AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
Strikes Back /
The Reel World /
It's A Disaster! /
Etc., Etc., Etc.... /
Dialogue / Links
THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)
|"Understand, Mr Ward: Arkham is a strange community. You see, it’s haunted; not by ghosts, but haunted none the less; by fear; by guilt; and by the memory of a particular night...."|
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Frank Maxwell, Lon Chaney Jr, Leo Gordon, Elisha Cook Jr, Cathie Merchant, Milton Parsons, Barboura Morris, Bruno Ve Sota
Screenplay: Charles Beaumont and Francis Ford Coppola (uncredited), based upon a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and a story by H.P. Lovecraft
Synopsis: On a stormy night in the village of Arkham, Massachusetts, Ezra Weeden (Leo Gordon) obsessively keeps watch, despite the pleadings of his friend, Micah Smith (Elisha Cook Jr). His patience is rewarded when a female figure is seen gliding through the enshrouding fog. Ezra and Micah follow her until they are sure that her destination is the palatial home of Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price), which sits on a bluff above Arkham. The men hurry back to town.... Inside the house, Curwen and his mistress, Hester Tillinghast (Cathie Merchant), look over the girl who has come to them: she stands motionless, her eyes wide and blank. They lead her through a maze of corridors and passages, down into the cavernous cellar, where stone steps lead up to a platform with a grill-covered pit beneath it, and a set of restraints at its side. As Hester chains up the unresponsive girl, Curwen begins to mutter an incantation, then raises the grill over the pit.... Meanwhile, at Ezra’s urging, the men of Arkham collect oil and dry hay, and light their torches... At the Curwen house, the men confront Curwen, Hester and the girl – who, when questioned by Ezra, cannot remember her own name. The men drag Curwen out of the house, but Ezra intervenes to save Hester, who is anything but grateful. Curwen is tied to a nearby tree and the pile of dry hay at its base set on fire. He dies in agony....but not before placing a curse on Arkham and upon all of those who have had a hand in his death.... One hundred and ten years later, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) and his wife, Ann (Debra Paget), travel to Arkham to inspect the old Curwen place, which they have recently inherited. Entering the tavern – “The Burning Man” – to ask for directions, they find themselves anything but welcome. Ward introduces himself and Ann and explains their arrival, but this only seems to make things worse. The townspeople refuse to give them directions to the house, while Edgar Weeden (Leo Gordon) warns them against going there at all. Finally, Dr Marinus Willet (Frank Maxwell) intervenes, giving the Wards the information they seek. Thanking him, they set out to walk to the house – only to be shocked by the sight of a young girl, being led through the town by her mother, who is not merely blind but has no eyes at all.... Entering their new possession, both Wards are dismayed at its gloomy and unwelcoming aspect – and startled by what seems to be a portrait of Ward himself. As they continue their exploration, the Wards are suddenly confronted by a strange man, who calmly introduces himself as Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr), the caretaker. He offers to fetch their bags and begins to talk about dinner, but the Wards tell him they won’t be staying – only to realise that they have nowhere else to go. Reluctantly, they settle in for the night. Meanwhile, at Edgar Weeden’s house, Weeden shouts angrily for whoever is behind a locked door to be quiet – and then tosses a piece of raw meat through a small opening in the door. As he does so, a deformed hand lunges through the opening and seizes Weeden by the wrist. The terrified man must free himself by burning the hand with the flame of his candle. Confronted by his frightened wife, Weeden mutters that it knows; it knows who has come back to Arkham.... Back at the palace, Ward finds himself strangely affected by the portrait of Joseph Curwen. At first unable to tear his eyes away from it, as he continues to stare a change comes over him. He smiles....
Comments: I think it’s fair to say that the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft are an acquired taste, even amongst those drawn to the older school of horror writing. Lovecraft makes unusual demands upon the reader, principally that he or she be willing to believe in his conception of a universe in which things horrifying beyond imagination threaten constantly to tear down the fragile barriers between our reality and theirs. Failure on that point leaves the reader floundering amongst Lovecraft’s purple prose, his tendency to write his subject into the ground, and his, shall we say, peculiar social theories. And his obsession with gambrel roofs.
