The Haunted Palace

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The Haunted Palace
Original US film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Roger Corman
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
Roger Corman
Written by Story:
H. P. Lovecraft
Charles Beaumont
Based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft
Starring Vincent Price
Debra Paget
Lon Chaney Jr.
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography Floyd Crosby
Edited by Ronald Sinclair
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release dates
  • 1963 (1963)
Running time
87 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,200,000 (US/ Canada)[1]
184,700 admissions (France)[2]

The Haunted Palace is a 1963 horror film released by American International Pictures, starring Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., and Debra Paget (in her final film), in a story about a village held in the grip of a dead necromancer. The film was directed by Roger Corman and is often regarded as one in his series of eight films largely based on the works of American author Edgar Allan Poe. Although marketed as "Edgar Allan Poe's The Haunted Palace", the film actually derives its plot from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a novella by H. P. Lovecraft. The title The Haunted Palace is borrowed from a poem by Poe, published in 1839 (which was later incorporated into Poe's horror short story "The Fall of the House of Usher").


In 1765, the inhabitants of the town of Arkham are suspicious of the strange phenomena surrounding the grand "palace" that overlooks the town. They suspect its inhabitant, Joseph Curwen, of being a warlock.

One stormy night, a young girl from the town wanders up to the Curwen palace in a trance-like state. She is led by Curwen and his mistress, Hester, down into the dungeons of the palace. The girl is subjected to a strange ritual, in which an unseen creature rises up from a covered pit. The townspeople observe the girl wandering off, and they storm the palace to confront its mysterious owner. Though the girl appears unharmed, the townspeople surmise that she has been bewitched to forget what happened to her when she does not respond to them. They drag Curwen out to a tree where they intend to burn him. The mob leader, Ezra Weeden, insists that they do not harm Curwen's mistress Hester (to whom Weeden was previously engaged to be married). Before dying, Curwen puts a curse on Arkham and its inhabitants, promising to rise from the grave to take his revenge on the descendants of the five men who burned him: Weeden, Micah Smith, Benjamin West, Priam Willet, and Gideon Leach.

In 1875, 110 years later, Curwen's great-great-grandson Charles Dexter Ward and his wife Anne arrive in Arkham after inheriting the palace. They are confused to find the townsfolk hostile towards them, and are particularly disturbed by the horrific deformities that afflict many of Arkham's inhabitants. Charles is surprised by how well he seems to know the palace, and is also struck by his strong resemblance to a portrait of Curwen. He and Anne meet Simon, the peculiar palace caretaker, who persuades them to stay at the palace for a while, and to forget the townspeoples' hostility towards them. During their stay, Charles becomes more and more obsessed with the portrait of Curwen, and at times seems to change in his personality.

Charles and Anne befriend the local doctor, Dr. Willet. He explains to them that the townspeople blame the many deformities plaguing the town on Curwen's curse. He tells them of a legendary black magic book, the Necronomicon, which was believed to be in Curwen's possession, and which Curwen apparently used to summon the Elder Gods Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, and other dark creatures. Curwen's plan was to mate mortal women with these beings in order to create a new race of super-humans, which apparently led to the many disfigured people of Arkham. The townspeople are now terrified that Curwen has come back in the form of Charles to seek his revenge against the people who killed him. Dr. Willet advises Charles and Anne to leave the town.

Despite Anne's eagerness to leave, Charles seems to be falling under the control of something, and insists that they stay in Arkham. One night, Charles is possessed by the spirit of Joseph Curwen. Curwen reunites with his two assistants, Simon and Jabez, who also have possessed their descendents. They hastily make plans to continue their work and resurrect Hester. Curwen's hold on Charles is limited, and he tells Simon and Jabez that Charles is fighting him.

Meanwhile, Curwen begins enacting his revenge on the descendants of the mob that burned him alive. He kills Weeden's descendant by releasing Weeden's monstrously deformed son from his locked room, and then attacks Leach's descendant with fire. Curwen has taken complete control of Charles, and he rapes Anne. Anne seeks help from Dr. Willet. Curwen and his associates succeed in resurrecting Hester. Curwen attempts to persuade Willet that Anne is insane.

The townspeople discover Leach's charred corpse and band together to storm the palace. Dr. Willet and Anne try to rescue Charles, and they discover a secret entrance to the palace dungeons. They are ambushed by Curwen, Simon, Jabez, and Hester. Anne is offered as a sacrifice to the otherworldly creature that lives in the pit, while the residents of Arkham break in and begin to raze the palace. The portrait of Curwen is destroyed, breaking Curwen's hold over Charles. Charles releases Anne, then urges Dr. Willet to take her away from the palace. While Curwen's associates seize Charles, Dr. Willet shepherds Anne from the burning palace. He returns to rescue Charles, and finds that Simon, Jabez, and Hester have escaped and left him to die. Charles and Willet barely escape the flames. Charles and Anne fervently thank Willet for saving their lives. However, it is apparent that Joseph Curwen still inhabits Charles' mind.

The film ends with the final verse of Poe's poem: "...While, like a ghastly rapid river, through the pale door, a hideous throng rush out forever and laugh - But smile no more."

Characters and cast

Characters are used anachronistically, and the descendants of the past events are portrayed by the same actors.

Production notes

Producer and director Roger Corman, best known for his Poe horror film series for American International Pictures, wanted to do something different with The Haunted Palace and selected a Lovecraft story. AIP changed the film's name, against Corman's wishes, to suggest continuity with the popular Poe series. The only connection the film has with the Edgar Allan Poe poem is a brief quotation at the end of the film read by Vincent Price. The credits misspell the author of the poem as by "Edgar Allen Poe"; in true Corman Poe movies, the author's middle name is spelled correctly.

The film paired Price with Debra Paget and Lon Chaney Jr.. Paget retired from acting after this film. Chaney, famous for playing The Wolf Man, made only this one appearance in a Roger Corman film. He had co-starred with Price in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein seventeen years before, but they didn't share any scenes; Price's participation was a voice over role (as The Invisible Man) and he never appeared on-screen. Chaney's role in The Haunted Palace was originally meant to be played by Boris Karloff, but Karloff had contracted an illness while making Black Sabbath in Italy.[3]

The set for the village of Arkham was quite small, and used forced perspective to appear larger. Both the front of the palace and the underground dungeon later appeared in Corman's The Terror, which was shot on sets from other AIP films.

Francis Ford Coppola provided additional dialogue for the film.

Clips from The Haunted Palace are among the stock footage from various Corman features used for the Vincent Price film Madhouse (1974), in which Price plays a horror film actor. The clips are presented as the early work of Price's character.

Critical reaction

In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write: "The Haunted Palace is a seminal film for Lovecraft lovers; it is the first major motion picture to introduce [Lovecraft's] creation[s] – the Necronomicon, and those cosmic abominations Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth – to a general audience. [Lovecraft's] obsession with the past is clearly presented, and in a heartfelt passage at the end of the film, so is his belief that mankind is a minor species adrift in a malevolent universe. The film strikes a good balance between narrative and action, and Vincent Price is, well, priceless as Ward/Curwen. The supporting cast is solid and the art direction by Daniel Haller is really quite good for such a low-budget film. Roger Corman did an admirable job as the first American feature-film director to stake out some cinematic high ground for the cosmos-crushing adaptations of [H. P. Lovecraft] to follow."[4]

See also


  1. "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  3. Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p206
  4. Andrew Migliore & John Strysik, Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Night Shade Books, February 1, 2006, ISBN 978-1892389350

External links