The Haunted Palace (1963) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Charles Dexter Ward arrives at a small village to visit the house he inherited from his ancestor who died there 100 years ago.

  • 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.

  • Charles Dexter Ward travels with his wife to Arkham to inspect a large house he has inherited. It was once owned by his great grandfather Joseph Curwen, a disciple of the devil, who cursed the local villagers as they burned him at the stake. Everyone is hostile to Ward, blaming the curse for the number of mutants in the village. Indeed, Ward's arrival allows Curwen to take over his body and restart his evil ways by revenging himself on the descendants of those who killed him


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In this chilling adaptation of H.P. Lovecrafts The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) travels with his wife Ann (Debra Paget) to Arkham to inspect a mansion he has inherited. The original lord of the manor was his Great Grandfather Joseph Curwen, a disciple of the devil, who placed a hideous curse on the villagers as they burned him at the stake. Slowly Ward feels the spirit of his ancestor possessing him and seeking a desperate vengeance on the descendants of those who previously thwarted his plans. Accursed mutants...evil possession...will anyone escape The Haunted Palace?

    In the town of Arkham, in 18th century New England, Ezra Weeden (Leo Gordon) and Micah Smith (Elisha Cook Jr.) follow a young woman named Fitch at a distance. She seems to be in a trance as she walks through a cemetery to a palace door where she knocks and is ushered in by a woman named Hester. Declaring this is the home of Satan himself, Ezra and Micah go to get help. Meanwhile, Hester takes the Fitch woman to Joseph Curwan (Vincent Price), who leads her through a secret door downstairs to a platform in an ancient dungeon cellar. He chains her between two posts on the platform and then he chants in Latin. The woman finally awakes screaming at the sound of some beast growling from below.

    The townspeople armed with torches arrive at the palace door and knock. Curwan opens it and produces the Fitch girl alive and well, but still in a trance. She answers yes to his claims that she came of her own free will, but when asked by Weeden for her name she cannot answer. The townspeople accuse Curwan of being a warlock and tie him to a tree. He calls out their names: Ezra Weeden, Micah Smith, Benjamin West, Priam Willet (Frank Maxwell), and Gideon Leach. He declares that he will rise from the dead and that this town and they and their families will bear his curse. Then he is set on fire and burned to death.

    110 years later, a man who looks identical to Curwan, his great-great-grandson Charles Dexter Ward, arrives in Arkham with his wife Ann (Debra Paget), looking for the palace that he has inherited. They are warned that the village is cursed to which Charles scoffs. They enter a tavern called the Burning Man Tavern and tell the people theyre looking for the Curwen family house. Edgar Weeden (a dead ringer for his own ancestor, as are all the other main characters) warns them it is a palace of unknown origin brought stone by stone from some European country. Mr. Willet, a doctor, gives them directions there and shows them where the palace is on the side of a cliff. After they leave, Edgar warns the townspeople that Joseph Curwan has come back to Arkham.

    The Wards enter the palace and note that the portrait of Joseph Curwan looks just like Charles. Charles seems momentarily possessed by it. As they explore other rooms in the house, a caretaker named Simon (Lon Chaney Jr.) greets them. The attorney had contacted him and he was preparing it for their arrival. Not wishing to stay in a town with such unfriendly people, they tell him they plan to leave at once. But he encourages them to at least spend the night, since there is no place else to go.

    In his home, Edgar feeds some creature that is behind his locked and barred attic door. It grabs his hand through the bars and Edgar has to use a candle to chase it off. He tells his wife that "it" knows Curwan has come back to Arkham. At the palace, the more Ward looks at the painting, the more it seems to possess him. The next morning, Charles tells his wife that he is now planning to stay, just for a few weeks to get the place ready to be sold. She doesn't like it, but agrees to remain.

    As Charles and Ann walk through town early on a foggy morning, they find the tavern door locked. Then a series of mutated people - a young girl with no eyes, and four other similarly blind, half-blind or otherwise deformed men slowly approach the Wards menacingly until they are surrounded. But the sound of a bell tolling in the distance causes them to disperse and walk away. Later, Dr. Willet tells them all those people were born mutated. Weeden had gathered them together to try and chase the newcomers away.

    He tells the story of Joseph Curwan, who came to town 150 years ago. His first wife died in childbirth so he took the most beautiful woman in town, Hester, as his mistress a woman who had been promised to Ezra Weeden. Over the years, terrible noises were heard from the castle, and young girls often disappeared at night then were returned with no memory. They concluded he was a warlock a conjurer of the dead. He was thought to have found a legendary book, the Necronomicon, which gave him formulas to summon dark gods from beyond, who had once ruled the world, and now were waiting to take it back again. He was trying to mate the gods with humans to create a new race through which the gods could gain control. The townspeople feel that the mutations were failed experiments. Willet himself can't explain the mutations and advises them to flee the village as if a madman with a knife was chasing them.