That said, there’s a curious power to Lovecraft’s better stories, and his own evident belief in the world conjured up by his writing goes a long way to winning a similar response from the reader. It is a world of things that bother the mind; of movement in the periphery of your vision when you’re all alone; of colours that don’t exist; of triangles with four sides.
Now, obviously, there are certainly difficulties attached to making a film about things that can’t be imagined, which probably explains why it was more than a quarter of a century after Lovecraft’s death before anyone attempted to adapt any of his stories for the screen. And even when Howard Phillips did finally make it into cinemas, he had to suffer the indignity of being disguised as someone else.
To be clear on that point – it wasn’t Roger Corman’s fault. After surprising everyone, not least his bosses, with the critical, artistic and financial success of his first three adaptations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Corman began to grow tired of the formula. He wanted to do something different. In Tales Of Terror, he experimented with the anthology format, as well as shaping a blackly humorous melding of The Black Cat and The Cask Of Amontillado. Encouraged by the reaction to this segment, and in particular to the expert clowning of Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, Corman turned his next Poe entry, The Raven, into an outright spoof. The critics were divided, but the public ate it up.
AIP, of course, rushed another such film into production, but this time Corman baulked, leaving The Comedy Of Terrors to Jacques Tourneur. Instead, he brought out of mothballs a project he had begun developing the year before, which he intended to call The Haunted Village. It wasn’t a Poe film as such, but it was an adaptation of a story by another highly idiosyncratic writer of horror stories. Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson gave Corman his head – as well they should, all things considered – only to get cold feet at the last minute.
Not convinced that either the name of H.P. Lovecraft on its own nor Roger Corman’s recent string of directorial successes was sufficient guarantee to bring in the crowds, Arkoff and Nicholson insisted upon disguising the film as another Poe adaptation, naming it after one of Edgar’s poems and having Vincent Price recite a couple of lines to form a bridge between the prologue and the story proper. It is a stunt that AIP would pull again five years later, sending out Michael Reeves’ brilliant and disturbing Witchfinder General as The Conqueror Worm. H.P. Lovecraft’s contribution to the first ever filming of one of his stories is downplayed to a tiny ....and a story by H.P. Lovecraft positioned about halfway through the credits – in which, by the way, in a tradition stretching back to the dawn of cinema, Edgar Allan Poe’s name is misspelled. Twice.
There is a certain irony about the fact that the first Lovecraft story to be filmed was one that he essentially disclaimed. Dismissed by its author as, “A cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism”, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward was left unpublished at the time of Lovecraft’s death, and only reached the public via the intervention – interference? – of August Derleth, who had it published abridged in Weird Tales during 1941, and then complete as an Arkham House release in 1943.
Despite its author’s not-unfounded criticisms, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward is one of the more accessible of Lovecraft’s tales. It is indeed “self-consciously” archaic, and much longer than it needs to be, dwelling unnecessarily upon Charles Dexter Ward’s recapitulation of his ancestor, Joseph Curwen’s, unspeakable experiments; but for all its flaws, it’s a good story; and the bits that work, work brilliantly.
(It’s also unintentionally amusing for its revelation of how tolerant parents were back in the 1920s. I can’t imagine today’s parents putting up with unholy wailings and indescribable stenches from the attic for as long as the Wards do. I suspect, rather, that the young Charles would get his ass swiftly kicked to the curb, or find himself at the centre of an intervention.)
Briefly, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward has its eponymous protagonist, a budding antiquarian, discovering his hidden descent from Joseph Curwen, a notorious figure believed to have possessed strange powers and been guilty of unspeakable acts, including murder and grave-robbing. Ward’s obsession with his ancestor’s doings finally consumes him, until he identifies so completely with Curwen that he is unable to function in the modern world, and must be confined to an asylum. Or at least, that’s how it seems to his grieving parents: the truth is rather more sinister....
