Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Haunted Palace (1963)

The Haunted Palace is a 1963 horror film released by American International Pictures, starring Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., and Debra Paget in a story about a village held in the grip of a cult. 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 Allen 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 (the story of which was later incorporated into Poe's horror short story, The Fall of the House of Usher).

In 1765, the inhabitants of the New England town of Arkham are suspicious of the strange goings-on up in 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, and is led by Curwen and his mistress, Hester, down in to the dungeons of the palace. The girl is then subjected to a strange ritual, where an unseen creature rises up from a covered pit below her, in wreaths of green smoke. The townspeople, however, observe the girl wandering off in to the night, and storm up to the Curwen palace to confront its mysterious owner. Though the girl appears unharmed, the townspeople deign that she has been bewitched to forget what happened to her, and drag Curwen out to a tree where they intend to burn him. However, the leader of the mob, 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, saying he will rise from the grave to take his revenge on the descendants of the five men who burned him - Ezra Weeden, Mikus Smith, Benjamin West, Priam Willet, and Gideon Leach.

In 1875, 110 years later, Charles Dexter Ward and his wife Anne arrive in Arkham after inheriting the palace from Charles' great great grandfather, Joseph Curwen. They are confused to find the townsfolk wary and even hostile towards them, and are particularly disturbed by the horrific deformities that afflict many of Arkham's inhabitants. Up at the palace, Charles is surprised by how well he seems to know the old house, and is also struck by the strong resemblance between him and a portrait of Curwen above the fireplace. He and Anne meet Simon, the peculiar palace caretaker, who persuades them to stay at the palace for a while, and not to be scared of 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 (the only person in Arkham who is not intent on driving them out,) and he explains to them that the townspeople blame the many deformities plagueing the town on Curwen's curse. He tells them of a legendary black magic book, known as the Necronomicon, which was believed to be in Curwen's possession, and which Curwen apparently used to summon the Elder Gods, Cthulhu, 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 finally 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 finally succumbs to the spirit of Joseph Curwen, and becomes possessed by him. Curwen is then reunited with his two assistants, Simon and Jabez (who have apparently maintained themselves over the years with black magic,) and the three hastily make plans to continue their work and resurrect Hester. Curwen's hold on Charles, however, is limited, and he tells Simon and Jabez that Charles' will is fighting against him. Anne, frightened by the changes in her husband, seeks help from Dr. Willet, but Curwen manages to convince Dr. Willet that Anne is mad.

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. The townspeople discover Leach's charred corpse, and decide to take matters in to their own hands, banding together to storm the palace and find Curwen. Dr. Willet and Anne race to try and save Charles, unaware that Curwen has now taken complete control of him, and that Curwen, Simon, and Jabez have finally succeeded in resurrecting Hester. Dr. Willet and Anne discover the secret entrance to the palace dungeons, and are ambushed by Curwen, Simon, Jabez, and Hester. Anne is offered as a sacrifice to the otherworldly creature that lives in the pit beneath the palace, while the residents of Arkham break in and begin to burn the palace down. The portrait of Curwen is destroyed, apparently breaking Curwen's hold over Charles. With his mind finally restored, Charles rushes down and releases Anne, then urges Dr. Willet to save her, while Curwen's associates pin him down. Dr. Willet helps Anne to escape from the burning palace, before running back to rescue Charles, finding Simon, Jabez, and Hester gone. The two of them barely manage to escape the flames, and Charles and Anne fervently thank Dr. Willet for saving their lives. As Charles turns towards the camera, however, it is made apparent to the viewers that Joseph Curwen still inhabits his mind. - From Wikipedia

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'.

87 MIN

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