Wednesday, January 5, 2011

HP Lovecraft Review #1: The Haunted Palace

So, hey, folks, RBY speaking. Just a quick introduction. My little series examines films claiming to be adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft's works and tries to evaluate them as an adaptation and as a film - after all, just because something's a poor adaptation doesn't make it a bad film. Not everyone will know the story it's trying to adapt and thus will have no expectations.

I admit, this is my first-ever review. Constructive criticism is much appreciated, and any feedback is much beloved. Thanks for supporting Kriken, and, in advance, thanks for giving me the time of day.

The Haunted Palace - a 1960s movie named after Edgar Allen Poe's poem but claiming to also be based on H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'. For those who aren't aware, it was part of a series by the American International Pictures showcasing Poe's work - the title was their idea and was chosen against the director's wishes. For MST3K fans, I'm going to drop a name that might make you groan: Roger Corman. Yes, he directed this film. Before you go, though, you ought to know the star: Vincent Price. I'll be honest, before this film, I never saw Price's acting. Now... Well, I'll tell you after the summary. Spoilers ahoy.

The movie opens with credits over a spider spinning its web and catching a butterfly to eat it. Anyone who's read the book this movie is based on can see that it could be apt symbolism for the actual story; anyone just watching the movie may get a little lost.

After these credits is a cut to the 1700s (I assume), showing Vincent Price as Joseph Curwen, kidnapping a young woman for his experiments (aka forced to mate with Elder Gods. Dead serious). He is then caught and burned alive by a mob. 110 years later, Charles Ward and his wife (!) Ann arrive in the town of Arkham to claim Charles' great-great-grandfather's palace as part of a mysterious inheritance. Neither intend to stay long, due to the palace's creepy feel, the mutated humans running around as a result of Curwen's experimentation, and the unfriendly residents who note Charles' uncanny resemblance to Curwen. However, the housekeeper Simon persuades them to stay long enough for Curwen to start possessing his descendant. Charles soon becomes unable to leave the house, with the townspeople growing suspicious of him. Curwen starts getting revenge on the descendants of the townspeople who killed him, aided by Simon and another old assistant, Jebidiah.

Finally, Charles makes one last attempt to leave but fails, with Curwen sending Ann away in Willet's care. Both soon return in hopes of saving Charles from the town and from his ancestor's grasp. While the two search the palace for Charles, eventually stumbling across his not-so-well-hidden laboratory, the townspeople form a mob and set the palace on fire. Curwen captures Ann and intends to subject her to his 'experimentation', restraining Willet; however, when the fire above destroys the portrait of Curwen, Charles breaks free to save Ann. Simon and Jebidiah attack Charles while Willet gets Ann out of the burning palace. He then goes back and pulls out Charles as well, with the implication at the end being that Charles is still possessed by Curwen.

As an adaptation of 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward', this movie fails. The setting is wrong: the big issue being that there was never a palace, though the lab isn't as secretive nor as well-hidden as it should have been. The characters are wrong: two major examples are that Charles was a bookish awkward teen interested in history, with Dr. Willet as the family physician (and thus having a reason to care so much about Charles). The plot is wrong: Curwen's plans never directly involved the Elder Gods, and what he actually did to Charles is possibly more disturbing than the demonic possession presented in the movie. The worst sin of all, though, is the treatment of Curwen: in the book, everything he did was so awful, so gruesome, that the town struck him nearly entirely out of history, and it was only through Charles' best efforts he found anything at all. In the movie, the whole town knows about Curwen, even naming a tavern to reference his fate, but still try to act like he wasn't a person. Sorry, townsfolk (and movie), but that I can't excuse by any means.

Now, to be fair to this film, it wasn't all bad. Sure, most of the actors are average, at best, with the exception of Vincent Price. I will say this once, Vincent Price turns this from an awful adaptation into a pretty decent B-movie. The effects are cheesy, the climax far too rushed, certain characters are not worth their screentime, and the plot missed the point of the book it was supposed to be based on, but the music isn't bad and, again, Vincent Price. Honestly, if the movie had just been 'inspired by' the novel, and the names were changed, it would significantly improve this flick for Lovecraft fans.

Overall: Lovecraft fans, don't bother unless you can not take it seriously. Non-Lovecraft fans, it may be Corman, but it's at least worth a look via renting or Youtube.

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