As with the Poe adaptations, Corman and his screenwriters, Charles Beaumont and an uncredited Francis Ford Coppola, strip their source to its bones and build their own story upon it. The result is not entirely satisfactory. The Haunted Palace is long on atmosphere but a bit short on substance. There is too much to-ing and fro-ing, leaving and staying; too many scenes of people wandering around in the dark; while Joseph Curwen’s revenge upon the descendents of his killers is disappointingly prosaic. It is a film that works better in its small moments than its big ones. In the end, The Haunted Palace seems to function chiefly as a dry run for The Tomb Of Ligeia, which Corman would make the following year, and which deals with many of the same themes, albeit with a gender switch.
But this is not to say that there is not a lot to enjoy about The Haunted Palace. “Long on atmosphere” is putting it mildly: there is atmosphere to burn; and if the film lacks the claustrophobic feel of the earlier, and subsequent, Poe adaptations, this broadening of the canvas gives Corman an opportunity to experiment with his directorial style, in particular his compositions, with patterns, and groupings, of three occurring again and again.
It also allows for some interesting characterisations, and the appearance of some welcome faces. Coming off Tales Of Terror, Debra Paget isn’t given enough to do as the long-suffering Ann Ward, but she makes the most of her two important scenes. Lon Chaney Jr has one of his better late-career roles here, his menacing presence intriguingly at odds with his soft-spoken obsequiousness; the ever-panicky Elisha Cook Jr is one of those with dual roles; and the reliable Leo Gordon makes an impression as Ezra Weeden and his lookalike descendent, the voice of doom subjected to “rational” scoffing but ultimately, inevitably, proven right. And amongst the supporting cast, we find two more Corman regulars, Barboura Morris as Mrs Weeden – mother of whatever the hell it is in the closet – and Bruno Ve Sota as the tavern-keeper.
And then there’s Vinnie. The Haunted Palace features a really remarkable performance by Vincent Price, who moves back-and-forth between the warm normality of Charles Dexter Ward and the ice-cold arrogance and obsession of Joseph Curwen with no more than the flicker of an eyelid. He gets all the best lines, too – including the last of the film – and gets to justify the film’s title by reciting an excerpt from The Haunted Palace over the “One Hundred And Ten Years Later” intertitle, his velvety intonations wrapping deliciously around Poe’s imagery.
I say that, of course, as someone who could happily listen to Vincent Price reading the phonebook.
We open on the traditional dark and stormy night, as the obsessed Ezra Weeden watches for an all-too-familiar event: a local girl making her way to Joseph Curwen’s home. Dragging the frightened Micah Smith along as a witness, Weeden follows the girl through the local cemetery and watches as she is admitted through Curwen’s front door. As Weeden and Smith hurry back to town to round up an even more traditional torch-bearing mob, the girl is taken by Joseph Curwen and his mistress and collaborator, Hester Tillinghast, down into the house’s enormous cellar, and suspended by manacles near the opening of a pit sealed by a heavy grill. Curwen begins muttering in a strange language as he raises the grill. The girl, clearly in a trance, comes hazily to her senses at this point, looking down into the pit with vacant eyes. Suddenly, her gaze snaps into focus – and she screams....
By the time the torch-bearing mob reaches the Curwen place, the girl, back in her daze, is about to depart. Confronted, Curwen insists that she is there of her own free will. In a numb voice, the girl agrees that this is so – but when questioned by Ezra Weeden, she cannot speak her own name. That’s enough for Weeden: he sets the mob on Curwen, who is tied to a nearby tree. Some of the mob try to seize Hester also, but Weeden hastily intervenes, arguing that she, too, is under Curwen’s spell. As she is freed, Weeden whispers to her that once Curwen is dead, “It will be right with us.”
It’s a shame that the film as it is structured doesn’t really provide an opportunity to explore this subplot further. The fact that Ezra Weeden has an extremely personal grudge against Joseph Curwen certainly adds an extra dimension to his rounding up of the mob – and his lighting of the deadly fire. We are given no reason to suppose, by the way, that Hester is not there of her own volition.
And so Joseph Curwen dies – but not before placing his curse on the descendents of his killers specifically, and the town of Arkham generally. It’s funny, isn’t it? – how it never seems to occur to witch-hunters that executing a real witch is probably a very, very bad idea....