    That night, Charles hears the sound of voices outside but there is no one there. He goes outside to look and Simon finds him and suggests he "ask Mr. Curwan." He takes him to the portrait room. After Ward has stared at the portrait for a time, Simon addresses him as Joseph. Ward begins to speak in a different sinister tone of voice. Curwan is now possessing Ward's body, but he tells Simon he feels Ward is still fighting him and he will lose possession of him shortly. He tells Simon and another old friend Jabez to keep Ward there so that he can soon possess him completely. They present him with the Necronomicon. Ann comes downstairs hearing them talk, but when she arrives they are all gone except Ward, who is back to his normal self for now.

    A week passes, and Ward is still there. The townspeople discuss putting a stop to him. Meanwhile, late one night, he digs up the grave of Hester Tellinghast and he and his crew bring the body into his palace down to the secret cellar. When Ann asks where hes been, he cruelly scolds her and sends her back to her room alone. Joseph's voice calls to him declaring he will never leave him alone and that his will is too strong to fight. When Ann comes back to confront him, he tells her she must leave tomorrow. Ann goes downstairs later looking for Charles but finds Simon instead and faints. Meanwhile, Joseph is chanting in Latin for Hester to return to life, which she finally does, but she is too weak to stay alive. Joseph weakens from the effort and is taken back upstairs where Charles has no memory of what happened. He fears he is going mad, and tells Ann they must both leave in the morning.

    The next morning they try to leave quickly, but Simon says he must make out a receipt for the week's expenses first. Ann goes ahead to the cab, but Charles stays and falls under Joseph's spell again. Dr. Willet tells Ann about the grave robbery, and says Charles may have done it. Charles emerges from the house, acting like Joseph and blaming the others for trying to frame him and scare him away. He declares he has decided to stay. Ann tells Willet how her husband changes personalities more and more since the first night he arrived. Inside, Joseph declares that Charles is dead and he now has full control. But before he does his work, he must get his revenge against the descendants of the ones who burned him alive.

    At the bar, Weeden talks about the grave robbery and tries to stir the townspeople into fighting back against Ward, saying if they do nothing to save themselves they deserve whatever they get. Meanwhile, the possessed Ward unbolts the door to Weeden's locked attic, releasing the creature. Weeden returns home to be attacked by the thing, and both die when they fall into the fireplace. Ward tears the name Ezra Weeden off his revenge list. Peter Smith is appalled when Ward later attends Weeden's funeral from a distance.

    Night falls, and while Peter Smith is out walking alone, Ward tosses gasoline on him and sets him on fire. Micah Smith's name is removed from the list. Simon warns him to stop feasting on revenge, but Curwan insists on continuing his task. He goes to make love to Ann, but she scratches him and makes him leave. She then summons Dr. Willet for help, telling him Joseph Curwan is killing her husband. Ward arrives suddenly in mid-conversation and tells the doctor the house is affecting his wife. He pretends he is unchanged, asking the doctor to take her to Boston. She reluctantly agrees, and leaves at once with the doctor. As they pass through the town, the townspeople show Willet and Ann the burned body of Smith and declare that her husband killed him. Willet decides they must get Ward out of the palace before the townspeople kill him.

    Alone with Simon and Jabez, Charles succeeds in bringing Hester completely back from the dead. Ann and Willet go back to the palace but can't find Ward. Willet remembers how Ward just appeared when they were talking by the picture. They look at the nearby wall and find the secret door to the cellar. In the cellar, they find the empty coffin of Hester and the Necronomicon. Charles, Simon, Hester and Jabez confront them. Joseph tells of a project - the most important ever attempted by humans - that they were working on "a few years ago". They don't fully understand it, they just obey. Simon takes Willet away while Ann is chained to the posts. Ward chants in Latin. Jabez tell Willet they are "honoring" her. The grate below the posts is opened, and an unearthly creature begins to rise from the depths below.

    The townspeople charge to the palace and open the door calling for Joseph Curwan and setting the place on fire. They toss the portrait of Curwan in the fire. When they do, Ward is freed of Joseph's possession. He runs to his wife and unchains her before the creature arrives. Simeon and Jabez attack him, calling him a traitor. He pleads for Willet to take Ann to safety. The doctor gets her outside safely and then goes back for Charles. He finds him alone and collapsed in the cellar, and barely manages to get him out the front door before the flames consume the palace. Leaning against a tree, Ward tells them he is all right now, thanks to Ann and Dr. Willet and that he looks forward to repaying their kindness. But the sinister tone of his voice and the half smile on his face as he turns back around indicate that he is once again possessed by Joseph.

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