The Haunted Palace helpfully reminds us that people with birth defects should be feared and shunned instead of pitied. Other than that bit of sage advice, the film is nothing more than a cynical effort from director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price built to milk their American International Pictures/Edgar Allan Poe film series until even the viewer begins to feel the cinematic mastitis setting in. And despite the bulk of the movie being based not on a Poe work at all, but on H.P. Lovecraft’s novella The Strange Case Of Charles Dexter Ward!
Price is warlock Joseph Curwen and he’s using The Necronomicon to summon up a race of old gods from the bowels of the earth. He also has the ability to entrance all the loose women in the town and ties them up over top of the gateway to hell that he has in his castle and lowers them down to the monsters waiting below.
Curwen’s goal is to mate these Old Ones with human babes in an effort to presumably do something. I was never quite sure what the point of all this was. I guess it was so the Old Ones could have their offspring running around on Earth, but I never quite understood why they just didn’t climb out of Curwen’s stupid pit and reclaim their rightful position as supreme rulers of us pathetic humans.
For that matter, I was never sure what Curwen was getting out of this arrangement either. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this arrangement had all kinds of backfire in it because all the babies these chicks had were deformed!
Before you get all excited about seeing an army of deformed freaks menacing the narrow-minded townspeople, the main deformities these people suffered involved having silly putty stretched over their eyes. A handicap to be sure, but then again they could also rub their face on the Sunday funnies and have their mom read the Family Circus off of them, so it was pretty much a wash in my estimation.
A century after the predictably angry mob takes care of business, Charles Dexter Ward, a descendant of Curwen, arrives in town with sultry wife in tow. He’s suddenly inherited a haunted palace, but the townspeople give him the cold shoulder due to his uncanny resemblance to Curwen. (Because they have nothing better to do than sit around the local tavern and remember what some warlock who lived a hundred years ago looked like.)
Ward and his wife go out to the house and are met by Lon Chaney, Jr. of all people! He’s playing a warlock buddy of Curwen’s named Simon and is pretending to be the caretaker of the castle, but is really just waiting for Curwen to come back to life.
Among all the usual amenities that come standard with haunted castles such as hidden dungeon, gateway to a world of unspeakable monsters, and a really big dining room, this one also comes equipped with a haunted painting!
You know the kind of haunted painting I’m talking about – an ugly picture of the bad guy that is used somehow to control the body of the good guy. Most of the movie is devoted to these episodes where the goody-goody Charlie is taken control of by Curwen.
What follows is Ward alternately being nice and mean to his wife and changing his mind about whether he wants to leave or stay in the haunted palace forever. In other words, your classic demonic domestic violence.
I’m sure it makes Ward feel like a big manly warlock getting away with abusing his wife, but what happened to all these bad ass Old Ones you’re supposed to be hanging out with? You’ve got deities from another dimension at your disposal and you spend your time going all trailer park on your spouse and palling around with has-been Wolf Man, Lon Chaney. Jr.?
Finally Curwen completely takes over Ward embarks on his revenge spree, marked by his handy dandy grocery list of people he wants to kill. Thinking that what one angry mob screwed up one hundred years before was only because that angry mob just didn’t want it bad enough, the townspeople form yet another angry mob to handle things.
A disappointment which fails to cast a spell on anyone, even if you’re the bastard child of a cosmic deity bent of enslaving humanity, The Haunted Palace flounders about like a half-human monster born with flippers and gills and is just as much wasted potential. While the budget likely forced the film to focus on Ward harassing his wife instead raising a race of horrific ancient gods to rule the world, it was only the early promise of seeing these creatures that lived in his secret basement that made you keep watching, leaving the viewer greatly disappointment when they later play no role whatsoever in the rest of the movie.
Even the usually reliable Price isn’t particularly interesting here, doing the same haughty bad guy routine you’ve seen before in better films. And Price was the strongest part of the film, as the other main characters fare even worse with the wife putting up with way too much to be sympathetic while a doctor who gets involved is just an oblivious toad.
Deadly dull period horror movie without any horror and without any atmosphere to speak of, even Curwen no doubt regretted the effort he put into haunting that painting for a century for such a stillborn payoff. Price and Corman reunited a year later to much better effect with The Masque of the Red Death.
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