Anyway, one hundred and ten years, and a little E.A. Poe, later, Charles Dexter Ward and his wife roll into one of your less welcoming New England towns. Their hired coachman tries to warn them off, but gets only the usual condescending speeches against belief in the supernatural for his pains. The fog-drenched town seems deserted, so the Wards make their way to the Burning Man tavern. “How quaint!” exclaims Ann, who evidently hails from the west coast, or possibly somewhere even further away from New England. Easter Island, maybe. Inside, well, it’s fire and ice, as the male section of the local population stares in disbelieving horror at the newcomers. The Wards’ inquiries get them nothing but directions out of Arkham, until the town doctor, Marinus Willet, intervenes, pointing out to them the palace up on the cliff, and the road that leads to it.
And so, as Edgar Weeden voices his belief that Joseph Curwen has returned and Dr Willet mutters in disgust, the Wards set out on foot through the town and its surrounds. (“Well, it looks cursed; I’ll give it that,” deadpans Charles.) They have not gotten far when a woman appears, leading a young girl who is not merely blind, but who has no eyes.... The Wards shrink back as they pass, staring involuntarily, before hurrying off with a shudder.
A brisk walk through the cemetery later, they find themselves at the huge, creaking front doors of the Curwen palace – which is, as it happens (and in the interests of justifying the film’s title), literally a palace, a madman’s palace as old as sin, brought over stone by stone from Europe somewhere – at least according to Edgar Weeden. Torquemada used to “play” there, we learn later.
Since the sun never seems to either rise or set in Arkham, we won’t quibble over there being enough light inside the palace for Charles and Ann to look around by – or by which to gaze incredulously at the portrait of Joseph Curwen, to whom Charles bears an unnerving resemblance. Indeed, Charles has trouble taking his eyes off it; and when he eventually does, his first words are, “The kitchen’s over there.”
What follows is a moment both silly and disgusting, as the opening of a cupboard reveals – a fair-sized python!? – to which Charles takes a handy meat cleaver as Ann shrieks. I’m not sure which was the most unnecessary part of that scene. Possibly the rattling noise that the python was making.
And another shock is in the making, as Charles and Ann walk straight into Lon Chaney Jr. That is, into Simon Orne, who introduces himself as the caretaker and apologises for the state of the house, explaining that they arrived sooner than he expected. Orne takes their staying for granted, and is chatting in a friendly way about dinner and the Wards’ luggage when Charles says abruptly that they won’t be staying – only to change his mind again a moment later. Ann is dismayed, but finally accepts that they really have nowhere else to go.
Back in town, Edgar Weeden is throwing raw meat to something kept behind a locked door, and nearly loses a hand in the process. Mrs Weeden angers her husband by referring to the creature as “he” instead of “it”. “It knows who’s come back to Arkham,” he mutters.
A word about the colour scheme of The Haunted Palace. Visually, this film is quite distinct from Corman’s other Poe entries (I suppose we can include it in the series). It lacks the dramatic use of colour that marks, in particular, House Of Usher and The Masque Of The Red Death, and instead employs a muted palette of greys and browns and dark blues and mauves, which goes with the eerie, mist-covered look of the town itself. The occasional splashes of colour, when they come, are almost startling: red curtains, red candles, red glassware – and Charles Ward’s dressing-gown, which is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
(On the other hand, the anachronistic lipstick on the female characters is an odd, orangey colour that does Debra Paget in particular no favours at all.)
That night, as he relaxes in his dressing-gown and prepares to smoke a cigar, Charles’s attention is again drawn to the portrait – and this time he cannot tear his gaze away. There is only the slightest shift in his expression to let us know what has happened....
The next morning, as Ann is packing, Charles announces abruptly that he’s decided they’ll stay – to fix the place up for selling. Though resigned, Ann is clearly unhappy; Charles tells her if she doesn’t like it, she can go home alone. Her hurt expression brings him to himself and he apologises, adding stammeringly that he can’t leave; there are some things he has to find out first.
The Wards return to town, the usual silence momentarily broken by the tolling of a church bell; and as they walk down the street, they suddenly find themselves surrounded. The eyeless girl is there, but so are her companions: men and women misshapen, deformed, appearing from all directions to encircle them menacingly....only to turn and melt back into the shadows as the church bell sounds again....
