May 18, 2007

THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) the first H P Lovecraft movie




THE HAUNTED PALACE
(1963, USA)


UPDATED: November 2013

Never-a-dull-moment Vincent Price horror is recommended, despite looking rather dated


The first official adaption of H P Lovecraft as a movie, was legendary low-budget producer/director Roger Corman. Though it was dressed up to resemble one of his very successful cycle of Poe films, that starred Vincent Price.

Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was fleshed out with elements of other HPL stories - there's a thing locked in a shuttered room, an old god waiting to cross over, and a nameless thing in a pit...Further Lovecraftian name-checks include the village of Arkham, the Necronomicon, and even Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth!

In case this change of direction proved too unfamiliar, the plot was bolstered by brutal fiery serial killings and a necrophiliac resurrection. The film certainly starts strongly enough, with the angry villagers (with torches) storming the castle – this scene usually doesn’t happen until the finale. The warlock’s curse at the start of the film, echoes the opening of Mario Bava’s The Mask of Satan (1960) and it's a twist to see the future Witchfinder General receiving rough justice as a necromancer.

The atmosphere is equally as downbeat as Corman's Poe movies, but with a few too many horror cliches. Corman's 8 minute rule means cheap scares appear like clockwork – like a huge snake in a cupboard (in New England?), and crash zooms in on scary uplit faces... These undermine the slow reveals of the story, the effective chills of Dexter's slow takeover of his descendant, as well as the secret of the pit and the village mutants.

Vincent Price enjoys his double role, though the use of coloured make-up and lighting are at odds with his efforts at transformation through acting alone.


Daniel Haller's huge dungeon set is the bigger star in the film, with it's towering wooden staircase and impressive sacrificial pyramid.


Debra Paget plays Price's wife. A plucky actress, she adds a natural humour and a convincing disbelief in the supernatural in the early part of the story.

Lon Chaney Jr, in one of his last decent roles, plays a likeable handyman, but because his face is inexplicably green, and lit from below, the others are supposed to be frightened, and even faint dead away! It’s like he was told he was playing a character, but he’s just being used as a stereotype ‘monster man’, in the tradition of his father.

The story obviously impressed production designer, Daniel Haller, because he soon directed his own updated version of the story as The Dunwich Horror. Haller even re-used a member of the Haunted Palace cast – Ezra’s wife, played by a young veteran of Corman movies, the lovely Barboura Morris (Wasp Woman, The Trip, The Man With X-Ray Eyes).

The region 1 DVD is beautifully presented in 2.35 anamorphic. The print looks excellent for its age. It was released as a ‘Midnight Movie’ from MGM Studios, on a double bill with Tower of London (1962). But that's only a pale rehash of the Boris Karloff 1939 original – a grisly Shakespearean tale of murder and torture about the hunchbacked Richard III as he kidnaps two young heirs to the throne. This version is only of interest really to see Roger Corman trying to do a historical epic on a shoestring, propped up with re-used sets and stock footage. As a double-bill, it’s a poor bedfellow, but as an extra, it’s very generous!





UPDATE: November 2013

The Haunted Palace is now also available in two different blu-ray releases - in a US Vincent Price blu-ray boxset and as a stand-alone German blu-ray. Titled Die Folterkammer des Hexenjagers, it includes the original English audio and a tatty original trailer. The HD transfer gives a clear, colourful look at an old print, but with little or no restoration. There are plenty of little scratches and white blobs throughout, much like watching a 35mm print. Even a few hours of video clean-up would have helped immensely, but the sharp image and vibrant colours make this a valuable release if no other was available.

Screengrabs of the German blu-ray are here on the WTF Film website.


I've not seen the US boxset yet, The Vincent Price Collection, but DVD Beaver reckon that the blu-ray of The Haunted Palace is much the same, but with more extra features. 

Screengrabs of the US Vincent Price Collection is here.





All the above lobby card reproductions are available from Pop Culture Graphics via Amazon.com.

Do you want to know more?
There's a longer review and deeper look at Lovecraft's influence on The Haunted Palace here on Chroma Noize.My other HP Lovecraft movie reviews are listed here.




2 comments:

  1. This one scared the hell out of me as a little kid.On Saturday afternoons my elementary school showed 16mm prints with a clunky Bell & Howell projector. For about 50 cents you got the movie, a Coke, and a bag of popcorn. Anyway, all those immolations, mutations and exhumations really freaked me out. I think this is the most faithful cinematic rendering of Lovecraft to date. I'd love to see someone, perhaps M. Night Shayamalan, tackle Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness".

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  2. I'm glad they've made such an impression, Pearl! I know some of these films are light on Lovecraft, but they are also too often dismissed on that basis. Personally, I can't live without revisting them.

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