The Haunted Palace

The Haunted Palace is currently available on Amazon Prime

The Haunted Palace (1963)

“When a man arrives in the New England village of Arkham to claim the palatial mansion that was once the domain of his great-great grandfather (a black magician who was burned alive 110 years before), he discovers an evil curse. In HD.”

“One becomes accustomed to the darkness here.”

The official title of this movie is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace which is funny because it is not at all based on Poe. Corman takes the title of a Poe poem (Poe-m?) and has Price quote a few lines in voiceover in order to shoehorn this into the Poe series.

In actuality, if the location of Arkham did not give it away, The Haunted Palace is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. It is based as loosely as the Poe adaptations before it but the movie captures a wonderful Lovecraftian feel. In addition to Arkham, we get Elder Gods, the Necronomicon, and a pervasive atmosphere of doom. The eyeless, webbed and deformed villagers are sooo creepy.

Once again the script provides Vincent Price the opportunity to play both protagonist (Charles Dexter Ward) and villain (Joseph Curwen). He does a superb job of both, though certainly his villains are more intriguing. Instead of being grandiose (as many of his villains are), Price’s Curwen is icy and menacing.

Price gets an assist here from another legend of horror, Lon Chaney Jr. (here billed as Lon Chaney as if he did not have a separate identity from his silent movie star father – poor Creighton). Chaney plays Simon Orne, the more sensible villain but still second fiddle to Joseph Curwen. Sadly Chaney’s alcoholism was in full swing at this point and he never did another Corman picture. He still had one good role ahead of him – that of Bruno in Spider Baby (1968).

The female lead, Ann Ward is played by Debra Paget in her final film role. She had a wonderful career in the fifties – she rocked with Elvis in Love Me Tender (1956), played Cosette in Les Miserable (1952) and Cecil B. DeMille picked her to play Lilia in The Ten Commandments (1956) without a screen test. She retired after this.

As usual Corman gives us a castle (matte painting), wonderful sets, creeping fog, lots of candlelight and crashing waves. Fire is a recurring theme throughout the film – starting with the burning of Joseph Curwen in the prologue.

People Watch: Look for the instantly recognizable Elisha Cook Jr. as Peter Smith and Micah Smith. He is probably best remembered as Wilmer Cook in The Maltese Falcon. He also appeared in The Big Sleep, Shane, House on Haunted Hill and Rosemary’s Baby.

From Beyond – Amazon Prime Week

From Beyond is currently available on Amazon Prime

From Beyond (1986)

Scientists create a resonator to stimulate the pineal gland (sixth sense), and open up a door to a parallel (and hostile) universe. Based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft. In HD. “

“He used to bring beautiful women here They’d eat fine meals, drink fine wine, listen to music but it always ended with screaming.”

First off let me state that From Beyond is no Re-Animator. Lightning does not strike twice and Re-Animator was an instant cult classic with a career-making performance by Jeffrey Combs. From Beyond is a cult classic but not as good as Re-Animator.

On the other hand, if you want to repeat a formula for success, use the same ingredients. From Beyond reunites actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton with writer/director Stuart Gordon again adapting from H.P. Lovecraft. Gordon used much of the same crew as well.

Gordon had planned a series of Lovecraft films using the same crew like the Corman Poe series. Sadly his plans did not quite work out though Gordon would make the Lovecraftian direct-to-video Castle Freak (1995) starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton and H. P. Lovecraft’s Dagon (2001). He also did a Lovecraft adaptation for Masters of Horror entitled “Dreams in the Witch-House”.

Jeffrey Combs is wonderful again here as Crawford Tillinghast. Combs has built a cult following from being in a number of nominally Lovecraft films as well as two recurring roles on Star Trek series.He played Weyoun on Deep Space Nine and Commander Shran on Enterprise. His not-quite-sane Tillinghast is quite a departure from his Dr. West of Re-Animator

Opposing Combs is a very creepy Ted Sorel as Dr. Pretorius. Barbara Crampton has a much meatier role here as the obsessed (well aren’t they all) scientist Dr. McMichaels. This time she has an opposite number in Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as Dr. Bloch.

The special effects are wonderful, from the over-sized pineal gland to the corpses to the creatures. The ever-changing monster that is Pretorius is the highlight of the movie. Richard Band’s score is quite evocative if not as catchy as, you guessed it, his score for Re-Animator.

As in Re-Animator, From Beyond has over-the-top grotesqueries and aberrant sexual practices. Gordon said that the MPAA told him that his submission of From Beyond had “ten times too much of everything”. The MPAA of course insisted on cuts to the S&M sequences in the film.

