited novella appeared in the second collection of Lovecraft published by Arkham House in 1943, Beyond the Wall of Sleep.
Corman hired Charles Beaumont to handle the scripting chores, and Beaumont remained fairly faithful to Lovecraft's story. In the New England village of Arkham in 1765, madman Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price) is confronted by the townsfolk for bringing young women to his castle for mysterious experiments. Curwen is burned alive at the stake, and spits out a curse upon the villagers. A hundred years later, family heir Charles Dexter Ward (also Price) arrives with his wife Ann (Debra Paget) to claim an inheritance of the castle. The village people are immediately unfriendly to them; they believe that his great-great-grandfather's curse has caused a series of mutant births in generations of townsfolk. Ward and his wife are welcomed to the castle by the caretaker, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Ward eventually has a confidante in Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell), who tells Ward more about Curwen. The warlock and his associates (including Simon) dealt in the Black Arts, and sought to use the book of Necronomicon to summon the Old Ones - the alien Elder Gods - and create a new species on Earth with the young women of the village. Ward finds himself uncomfortably familiar with the layout and purpose of the castle, and increasingly under the spell of a powerful portrait of Curwen hanging in the house.
In an interview accompanying the DVD release of The Haunted Palace, Roger Corman talks about another contribution made to the film: "After Chuck wrote the script, and it was a good script, he went on to work for [The] Twilight Zone, and I wanted a few more changes, so my ace assistant, Francis Ford Coppola, came in and as with all my assistants, he was expected to do everything. [He did a] dialogue polish on the picture - he was there helping the actors go over the lines and prepare for the shooting." On the design of the movie, Corman said "I envisioned, and I think I got, a slightly different look for Lovecraft than I used for Poe... I used a somewhat starker lighting pattern, because I felt that that was intrinsically the difference between Lovecraft and Poe, and we should have a slightly more realistic, starker look - more straightforward than Poe."
Vincent Price gives a bravura performance in The Haunted Palace in the dual role, although the well-shaded takeover of the gentlemanly Charles Dexter Ward by his evil ancestor is somewhat undercut by too much ghoulishly-tinted facial greasepaint. Price was interviewed in 1987 by David Del Valle, and he spoke well of The Haunted Palace, saying, "It wasn't bad. It was a good idea and a good film. I don't know why they just couldn't have left the Lovecraft title to it." For fans of classic horror, The Haunted Palace offers a unique pairing of two of the great horror film icons - Price and Lon Chaney, Jr. Price later said that "Lon Chaney was very ill at that time. I had admired him and always wanted to meet him. He was not very happy or very well, and I really didn't get to know him well. I spent a lot of time trying to talk to him and make him cheer up, but I couldn't do it. He was sick."
AIP not only used Poe's name in the advertising for The Haunted Palace; they also had a tagline that alluded to an earlier Poe/ Price hit: "What was the terrifying thing in the PIT that wanted women?" It was rather short-sighted of AIP; instead of touting Poe, they could have opened up a new avenue of exploitation by emphasizing Lovecraft and his entirely new (to films) world of Elder Gods, Necromancy, and creatures from other dimensions. The pressbook for the film makes no mention of Lovecraft - rather they encourage the exhibitor to emphasize Poe but they stress that "For the first time, [AIP] adds an entirely new element of suspense to the famed writer's chills, foreboding atmosphere and eerie settings. The new element is that of the weird occult science of necromancy (black magic) and its practitioners... It is this black magic, its exercise by warlocks and how an entire village is affected by one of the most horrible curses ever depicted in motion pictures which is the basis of the story 'The Haunted Palace.'" True enough - it's just a shame that the source of the new element wasn't properly credited in the publicity.
The art designer of The Haunted Palace, Daniel Haller, went on to direct two Lovecraft adaptations of his own, Die, Monster, Die! (1965) and The Dunwich Horror (1970). Lovecraft's novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was later adapted by director Dan O'Bannon as The Resurrected (1992), in which Chris Sarandon took the Ward/ Joseph Curwen dual role.
Producer: Roger Corman
Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles Beaumont; H.P. Lovecraft (story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward"); Francis Ford Coppola (additional dialogue uncredited)
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music: Ronald Stein
Film Editing: Ronald Sinclair
Cast: Vincent Price (Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen), Debra Paget (Ann Ward), Lon Chaney (Simon Orne), Frank Maxwell (Dr. Willet/Priam Willet), Leo Gordon (Edgar Weeden/Ezra Weeden), Elisha Cook (Gideon Smith/Micah Smith), John Dierkes (Benjamin West/Mr. West), Milton Parsons (Jabez Hutchinson), Cathie Merchant (Hester Tillinghast), Guy Wilkerson (Gideon Leach/Mr. Leach), Stanford Jolley (Carmody, coachman), Harry Ellerbe (minister), Barboura Morris (Mrs. Weeden), Darlene Lucht (Miss Fitch), Bruno Ve Sota (Bruno, the bartender)
by John M. Miller