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Reginald Le Borg
Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's novel THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, this fright flick opens with a warlock placing a curse on a group of villagers about to burn him at the stake. Generations later, the warlock's descendant returns to the village to pick up where his ancestor left off. Written by
Roger Corman's "The Haunted Palace" has very little in common with Poe's poem, with the exception of the title and a few lines recited by Vincent Price. It is in fact based on an H.P. Lovecraft story "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward". In fact, that was this films' title before it was made an entry in Corman's highly successful Poe series.
That doesn't mean this is a bad picture at all. In fact, this is one of Corman's very best films: a beautifully shot (by Floyd Crosby in Panavision), subtly frightening thriller. Price stars in a double role: Ward and his great-grandfather, an evil Puritan (I guess) who has a hidden secret. Hundreds of years later, Ward inherits the "haunted palace" of the title. You can probably guess what happens next.
But films like "The Haunted Palace" (and the other Poe films for that matter) aren't about plot. It's about style, atmosphere and fine acting, all of which this film has. Price is excellent as usual in his double role, but he also gets strong support from Lon Chaney, Jr. as Ward's servant and Debra Paget as his wife (This was her final film before her retirement the following year)
The sets by Daniel Haller are the best yet in a Poe film. (And this was before his final two Poe assignments. After that, he became a director with "Die, Monster,Die!", ironically also based on a Lovecraft story "The Colour from Outer Space")This is a really classy production with great production values and Corman proves he knows how to get the most for his money on screen. How many people can you say that about?
Note: As with all the Poe films, "The Haunted Palace" is best seen in the letterbox format, which preserves the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the Panavision photography. With American Movie Classics showing this frequently and MGM releasing the cycle on DVD, viewers now have a chance to see these films the way they are supposed to. Well done.
**** out of 4 stars
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