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.

Lon Chaney Jr. – Horror Movie Month

Creighton Chaney had a really tough cross to bear. His father Lon Chaney was one of the most famous actors of the silent screen and was a whiz with makeup and prosthetics. Lon Chaney is best remembered for the title roles of The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although born to show business, Creighton didn’t begin appearing in films until after his father’s death in 1930.

He appeared in bit parts until Of Mice and Men (1939) where he did an excellent job of portraying Lennie. His signature horror role came in 1941 with The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man (1941) – Not rated

After teasing his friends for believing in werewolves, Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) is promptly bitten by a rabid wolf and faints. Horror superstars share the screen when Larry wakes to find a gypsy (Bela Lugosi) who moonlights as a werewolf. Cursed by the werewolf’s bite, Larry suffers torturous full-moon transformations and tries to escape the townsfolk who hunt him. Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy also grace this classic B movie.

Lon Chaney Jr. was not a very good actor but he did excel at portraying depressed-types. He is wonderful as the doomed Lawrence Talbot and would reprise this role repeatedly (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein).

He has a wonderful supporting cast and of course incredible makeup by Jack Pierce. Bela Lugosi has a small but integral role and the delightful Maria Ouspenskaya plays the gypsy fortune teller. Universal stalwarts Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers round out the cast.

The Mummy’s Curse (1944) – Not rated

When a crew sent by high priest Zandaab (Peter Coe) of Arkam and his servant, Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), unearths the bodies of Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) in a Southern bayou, the bandaged monsters start destroying everything in their path. Leslie Goodwins directs this chiller; Kay Harding, Kurt Katch, Addison Richards, Holmes Herbert and Dennis Moore co-star.

Universal puts some good atmosphere into their horror movies and the Mummy series is no exception but only the Karloff original is classic. The Mummy’s Curse has Lon Chaney Jr. as the slow-shuffling, easily escapable Kharis the Mummy. Fun but highly forgettable.

 

The Black Sleep (1956) – Not rated

Three titans of the horror genre make appearances in this grisly period piece about a young doctor on the verge of being wrongfully executed for murder. Enter Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone), who gives the condemned man a drug that induces the appearance of death. Once the ruse works, the body is handed over to Cadman, who has his own sick plans for the still-living man. The high-caliber cast includes Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi.

For a Lon Chaney Jr. or Bela Lugosi film this is a big disappointment. Both feature prominently on the poster but neither has much screen time and essentially no dialogue. Still it’s the last film Lugosi completed and it stars Basil Rathbone who has plenty of screen time. John Carradine has a goofy guest spot and Akim Tamiroff is quite humorous as well. Look for noted Ed Wood veteran Tor Johnson as well.

If you are a fan of the above cast then this is a fun watch and a good pick as the film is only available on DVD-R through MGM’s on-demand program.

Spider Baby

Poor Lon Chaney Jr. was never fully able to step out of his father’s shadow. He acted in Hollywood for many years under his given name of Creighton (he wasn’t actually a Jr.) and gave a marvelous performance as Lennie in Of Mice and Men (1939). Throughout the 30s, he steered clear of the genre pictures his father had been famous for. In 1941, he starred in Man Made Monster and in the role he would forever be associated with – The Wolf Man. From that point on he would either be billed as Lon Chaney Jr. or just Lon Chaney.

Spider Baby

WATCH: Spider Baby (1964) – “The last of the Merrye clan afflicted with a degenerative brain disease that’s turned them into bloodthirsty savages live in a tumbledown mansion, spinning a homicidal web and carving up those unlucky enough to cross their paths. Meanwhile, loyal family chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) covers their tracks. Trouble arrives in the form of two conniving cousins and their unctuous lawyer, who decide to spend the night … and come to regret it.”

The 60s were a time of experimentation for horror movies. Hammer studios and AIP discovered that people really enjoyed seeing period horror in lavish color. Other films laid the groundwork for today’s horror genre. Try watching Jack Hill’s Spider Baby – made in 1964 but not released until 1968 – and not think of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) even though they are completely different in tone. Jack Hill wrote and directed this cult film. Lon Chaney gives a nice low-key performance that helps ground the rest of the oddball family. The two creepy young sisters are wonderful as is a young Sid Haig. While this is a horror film about, among other things, cannibalism – something not talked about at the time, the whole tone of the film seems whimsical. Lon Chaney Jr. even sings the theme song. While not great, this movie is a lot of fun.

AVOID: Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) – Unfortunately this truly dreadful piece of trash was both Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish’s last film. This is really only watchable as a train wreck. Director Al Adamson originally envisioned it as a sequel to Satan’s Sadists so you have bikers who appear and disappear throughout the film. In fact it looks like this is a mix of just about every possible late 60s/early 70s genre except science fiction (yes there is an LSD trip and a musical number). Superfan Forrest J. Ackerman (Famous Monsters of Filmland) has a small role as Dr. Beaumont.