If you are looking for a fun, gory, over-the-top, campy movie then you cannot do better than Re-Animator. Barring that From Beyond is quite a bit of fun.

People Watch: The muscular Ken Foree plays Bubba Brownlee. He has had over a hundred roles but he will always be remembered as Peter in the original Dawn of the Dead.

Sequel-itis: While From Beyond was clearly built to capitalize on the success of Re-Animator, Re-Animator did have two actual sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003). Neither were very good.

Re-Animator – Amazon Prime Week

This week I thought I’d cover some of the films available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Re-Animator is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Re-Animator (1985) – Rated R

“A student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.”

“You killed him.” – “No I did not – I gave him life.”

The prologue in Zurich sets the tone for the whole movie. You have over-the-top gore, serious performances from the supporting players and a winking performance from Jeffrey Combs. That opening scene is Re-Animator in a nutshell and is immediately followed by Richard Band’s Herrmann-esque score over the colorful credits.

Re-Animator is adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s story, Herbert West, Re-Animator but actually bears little resemblance to it. I am not sure who to give credit for the very wacky and witty writing as Dennis Paoli, William Norris, and director Stuart Gordon are all credited with the script.

Jeffrey Combs plays Herbert West, the titular Re-Animator. Combs channels a delightful Vincent Price-type performance though with a little less flamboyance and a little more intensity. The film is excellent but Combs’ performance is what pushes Re-Animator into classic territory. It is a shame that Combs did not become more famous although he is sought after in the horror and science fiction genres.

Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton play the nominal leads, Dan Cain and Megan Halsey, and they do a fine job. Cain ends up playing second fiddle to West and Megan is our damsel in distress. Crampton does have a particularly uncomfortable and darkly humorous scene late in the film that has not been repeated before or since.

David Gale is a hoot chewing up the scenery as West’s rival, Dr. Carl Hill. It is pretty astonishing that he can hold his own against Combs. Robert Sampson rounds out the main cast as Megan’s father, Dean Halsey (of Miskatonic University naturally).

There are so many wonderful moments in Re-Animator but telling any of them beyond the opening would be a spoiler. The film is a rollercoaster ride of crazy dark humor with each scene of horror trying to top the last. Re-Animator does have a lot of gore, some nudity and a couple of sexual situations, one of which is unprecedented.

People Watch: Peter Kent plays Melvin the re-animated (the first one at the morgue). He was Schwarzenegger’s stunt double on 14 of his films from Terminator to Jingle All the Way.

Sequel-itis: While From Beyond was clearly built to capitalize on the success of Re-Animator, Re-Animator did have two actual sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003). Although both featured wonderful performances from Jeffrey Combs as Dr. West, neither were very good.

The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

“While sorting through a pile of documents he inherited from his great-uncle (a professor at Brown University), a Boston anthropologist learns secrets about the mysterious Cthulhu cult that fascinated the late professor and likely decided his fate. Adapted from one of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories, this silent picture blends vintage and modern cinematic techniques to reproduce the look of a classic 1920s horror film.”

“Great Cthulhu waits dreaming in the sunken city of R’lyeh. The stars will again be right, and He shall return.”

The Call of Cthulhu has a lot of guts and I do not mean that in the normal horror movie way. In spite of this being the age of 3D, CGI, torture porn, and 7.1 surround sound, The Call of Cthulhu is filmed as a silent black & white movie. Director Andrew Leman made a brave design decision to film this as it would have been seen when the original story was published in 1926. Being a low-budget film, director Andrew Leman was also a producer and worked on the miniatures, props, and puppets.

Writer Sean Branney’s script adheres reasonably faithfully to H.P. Lovecraft’s original story, The Call of Cthulhu. John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness is the film that feels the most Lovecraft-y but Branney’s script is certainly the most faithful of the many Lovecraft adaptations made, from Corman’s Die, Monster, Die! and The Dunwich Horror to Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond and Dagon. Branney is also a producer on the film.

The silent black & white movie gimmick extends to the opening credits, presenting them as if they were from that era with a wonderful orchestral score. The gimmick, or style choice if you prefer, also does not end up overstaying its welcome. If you don’t end up liking it, the movie is only 47 minutes long.

Acting is broadly theatrical with over-emphasized hand gestures and arched eyebrows – again much the same as in a 1920s silent movie. Nobody in the cast seemed to stand out – for good or ill. There is good use of a fog machine, lighting, and some torches – some nice visual techniques straight out of a 1920s movie.

People Watch: None of the actors from this low-budget film has really made it yet. Director Andrew Leman appears as Unhelpfu; Bureaucrat. Writer Sean Branney appears as Pub Man. They would team up again as director and writer for another Lovecraft adaptation, The Whisperer in Darkness (2011).