The Haunted Palace (1963) — An early H.P. Lovecraft classic

“I’ll not have my fill of revenge until this village is a graveyard.”

Justin’s rating: Six face flaps out of eight

Justin’s review: There always has to be a very good reason for when Justin dips back into cinema archives before 1980, so in case you were wondering why so with The Haunted Palace, let me simply say, “Roger Corman does H.P. Lovecraft with Vincent Price.” That’s a team-up that demands to be jumped to the front of the queue, eh?

Now I’m not a super huge fan of any three of these geek favorites, to be honest. Especially Lovecraft. Aside from In the Mouth of Madness, I’ve never really enjoyed or been attracted to his whole “huge tentacley gods are waiting to drive you crazy” premise. Kind of find it silly, really. But hey, I’m up for a good haunted house tale no matter how many tentacles are attached.

It’s 1875, and Charles (Price) and Annie Ward arrive in the gothic town of Arkham, Massachusetts to inherit a super-duper freaky palace that was transported from Europe brick-by-brick and used for all manner of occult rituals by Charles’ great-great-grandpappy. Who, it should be said, used the Necronomicon to summon an ancient god and got himself burned at the stake right after he cursed the whole town. But I’m sure that’ll never come up again.

Charles discovers that his warlock ancestor was trying to, y’know, breed old gods with women to make his own cadre of X-Men. This only resulted in a whole lot of freaks, including some people who have no eyes or eye sockets. OK, points to the film for being genuinely creepy with that one. Gradually, Charles becomes possessed by his ancestor (via portrait), who uses this new form to bring about his long-promised revenge spree.

It’s kind of a neat twist that at the start of the movie, Annie and Charles are freaked out by the hostile attitudes of the townsfolk, but before long, we see that the townspeople are more scared by Charles and the family lineage that he represents.

The whole movie is a cautionary tale about real estate, especially when it’s tainted by kooky dark rituals. Maybe it would be hard to sell such a property back in 1875, but today there’d be a bidding war on a hotel for hell’s inhabitants.

The Haunted Palace is actually pretty good, even with a lot of overt horror and soundtrack cheese dripping over scenes. It’s moody, it’s got some great cinematography, and it boasts the first mentions of C’thulu and the Necronomicon in movie history. Scary? No, not so much. I’d go with “creepy” in parts, especially with the deformed townsfolk, but there’s only so much terror I’m going to take from a malevolent painting and not be mocking it as the Ghostbusters did to Vigo the Carpathian.

Didja notice?

  • Poor butterfly!
  • Yay! Angry mob with torches!
  • The kid with no eyes
  • House boa constrictors. They’re pretty common in Massachusetts.
  • “One becomes accustomed to the darkness here.”
  • “Must I report my movements to you like a schoolboy?”
  • House tarantulas. You’ll get used to them.
  • Stone burns very easy, apparently

One comment

  1. The source story (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) would be adapted again in 1991 By Dan O’Bannon (writer of Alien) under the title The Resurrected with Chris Sarandon in the Vincent Price role. It goes for a contemporary setting, but otherwise sticks closer to the original novella.

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