Dr Willet comes to dinner, his rational explanation for the deformities amongst the Arkham population sitting uncomfortably besides his knowledge of the “legend” of Joseph Curwen. Here we get a positive rush of Lovecraft, with rapid referencing of the Necronomicon, the Elder Gods, Cthulu and Yog-Sothoth – and of formulas, “With which one could communicate with, or even summon, the Elder Gods: the dark ones from beyond, who once ruled the world, and who now are merely waiting for an opportunity to regain control.... Dreadful rubbish, I know,” editorialises Willet unkindly.
He goes on to explain how Joseph Curwen and two other warlocks were believed to be trying to “open the gate” and let the Elder Gods back into this world by mating them with human females....and if you think that sounds a great deal more like The Dunwich Horror than The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, you’re quite right. I wonder if that was Corman’s original plan, and if it was decided that it might entail too many censorship issues. Seven years later, after the final death of the original Motion Picture Production Code and before its replacement by the MPAA, AIP would of course bring that story – or at least, a version of it – to the screen.
Late that night, as Ann lies sleeping, Charles is drawn outside to the tree in the courtyard, where he seems to hear voices calling for “his” death. Another session before the portrait later, and Simon Orne is greeting him as “Joseph”. A third man – Jabez Hutchinson, the third warlock – appears. Curwen worries that their reunion may be short-lived, that he may not be able to control Charles, who fights him constantly. Feeling his hold slipping, he bids the others leave him; and when a worried Ann comes downstairs, it is to find a bewildered Charles who has no memory of leaving their room.
The next thing we know, Charles – or rather, Joseph – is digging in the cemetery; while Dr Willet tries in vain to convince the townspeople that Joseph Curwen is dead and cannot harm them. One of the film’s best shock moments follows, as in rebuttal Peter Smith holds up his hand – which has webbed fingers. Smith then turns away, mumbling over the other horrid deeds Curwen might commit. “Unless we stop him,” says Edgar Weeden coolly, intimating that he, too, is his great-great-grandfather’s great-great-grandson.
An encounter between Charles / Joseph and Ann reveals that Ann has the power to bring Charles back, but not to hold him. Although a furious Joseph succeeds in sending her running back to her room, he speaks admiringly to the other warlocks of the strength of her will; stronger, we gather, than Charles’s own. Joseph then turns to the coffin dug up from the graveyard and lifts its lid, murmuring, “Hester....”
And again Charles finds himself with no memory of how his time has passed. As he gazes in bewildered horror at the dirt on his hands and his clothes, he says in a panicked way that they must leave, and as soon as possible. And they almost make it, too. Simon manages to delay Charles just for a minute, as Ann goes out to wait for the summoned carriage – and that’s long enough. Dr Willet arrives, and gives Ann an account of the grave-robbing, warning her that the villagers will, as a matter of course, blame her husband. “What’s wrong with these people?” she cries in exasperation.
“They’re stupid to the marrow of their bones,” replies a sardonic voice from the doorway of the house – and oh, by the way, they’re not leaving after all.
Instantly seeing the change in Charles, Willet waits until to goes back inside and then demands a circumstantial account of what has happened since their arrival from the shattered Ann. He then advises her to leave, but shrugs understandingly when she insists that she can’t.
Inside, Joseph assures Simon and Jabez that he has him now; that Charles Dexter Ward is dead. The others look forward to beginning their work again, but Joseph tells them that there are a few little things he must take care of first....
Joseph is not at first pleased to see that the strong-willed Ann has come back, but then decides there might be an up-side to it. He demands a kiss and, when Ann, seeing clearly enough that the “other” Charles is present, recoils involuntarily, he takes one by force. “What delights we’ll share, what tender, intimate delights,” he purrs at her. With an exclamation of revulsion, Ann pulls herself away and flees the room.
At the tavern, Edgar Weeden is doing his best to stir up his fellow drinkers and turn them into a lynch-mob, warning them that the grave-robbing is only the beginning. “Next our women will start wandering out late at night, eyes all glassy, bellies filled with God knows what!” Speaking of which, we’ve seen curiously little of the Arkham women. I suppose, while their husbands are boozing it up at “The Burning Man”, they get to stay home and look after the mutations. What fun for them.
