Cast & Crew
Lon Chaney [jr.]
In 1765, several persons disappear from the New England village of Arkham. The townspeople soon discover that Squire Joseph Curwen is a warlock who with the aid of Hester Tillinghast is sacrificing village girls. Curwen is set upon by the villagers and burned alive. Through the flames, Curwen vows revenge upon the villagers and their descendants. A century later, Curwen's great-great-grandson, Charles Dexter Ward, and his wife, Ann, reopen the Curwen mansion. The villagers, who fear Curwen's curse, are openly hostile to Ward. Ward discovers mutants living near the village who, according to Dr. Marinus Willet, the only villager to befriend the Wards, are direct descendants of the villagers who burned Curwen. Ward comes under the spell of a portrait of his ancestor, whom he resembles, and is befriended by Simon Orne and Jabez Hutchinson, themselves warlocks. Together they resurrect Hester, and Curwen (in Ward's body) prepares to sacrifice Ann. Meanwhile, the villagers storm the house and burn the portrait. Ward is released from the spell, but once they are safely away from the burning mansion, the couple's features appear to undergo a change: Ward becomes Curwen and Ann becomes Hester.
Lon Chaney [jr.]
I. Stanford Jolley
Bruno Ve Sota
Samuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
The Haunted Palace (1963)
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in 1937, his friends and fellow pulp writers August Derleth and Donald Wandrei went through his papers and voluminous unpublished work.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
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Vincent Price on DVD
Most definitely watchable and probably the pick of the Vincent Price releases is The Haunted Palace/Tower of London, both directed by Roger Corman. 1963's The Haunted Palace is loosely based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft, at the time known primarily to horror fans but today considered something of a minor American master. Corman says in an interview on the disc that they wanted to move away a bit from the popular Poe films though they kept a title from Poe just so they weren't too far away. The Haunted Palace has a somewhat familiar story about a man who inherits a castle and after moving there with his wife discovers that the inhabitants of the local town aren't too thrilled about this and neither, more unfortunately, are the long-dead former inhabitants of the castle. But the story isn't entirely the point. With an energetic and sometimes subtle performance by Price and the genuinely spooky atmosphere created by Corman, the film remains memorable.
1962's Tower of London is a somewhat threadbare account of Richard III's machinations but its sprightly pace and historical feel keep it continually interesting. Despite claims on the box and in an interview on the disc with producer Gene Corman (Roger's brother), there's nothing of Shakespeare's play here: none of the dialogue, none of the plot (excepting a small bit in the final scene) and even few of the characters. The film is more a remake of the 1938 film of the same title which also had one of Price's very first film appearances and from which this later film lifts some battle footage in a no-budget touch worthy of Orson Welles or Ed Wood. Tower of London is also not close to the actual facts of Richard III's life (but then neither exactly was Shakespeare) with several years of events compressed into a few days and important events missing altogether. But really that doesn't much matter and isn't far removed from what actor/writer Colley Cibber did in a version published in 1700 where he compressed Shakespeare's play and drastically increased the violence. Corman and his screenwriters similarly approach Richard as the center of more or less a horror story throwing in more ghosts, curses, witches and torture than many of what are actually marketed as horror films. Such elements along with the political intrigue and convincing portrayal of Richard's disintegrating mental state keep Tower of London fresher than it has any right to be.
