The Haunted Palace ★★★½

[tw: rape mention]

I am an absolute fanatic for the Corman Poe movies. And I'm basically in love with Vincent Price. The other reviews here already get to the heart of the appeal: endless rolling fog, eerie graveyards, ancient castles, dungeons, secret passages, seaside mutantry, demonic incantations, witchery, deaths by fire, possession, devilish storms, those eerie portraits.

These aspects alone, when coupled with the creepy performances of Price and Chaney, have as unique an effect and power as any in cinema. For me, the best part (next to Price), is Daniel Haller's opulent set design. There's nothing like it and the atmosphere it brings. On my BD, Price mentions how this one was filmed entirely on sets, explaining how they deliberately attempted to make the outdoors feel claustrophobic and the interiors uneasily spacious and large. And they succeed beautifully. When you want secret passages and creepy castles, you could do worse than to turn to Corman and Daniel Haller. They hold a special power over me.

For all that's belovedly familiar, this one takes a bit of a different cast than the other Poe films. The colors are noticeably subdued (none of the technicolor brilliance of Masque's rainbow rooms), for one, and Price plays one of his vilest villains. Unlike his characters in the Poe films, there's nothing much to sympathize with in Curwen. I feel like the Lovecraftian elements temper this tone, as it seems to diverge from the Poe films most in its more direct menace. Curwen is an evil necromancer whose side activities include setting people on fire, psionic possession, grave digging, and assaulting women. Those are only the things he does for "amusement" -- to reiterate the point. His real project is forcefully breeding outer gods with human women in horrific sacrificial rituals to in hopes of birthing his deities into the human world so they can enslave or destroy it. Most chillingly, he doesn't truly know or care why he's doing it or what the consequences will be. He simply "obeys." He's as selfishly, malevolently drunk on power as any villain I've seen. He's not a good man. Upping the icky factor is that Curwen is essentially orchestrating the rapes of women by evil god-monsters. And while that fact remains between the lines, it is even more uncomfortably echoed when he attempts to assault Ann. Definitely one of Price's least likeable characters. With nothing of the tortured nature of Roderick Usher or Medina or even the ghoulish Satan-worshiping charisma of Prospero. This role seems to foreshadow the even grimmer Witchfinder General.

It does make me wish Corman had done more Lovecraftian films. It's a treat hearing the Doctor intone the names of Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. And the monster in the grate is delightfully psychedelic. It would have been wonderful to see these taken to a true Lovecraftian climax and revelation. Daniel Haller will pick up this strain and amplify it with a much more likeable villain in The Dunwich Horror (another favorite of mine). And Die, Monster, Die! could almost be a direct continuation of this strain of AIP horror, also being based on Lovecraft, with rotting castles and psychdelic monsters in abundance. But it's a shame we couldn't get more of Price doing Lovecraft. That would really have been something.

Ultimately, this one might push my buttons just a little too much with the ickiness to be a cold favorite, but it's still a treat with Price, Chaney, and the vastly underrated work of Daniel Haller going full bore throughout. And it's a good lead-in if you decide to check out either of Haller's flicks.

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