Dr Willet tries to intervene here, but Weeden has an answer, pointing out that Willet doesn’t have something in his attic – or any womenfolk. True enough; and Willet’s growing admiration of Ann Ward is both evident, and rather poignant; perversely, it is only fuelled by her determination to stand by her man. It is an admiration that will finally lead him to risk his own life to save her husband....
(You know--- It must hurt, to be unable to catch a wife in a town where most of the men are mutated.)
Having said his piece, Weeden storms off home – where someone is unlocking the door of the attic. Whatever used to be behind that door meets Weeden at the foot of the stairs, just in front of a large fireplace. The two of them struggle violently, finally falling into the fireplace itself, where they are both burned to death....as a certain interested party looks on.
Ah! – apparently the Arkham women are allowed to leave the house when there’s a funeral. More fun for them! Really, their men spoil them. The funeral of Edgar Weeden is briefly interrupted by the appearance at a respectable distance of---well, the owner of the palace, who locks eyes with an increasingly panicky Peter Smith. And sure enough, that night, while walking nervously down a dark street, Peter Smith is on the receiving end of, first, a flammable liquid, and then a lit match....
This rather crude revenge-taking is a bit much even for the other warlocks, who remonstrate; but Joseph is not to be dissuaded. “Surely after all these years, I’m entitled to a few small amusements?” he counters....and then after a moment’s reflection takes himself off to Ann’s bedroom.
There, enjoying the effect of his words, Joseph makes reference to, “A husband’s prerogative. Oh, I know: you’re upset because I’ve been neglecting you,” he murmurs as he closes in on her, “but I’m back now. We have the whole night before us....”
But Ann, confronted by this man who is not her husband, has no intention of giving in without a fight; and as they struggle, she rakes her nails savagely down his face. Recoiling, Joseph is for a moment frozen with shock and fury; then he throws her back, discarding her, before hurrying downstairs, down into the cellar, to the rotten corpse of his dead mistress.
Meanwhile, Ann has dressed herself and sent for Dr Willet, as she promised she would if things got worse; but when he arrives she finds herself quite unable to explain exactly what has happened. Instead she turns hysterically on the portrait of Joseph Curwen, trying to slash it with a poker, but regains her control when Willet wrenches the object from her hand. The next moment, Joseph is in the room, although neither of them saw him enter. Joseph draws Willet away for “a little chat”, speaking worriedly about the strange effect the house is having on Ann, how she hardly seems to be herself these days....
Willet accepts all this with a straight face, glad enough of an excuse to take Ann away. He quickly manoeuvres her outside. Left alone, Joseph instantly returns to the cellar, and to his attempts to raise Hester Tillinghast from the dead. He has tried before, many times, but this time his efforts are crowned with success; and Hester stands before him once again, at the foot of her own coffin.
Willet gets Ann only as far as the town, where they find the men crowded around the shrivelled corpse of Gideon Leach, another descendent of the mob. The mutterings of the crowd are enough to convince Willet that they have to turn back, to protect Charles from the violence that is obviously brewing. Sure enough, a mob soon forms, torches, ropes, oil for burning, the works. It is led by Benjamin West, the last surviving descendent of the men personally threatened by Joseph Curwen, who understandably has a vested interest in getting in the first blow.
But up at the palace, Willet and Ann can’t find Charles / Joseph. Then his sudden appearance at their last meeting occurs to Willet, who hunts for and discovers the opening to a secret passageway. He and Ann manage to work their way down into the cellar, where they find an empty coffin. Further on again, they find the platform – and the pit.
And here, of course, we reach the point that all adapters of Lovecraft must dread, the moment when they must show the thing of indescribable horror to their audience. Corman, very sensibly, gives us only the most fleeting of looks at the thing; but even so, it is never more disturbing than now, glimpsed with difficulty through the bars of the grill over the pit.
Willet gasps; but before Ann can see for herself, they are interrupted....
Simon forces Willet from the platform at knifepoint. As for Ann, her presence saves the unholy crew quite a bit of trouble: in a moment more, she is suspended in manacles at the edge of the pit.
From up on the wooden staircase, Willet demands, “What are you doing to her?” Jabez Hutchinson smiles. “Honouring her, doctor. Honouring her.”