The second Price disc has The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) and An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe (1970). Again, Corman directed the Poe film The Tomb of Ligeia from a script by future Oscar-winner Robert Towne (Chinatown), adding "Tomb of" to Poe's title "Ligeia" so that nobody would think this some artsy European import. For most of the film it's a fairly sedate psychological thriller about a man obssessed with his dead wife and a younger woman who falls in love with him. Corman brings an attention to detail among some quite impressive sets, at least until the final half hour which kicks into Gothic overdrive full of lightning, fire, a damsel in a nightgown, dark corridors and a chain-reaction of surprises. The disc includes two commentaries, one by Corman and one by star Elizabeth Shepherd. An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe is something of an oddity. Running barely 53 minutes, it was originally made for TV broadcast and is little more than Vincent Price performing four Poe short stories as monologues. The box claims Price thought this his best Poe work and it's easy to see why, not necessarily because it is his best but because it allowed Price a range of acting. Each segment is performed on an appropriate set and the stories have been trimmed and slightly rewritten so they will work better in this context. Price is lively and convincing even for something like "The Tell-Tale Heart" which could very easily have fallen flat. He's perfectly at ease with Poe's style, keeping the dialogue from sounding artificial. Unfortunately, the production lets Price down at times. The graininess of the video image isn't too big a distraction but the haphazard framing is. Even worse is intrusive music however sparse it might be and somebody's bright idea to make the words more literal with tricks like turning the screen blue when Price says "blue" or rhythmic zooms in time to a supposedly beating heart. Still, Poe and Price overcome such obstacles, leaving An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe a fascinating effort.
Another mixed bag is a disc with The Comedy of Terrors and The Raven, both written by Richard Matheson. The Comedy of Terrors, one of director Jacques Tourneur's final films, came out in 1964 and like other films of that year such as Advance to the Rear, Kiss Me Stupid and Dr. Strangelove aims at a kind of aggressive, freewheeling satire. Alas, like all but one of those films (you can guess the exception) The Comedy of Terrors simply comes out overwrought and frequently tedious. Price plays the scheming, misanthropic owner of a failing funeral home with Peter Lorre as his not-too-bright assistant, Boris Karloff a senile father-in-law and Joyce Jameson his shrill wife. Despite a promising opening, there's almost nothing else worth seeing except maybe Price delivering convoluted dialogue that would have defeated lesser mortals ("emissions of a laryngitic crow"?). The film wastes Karloff who almost literally sleeps through most of it and proves that whatever Lorre's talents, physical comedy was not one of them. Far better is 1963's The Raven, a Corman project that Matheson "adapted" from Poe's poem. In other words, Price reads about half the poem at the opening and the rest has nothing to do with Poe. Instead, The Raven is a light and mild-mannered comedy about three wizards fighting and scheming among themselves. Lorre in particular is a delight with his muttered asides and swings from a Keaton-ish poker face to Daffy Duck-style annoyance. Price's overly-civilized warlock and Karloff's hospitable "villain" work well together. The Raven also has one of Jack Nicholson's earliest screen appearances as Lorre's son of all things though you'd never suspect the career ahead of him from this performance. The disc has two relatively inconsequential interviews with Matheson (a much better novelist than screenwriter) and a more revealing one with Corman for The Raven.
The final Price disc only has one of his films (Cry of the Banshee) though the other is a Poe adapation (Murders in the Rue Morgue), both directed by the undistinguished Gordon Hessler. Unlike the other Price films, 1970's Cry of the Banshee is rated R and has enough explicit violence and nudity to keep it away from the kiddies. Unfortunately, the rest of us won't care much either. Price plays a mean-spirited local judge obsessed with wiping out witches, more or less repeating his role from the far superior The Conqueror Worm (1968). But amongst the witch hunting there's fighting among Price's children, townsfolk attacked by a wild dog (or is it?), a sky-clad occult ritual and a now-grown foundling who can more or less talk to the animals. All of which makes the film sound more interesting than it is though there is a Terry Gilliam credits sequence made around the time of Monty Python's first season. Oh, and the film inexplicably doesn't have a banshee, not even a Scooby-Doo fake one. Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971) is a bit more successful, running Jason Robards and Herbert Lom through one of the first detective stories though with horror elements liberally added. It's routine and obvious though the DVD has the original version of the film, restoring around eleven minutes.
by Lang Thompson
Vincent Price on DVD
Roger Corman decided to do an H.P. Lovecraft story as a break from his 'Edgar Allen Poe' series while keeping the elements that made the "Poe" series successful. American International took no chances. They gave the film a "Poe" title and marketed it as another in Corman's "Poe" series.
Released in United States 1963
Released in United States on Video July 3, 1991
A warlock, burned at the stake, vows vengeance on the townspeople who killed him, and returns in the embodiment of his great-great grandson.
Released in United States 1963
Released in United States on Video July 3, 1991