“Do not call up that which you cannot put down.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Haunted Palace is a movie starring Vincent Price that is based on Lovecraft’s only novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. For some reason though, the title is after that of The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allan Poe. This is a rather short poem that I will attach below.
I don’t understand how the film was inspired by The Haunted Palace but there must have been some reason behind their use of the title. It was eventually used in The Fall of The House of Usher as a song written by Roderick Usher. This movie was 1 of 8 “Poe Adaptations” released by the director Roger Corman. I use the term lightly because this one I do not think fits into that category even though it is indeed titled after a work of Poe. All but one of these starred Vincent Price as a lead actor, so I am sure there will be more that I visit in the future as I analyze Price’s work. I decided to watch this film because of my finishing the novel by Lovecraft that I have mentioned which has become one of my absolute favorites by him.
You can make certain parallels between the movie and The Fall of the House of Usher, but most of them are very minuscule. Both houses appear to be haunted, they have to do with family lineage, and of course there is the title and the piece of the poem that is displayed at the the end of the movie. It is without a doubt The Case of Charles Dexter Ward though that The Haunted Palace draws on for the entirety of it’s plot. I am only dwelling on this because it was the first adaptation of a Lovecraft story that I really loved, so it kind of irked me that it wouldn’t be named after the story on which it is clearly based.
The Haunted Palace
By Edgar Allan Poe
In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.
Most Lovecraftian movies that I’ve seen are just excessively gory for no apparent reason (Necronomicon, Re-Animator, etc.) so this was the first adaptation of a Lovecraft story that I actually really liked. It is also the first movie I watched by Vincent Price which has sent me down a rabbit hole, he is a seriously great actor.
So let’s dig into this juicy plot that I keep blathering on about. Vincent Price plays the characters of Charles Dexter Ward & Joseph Curwen. To fans of the book this will make perfect sense, however you may be wondering why he has two major parts if not. Curwen lived in Arkham Massachusetts, a fictional city in the Cthulhu mythos of Lovecraft. He was a warlock and practiced dangerous magical rituals that began to draw suspicion from the town.
Once a woman went missing they came out in full witch hunt mode, burning torches and all. When the mob reaches Curwen they are not in the mood for talking it out, he is swiftly tied to a tree and set ablaze. However, they are not able to accomplish this feat before the dastardly Curwen utters a curse upon Arkham. Vowing that they and their descendants would pay for the wrong that he felt had befallen him that day.
In 1875, which is 110 years later in the story, Charles Dexter Ward & his wife Anne (Debra Paget) are moving into the grand palace of Curwen who is an ancestor of Charles. They stop by a tavern and talk to the townspeople who are descendants of the people of Curwen’s day (and bear a striking resemblance to them) who all avidly insist that they go no where near the inherited property.
This is also when they meet another main character and probably the main character of the original story, Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell). Of course they can not resist the urge to at least see the lavish palace that is awaiting their arrival. Things begin to take a turn for the worse once they arrive. Charles begins to act very strangely and eventually begins to become possessed by Curwen from time to time.
There are some freaky abominations amongst the townspeople, they blame these on Curwen and his curse. He was also known to have a Necronomicon and summon the Elder Gods Cthulhu & Yog Sothoth. Curwen begins to take more and more of Charles until he has very much control over him. Anne realizes what is happening for the most part and does her best to save her husband. Curwen convinces Dr. Willet that she is only having a mental breakdown of sorts however, taking away the credibility of her story.
Curwen’s antics include trying to sleep with Wards wife while possessing his body, getting together with his house servants who are also warlocks possessing bodies in a plan to bring back his own wife, and getting back at some people in the town, the latter being the one which finally brings the town back to destroy Curwen once again.
In this adaptation, Curwen is driven off by the burning of his portrait while the angry mob burns his palace to the floor and destroys his portrait which seems to have some kind of mystical hold on Charles. That appears to be the case as they race to save Charles from the burning palace, now that he is finally free from the evil Curwen. As soon as the happy ending is about to come to a close we get a nice quick zoom in of Charles who gives one more dastardly smirk, to let us know that Curwen is still inhabiting his mind, and fin. There are ways that the movie differs from the novel that I will get into, but I thought it was a marvelous take on a truly great story.
In the novel, Charles is a much more autobiographical character for Lovecraft. He lives with family and there is no women involved in the affair, for Curwen or Ward. Curwen was also a beloved character in the town earlier on in the book, but I imagine to save time the movie skips over this. While the film depicts the reason that Curwen is present being explained by possession, the book explains it in a very different way indeed. In the novel Curwen was actually able to find a way to raise both animal and man from the “essential saltes” of the creature. What that means is with the incinerated remains he was able to raise that that was dead back to its living state. Since this is a lot to explain I will digress with that, and save the rest of the books analysis for that post. The main point of difference of this is that Curwen is actually physically raised in the book but only bares a striking resemblance to Ward and is able to pass off as him, as opposed to the movie where he is just in possession of Ward’s body.
The 8-Bit Review
This may be a lack of appreciation for what was good and bad filming for the time. I just found many of the special effects for the abominations and the monsters to be rather cheesy. There were also many high points visually. I loved the fire lighting in many scenes and the sets were beautifully decorated.
Family Friendliness: 7/10
The strong implication of unwanted sexual attention, and many jump scares and ritualistic activity, make this something I wouldn’t want to show to a young impressionable child. It does however steer clear of any actual nudity or extreme gore.
It is based on my favorite story by my favorite author. I would say I am more than a bit biased but the story of Charles Dexter Ward is just so interesting to me. This was the best part of this film to me without a doubt. Price’s ability to play both characters flawlessly really sealed the deal and made the story that much greater to watch unfold.
I hate to give a movie that I love such a low score on any category, but seriously what is the message here? I am not sure to be honest. Don’t move into awesome property if you ever inherit it? If a crazy ass warlock puts a spell on a town, you better get the heck out of Dodge? I really am unsure what to gain as far as a message goes.
There is plenty of conflict happening in the short film. It has the town turned against them before they even step foot in the house. There is the internal battle between Curwen and Ward, the women who are kidnapped, and the violence that Curwen unleashes on the city. There is definitely plenty of conflict and it indeed ends in despair as does much of Lovecraft’s work.
The story of Charles Dexter Ward is incredibly unique, the way that it was adapted into a ghostly/possession movie, is not quite as unique as the source material in my personal opinion. I understand that the original plot would be much harder to convey in a film especially with the technology of the day. Lovecraft’s work has often been called “unfilmable” but this was a valiant stab at it to be sure.
My Personal Score: 8/10
I really enjoyed the movie, both as a Lovecraft fan and a horror enthusiast. It was a creative way to adapt an incredibly original novel.
Something I have learned since looking back at many movies that I really enjoyed throughout my life, a lot of them are not really rated all that well. I think that is ok, to enjoy something even though there is not much that you can point to as far as substance and things of the sort. This was a very solid movie and I am sure that I will watch it again, because I love Vincent Price and the story of Charles Dexter Ward.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
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