Readers’ Choice: The Haunted Palace (1963)

“As surely the village of Arkham has risen up against me, so shall I rise from the dead against the village of Arkham. Each one of you. Ezra Weeden, Micah Smith, Benjamin West, Priam Willett, Gideon Leach. All of you, and your children, and your children’s children shall have just cause to regret the actions of this night. For from this night onward, you shall bear my curse” – Vincent Price, The Haunted Palace (1963)

Something I look forward to in building this blog the readers’ choice weeks. I have substantial watchlists on my streaming subscriptions, most of which are horror films. The Haunted Palace (1963) won unanimously this time. It is one of Vincent Price’s many roles in 1960s Edgar Allan Poe* adaptations. This one somehow eluded me until now.

*I found out that this screenplay is based on “The Haunted Palace” by Poe AND the story, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft

The movie begins with the people of the small American village of Arkham observing a young woman walking in the direction of the village’s infamous castle (a large manor built from materials shipped from Europe). The castle is the home of Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price), who the villagers believe to be a warlock. They arrive as a mob on the castle to demand the girl’s freedom. When Curwen answers the door with his partner and the girl from the village, the villagers are certain that he has done something to her mind. Curwen is forcibly moved outside to be tied to a tree and burned alive. Before the villagers light the fire, Curwen proclaims that a curse will befall the villagers for generations.

The story jumps ahead one hundred and ten years. Two newcomers arrive in Arkham to claim the castle after inheriting it: Charles Dexter Ward (also played by Vincent Price) and his wife, Ann Ward (Debra Paget). Charles is Joseph Curwen’s great-great grandson. The people of Arkham see the similarity between Charles and the infamous Curwen immediately and become hostile around him. The couple notice some people in Arkham with malformed facial features (suspected to be a result of Curwen’s curse). Despite their treatment from the population and the decrepit state of the castle, Charles and Ann stay there while they decide what to do with it. As time goes on, Charles is possessed by the spirit of Curwen. As Ann tries desperately to understand what has happened to her kind husband, Curwen uses Charles to act on the threats he made over a century before.

Just when I think I am getting closer to having seen all of Vincent Price’s movies, another one appears (not that I’m complaining). The Haunted Palace is one of Price’s many Poe adaptations, but it gave so many new stylistic and storytelling elements to experience. It is an enjoyable midnight movie of a lesser-known horror tale with the haunting performances and setting that make such adaptations so entrancing. One exchange in the movie that sticks with me is one character explaining that the castle is haunted not by ghosts, but by memories and fear. That characteristic of the setting stays with this story from beginning to end. To no surprise, Vincent Price’s classically villainous performance is the real source of terror here.

Until next time,

Jordan

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