I can’t believe I’m already on the third row of the It’s All Connected timeline! For the 15th movie I went with another Vincent Price AIP movie, Haunted Palace from 1963. Last time, I teased that this one would feature a different director, screenwriter and source author. I was slightly wrong because Roger Corman was at the helm of this film, but it was written by Charles Beaumont and based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, which does show in the film! How did this change in the formula go over for me? Hmm…
I thought it was great! First off, we start with these great close ups on spiders and their webs as the credits play. I haven’t mentioned it a lot, but the opening credits for a lot of these flicks are creepy and unique in very different ways. From there, we start with where most Universal Monster movies end: a torch-and-pitchfork-wielding mob attacking a big house. This one happens to be owned by supernatural practitioners Joseph Curwen (Price) and his lady Hester (Cathie Merchant), but not for long as the citizens of Arkham are sick of them bewitching the young girls of town, including one played by Darlene Lucht who also appeared in a lot of those great AIP beach movies! Before they can do him in though, he curses them.
Cut to 100-odd years later and it’s 1875 (but wouldn’t it have been rad if they set it in the present?) and Curwen’s descendant Charles Dexter Ward (Price) and his wife Ann (Debra Paget, who was just in Tales Of Terror!) are taking possession of the house which has been passed down through the family. Now, somehow, the people Arkham not only know exactly what Curwen looked like, but realize that Ward is his exact doppelganger (which does make a bit of sense because everyone in the town is played by the same people also).
Though the Wards are initially creeped out by the whole endeavor — especially when they come to understand that many individuals in town suffer from maladies because of Curwen’s curse. They also soon meet the equally creepy Simon (Lon Chaney, Jr.!!!) who takes care of the house in almost complete blackness. “One becomes accustomed to the darkness here,” he says in a line that instantly made me think of When Darkness Loves Us (maybe it really IS all connected). From there, Ward begins to lose himself as his ancestor desires to take over his body and continue his machinations which involve invoking a big ol’ demon thing in true Lovecraft style (I write having read maybe one of his stories).
As with Tales Of Terror and Pit And The Pendulum, Haunted Palace makes for a great showcase for Price’s incredible acting chops. He starts off evil and nefarious, hollering curses at his killers and then a few moments later he’s this totally normal and affable guy (his line, “That’s why I like you New Englanders, you’re so friendly,” had me howling). Then, as the proceedings get under way, he vacillates between those two personalities and you’ll just have to watch to the end to see which one wins.
The rest of the cast is also game! Paget excels as the concerned wife while her counterpart, Merchant, was equally fantastic as the evil woman in the beginning. Chaney expertly skulks around the shadows playing the lackey and then you have a whole town full of actors who all look they’ve played a hundred cowboys. Two in particular stood out to me because of their previous gigs working with Price: Elisha Cook from House On Haunted Hill and David Ellerbe from House Of Usher. Cook plays “scared” better than anyone I’ve ever seen!
Alright gang, after a series of 60s Price offerings with Corman and company, we’re mixing it up big time with the next TWO offerings.