Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE HAUNTED PALACE. American International Pictures, 1963. Long title: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace. Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney, Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon, Elisha Cook Jr. Screenplay: Charles Beaumont, based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe and the story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft. Director: Roger Corman.

   Except for the poem that Vincent Price reads off screen at the film’s end, there’s nothing Edgar Allan Poe about Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace. With a straightforward, although at times disappointingly flaccid, screenplay by Charles Beaumont, this alternatingly captivating, creepy, and quixotic film is actually a cinematic adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”

   Price is perfectly cast in a dual role as the fiendish warlock, Joseph Curwen and as Curwen’s descendent, the one and only Charles Dexter Ward. Nearly two hundred years prior, an angry mob of New England townsfolk burned Curwen to death as a means of stopping the strange diabolical man from practicing sorcery in a little town called Arkham.

   Young girls used to disappear in the middle of the night and end up in Curwen’s castle on the hill. The men of Arkham were going to have none of that. Not on their watch. There was even talk that Curwen was capturing them in order to breed their beautiful girls with a hideous monster, all in order to create a superhuman master race.

   Flash forward. Enter Charles Dexter Ward. A man from all appearances a kind and gentle, if somewhat naïve man. He’s got a lovely bride Anne (Debra Paget) and a claim on his ancestor’s forbidding estate. As you might imagine, it’s not too long before the evil forces of the past storm the present and the spirit of Curwen takes possession of Charles Dexter Ward’s body.

   What evil schemes does the resurrected spirit of Curwen have in mind? Does he even work for himself or for the old gods, those malevolent spirits of yesterday just waiting to reclaim their earthly inheritance?

   The Haunted Palace reminds us that horror need not be gruesome, that it can be done tongue in cheek, with a wink to the audience, all the while raising issues about the ethics of science and, in this case, eugenics. Unlike so many contemporary horror films, this one is steeped in history, atmosphere, and the New England Gothic literary tradition.

   Although at times it feels incomplete, with too many strands never fully sewn together, this outing by Price in a dual role as two men overtaken by forces they can’t fully comprehend is definitely worth a look.