The Haunted Palace

The Haunted Palace is a 1963 horror film released by American International Pictures, starring Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr. and Debra Paget (in her final film), in a story about a village held in the grip of a dead necromancer. 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.

The Haunted Palace
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byRoger Corman
Produced bySamuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
Roger Corman
Screenplay byCharles Beaumont
Based onThe Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft
StarringVincent Price
Debra Paget
Lon Chaney Jr.
Music byRonald Stein
CinematographyFloyd Crosby
Edited byRonald Sinclair
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
August 28, 1963
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,200,000 (US/ Canada)[1]
184,700 admissions (France)[2]

Although marketed as "Edgar Allan 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 the 6-stanza poem by Poe, published in 1839 (which was later incorporated into Poe's horror short story "The Fall of the House of Usher"), and the film uses eight lines from the poem within the framing of the story.


In 1765, the inhabitants of Arkham, Massachusetts, are suspicious of the strange phenomena surrounding the grand "palace" that overlooks the town. They suspect the palace's owner, Joseph Curwen, is a warlock.

A young girl wanders up to the palace in a trance-like state. She is led by Curwen and his mistress, Hester, down into the dungeons. The girl is subjected to a strange ritual, in which an unseen creature rises up from a covered pit. The townspeople observe the girl wandering off, and they storm the palace to confront its owner. Though the girl appears unharmed, the townspeople surmise that she has been bewitched to forget what happened to her. They drag Curwen out to a tree where they intend to burn him. The mob leader, Ezra Weeden, insists that they do not harm Hester (to whom he had been previously engaged to marry). Before being burned alive, Curwen puts a curse on Arkham and its inhabitants and their descendants, promising to rise from the grave to take his revenge.

In 1875, 110 years later, Curwen's great-great-grandson, Charles Dexter Ward, and his wife Anne arrive in Arkham after inheriting the palace. They find the townsfolk hostile towards them and are disturbed by the horrific deformities that afflict many of Arkham's inhabitants. Charles is surprised by how well he seems to know the palace and struck by his strong resemblance to a portrait of Curwen. He and Anne meet Simon, the palace caretaker, who persuades them to stay at the palace and to forget the townspeople's hostility. 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, Marinus Willet. He explains the circumstances surrounding Curwen's death, and that the townspeople blame the deformities on the curse. He tells them of a black magic book, the Necronomicon, believed to have been in Curwen's possession, and which Curwen used to summon the Elder Gods Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. Curwen's plan was to mate mortal women with these beings in order to create a race of super-humans, which led to the deformities. The townspeople are terrified that Curwen has come back in the form of Charles to seek his revenge. Dr. Willet advises Charles and Anne to leave the town.

Charles seems to be falling under the control of something and insists that they stay in Arkham. One night, Charles is possessed by the spirit of Joseph Curwen. Curwen reunites with two other warlocks, Simon and Jabez, who also have possessed their descendants. They make plans to continue their work and resurrect Hester. Curwen's hold on Charles is limited, and he tells Simon and Jabez that Charles is fighting him.

Curwen begins his revenge on the descendants. He kills Ezra Weeden's descendant Edgar by releasing Weeden's monstrously deformed son from his locked room and attacks Micah Smith's descendant Peter with fire. Curwen takes complete control of Charles and he attempts to rape Anne. Anne seeks help from Dr. Willet, whom Curwen then attempts to persuade that Anne is insane. Curwen and his associates succeed in resurrecting Hester.

The townspeople discover Peter Smith's charred corpse and storm the palace. Dr. Willet and Anne try to rescue Charles and discover a secret entrance to the dungeons. They are ambushed by Curwen, Simon, Jabez, and Hester. Anne is offered as a mate to the creature in the pit, while the residents break in and begin to raze the palace. The portrait of Curwen is destroyed, breaking Curwen's hold over Charles. Charles releases Anne, then urges Dr. Willet to take her away from the palace. While Curwen's associates seize Charles, Dr. Willet shepherds Anne from the burning palace. He returns to rescue Charles, and finds that Simon, Jabez, and Hester have escaped and left him to die. Charles and Willet barely escape the flames. Charles and Anne fervently thank Willet for saving their lives. However, it is apparent that Joseph Curwen still inhabits Charles' body.


Production notes

After the 18th-century portion of the story, Vincent Price recites lines 41 through 44 of the final stanza of the eponymous poem: "And travelers now within that valley though the red-litten windows see vast forms that move fantastically to a discordant melody," and the film ends with lines 45 through 48: "...While, like a ghastly rapid river, through the pale door, a hideous throng rush out forever and laugh - But smile no more."

Producer and director Roger Corman, best known for his Poe horror film series for American International Pictures, wanted to do something different with The Haunted Palace and selected a Lovecraft story. AIP changed the film's name, against Corman's wishes, to suggest continuity with the popular Poe series. The only connection the film has with the Poe poem are two brief quotes read by Price. The credits misspell the author of the poem as by "Edgar Allen Poe"; in Corman's other Poe films, the author's middle name is spelled correctly.

The film paired Price with Debra Paget and Lon Chaney Jr.; Paget retired from acting following completion of the film, and Chaney, famous for playing The Wolf Man, made only this one appearance in a Corman film. He had co-starred with Price in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein fifteen years earlier, but they didn't share any scenes; Price's participation was a voiceover role (as The Invisible Man) and he never appeared on-screen. Chaney's role in The Haunted Palace was originally meant to be played by Boris Karloff, but Karloff had contracted an illness while making Black Sabbath in Italy.[3]

The set for the village of Arkham was quite small, and used forced perspective to appear larger. Both the front of the palace and the underground dungeon later appeared in Corman's The Terror, which was shot on sets from other AIP films.

Francis Ford Coppola provided additional dialogue for the film.

Clips from The Haunted Palace are among the stock footage from various Corman features used for the Vincent Price film Madhouse (1974), in which Price plays a horror film actor. The clips are presented as the early work of Price's character.

Critical reaction

In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write: "The Haunted Palace is a seminal film for Lovecraft lovers; it is the first major motion picture to introduce [Lovecraft's] creation[s] – the Necronomicon, and those cosmic abominations Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth – to a general audience. [Lovecraft's] obsession with the past is clearly presented, and in a heartfelt passage at the end of the film, so is his belief that mankind is a minor species adrift in a malevolent universe. The film strikes a good balance between narrative and action, and Vincent Price is, well, priceless as Ward/Curwen. The supporting cast is solid and the art direction by Daniel Haller is really quite good for such a low-budget film. Roger Corman did an admirable job as the first American feature-film director to stake out some cinematic high ground for the cosmos-crushing adaptations of [H. P. Lovecraft] to follow."[4]

See also


  1. "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  3. Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p206
  4. Migliore, Andrew; Strysik, John (February 1, 2006). Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft. Night Shade Books. ISBN 978-1892389350.
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