As Ann shrieks unavailingly for her husband, Joseph raises the grill over the pit. Ann then sees what lurks below, what is coming for her, and screams despairingly, as Joseph and Hester calmly leave the scene.
BUT--- It’s a torch-bearing mob to the rescue! At this critical juncture, the villagers arrive at the front door, Benjamin West calling for Joseph Curwen just like his great-great-grandfather did; only this time, Joseph isn’t so prompt in opening the door. The mob forces its way inside anyway, and starts setting fire to the place; which, I don’t know, strikes me as the kind of thing you’d do on your way out. I guess that’s why no-one ever put me in charge of a torch-bearing mob.
As for the portrait of Joseph Curwen, that’s about the first thing to go; and in the cellar, Joseph cries out and clutches his head in sudden pain. Straightening up again, he stares in horrified bewilderment at the scene at the pit. “Ann?” he says numbly.
Charles hurries back down the stairs and up to his wife, Simon and Jabez in hot pursuit. He succeeds in freeing Ann before they reach him, and the disregarded Willet grabs her even as Simon and Jabez grab Charles. In spite of Ann’s protests, Willet does hurry her out of the cellar into the main body of the house, which is now well-alight. They struggle through the blazing rooms to the front door, where Willet thrusts Ann out into the night air, before going back for Charles....
Outside, Benjamin West and his mob are looking on at their handiwork. As Ann staggers out, coughing convulsively, they rush to help her. Hmm.
When Willet makes it back down to the cellar, there is no sign of Simon, Jabez or Hester, but Charles is sprawled on the stone steps leading to the pit. Willet hauls him up and helps him out, and the two of them escaping the burning house just in time. There’s muttering from the mob, but no-one lifts a hand. This forbearance, the victim having eluded his intended fate, is obviously another aspect of mob protocol that I don’t understand.
Charles lurches forward, leaning against the fatal tree and gasping for air, as Ann rushes to embrace him. And as the ancient palace of Joseph Curwen goes up in flames, we are left to ponder the question of just who exactly it is that Dr Willet has rescued...?
Although The Haunted Palace was a success, it was also Roger Corman’s only foray into the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Perhaps the interference of Arkoff and Nicholson killed his enthusiasm; or possibly the making of this film reignited his enthusiasm for Poe done seriously. Corman followed this film with his two final entries in the cycle, which also happen to be two of the best: The Tomb Of Ligeia which, as I have said, bears a number of similarities to The Haunted Palace, and his remarkable version of The Masque Of The Red Death. After that, Corman spend most of the remainder of the 1960s directing his actors to shoot at each other with machine-guns and/or take drugs. Make of that what you will.
Having belatedly gotten over their attack of cold feet, Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson would eventually green-light two more, and openly declared, adaptations of Lovecraft: Die, Monster, Die!, a version of The Colour Out Of Space that has precious little to do with its source, and The Dunwich Horror, which also wanders a great distance from its model, but nevertheless manages to capture something of the spirit of Lovecraft – while struggling desperately with the old “visualisation of something that can’t be imagined” conundrum. Other adaptations by other film companies followed, mostly in England and Italy, and mostly no more than “inspired” by Lovecraft.
The breakthrough film was, ironically, another that bore only the vaguest resemblance to its source, but which nevertheless branded the name of Howard Phillips Lovecraft upon the consciousness of horror fans and writers in what now appears to be shaping up as perpetuity. The story was Herbert West, Re-Animator, one of Lovecraft’s lesser works; the film, anything but “lesser”, was Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. And ultimately, it is Re-Animator we have to thank – or not – for the fact that these days, H.P. Lovecraft seems to be everywhere in the world of the horror movie; that actual adaptations abound; that countless films are marketed as “Lovecraftian” whether or not the term is justified. In a cinematic world where you can’t turn around without tripping over a reference the man, Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson’s unwontedly short-sighted decision to bury him in the depths of the credits for The Haunted Palace seems more comical every day.
|Footnote: By the way, do you get the impression that the Italians and I weren’t watching the same movie? I also love how, alone of all the world, they can spell “Allan”....but not “Edgar”:|
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