A superbly rich disc that contains a number of skin-crawling delights
Haunted Palace Film Review
The superstitious folk of Arkham have much to trouble them.Their ancestors burned a warlock to death over a century ago for practising foul deeds in the titular edifice, and now it looks as though the defiant curse he condemned them with is about to come true. The sorcerer’s great grandson, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) has come to claim his inheritance of the haunted palace, and swiftly falls under the evil thrall of his grave-defying predecessor. His wife, played by the gorgeous Debra Paget, sees these sinister changes in his personality but is powerless to intervene as Charles becomes utterly possessed, and ever-more determined to continue the previously aborted rituals to bring forth the Elder Gods. Roger Corman’s gothic fantasy marries the inspired lunacies of Lovecraft to the paranoid mechanics of Poe in another of his inordinately atmospheric chillers for AIP.The Haunted Palace boasts lavish photography which serenades swirling mists, torch-bearing mobs, eerie streets and dark passages. Ghastly mutants gad about in the fog. Something ancient and despicable resides in a subterranean pit. Revenge fills the air. That most infamous of grimoires, the Necronomicon, entices ill-tidings and dread. And, above it all, Price leers, sneers and revels in that decadent and debauched brand of wickedness over which he reigned supreme. Chilling support comes in the form of the hate-filled Leo Gordon, the bug-eyed Elisha Cook Jr. and a hulking, cadaverous Lon Chaney Jr. Often overshadowed by his pantheon of Poe-etica, Corman’s Lovecraftian pact is a splendidly twisted slice of brooding, serpentine menace.
Blu-ray Picture QualityStarting on a technical note, Arrow’s UK Blu-ray has no erroneous digital tampering to blight it. The AVC-encoded 2.35:1 image showcases Corman’s sets with a fine level of detail, very pleasing depth and exhibits the sort of wear and tear that only adds to the film’s distinctly vintage charm. Contrast fluttering emanates from the left-hand corners of the frame, and the odd pop and fleck crops up here and there, but there is nothing to diminish the ghostly veneer of the cinematography. Grain looks intact, consistent and natural. Edges are smooth and unsharpened. Noise reduction does not pose any problem.
Even though Corman was working with Floyd Crosby, his regular Poe DoP, and Daniel Haller, his esteemed art director, he wanted Palace to have a different look from the other pictures. Thus, whilst the camerawork carries on the dexterous fashion of deep-focus and luxurious widescreen imagery, and revels in immaculate compositions of characters moving through lushly decadent sets draped with rainbow shadows, the gaudy palette of those other entries has been considerably toned down. Replacing the vibrant primaries and deep saturation with swirling grey mists, sullen and spectral midnight shades does the trick expertly, and renders Palace with a far more sepulchral lustre.
The transfer may not reveal an image as decorative and colourful as the likes of Masque of the Red Death, The Raven or The House of Usher, but it lacks nothing in terms of suspicious shadowy menace and decaying, corrupted spatiality. There is a genuine sense of the haunted seas infiltrating the coastal town with tinges of sickly green smothering the visages of the denizens pervading the gloomy fog. Poor Lon Chaney Jnr, no stranger to the makeup chair already, has to suffer some of the most ghastly, putrescent facial slap, and this decayed, swampy pallor seems to infiltrate the surroundings at times, bolstering the creepiness.
Where primary colours are permitted to intrude, they can be startling.
Where primary colours are permitted to intrude, they can be startling. As you would expect, red is gleefully incorporated, as is flickering orange for the frequent flames that illustrate the story, from candles to inferno. The vivid red of the title credits also drip moody eloquence. Blues fare reasonably well, too. But the wispy grey tendrils of mist and the barren stonework (actually polystyrene and wood) can tend to merge, conspiring to make this picture much cooler and more dismal than the conventional Corman of the period. There is no smearing or banding going on.
There is obviously a lot of shadow-play in the film, and the transfer aids their spooky screen coverage with a pretty fair amount of depth and solidity. Naturally, some of the darker portions of the frame can fluctuate in density, but this in no way hampers the mood or look of the film, which gains lots of atmosphere as a direct result of such swathes of grimness. No details are lost within these shadows either, and contrast, barring age-related tribulations to the print, does well. Detail, on the whole, is very good. Don’t be fooled by the film’s grey, withered palette and often anaemic visual schematic – there is lots of finite detail in the props and set design.
To be honest, the clarity afforded the deformed faces and limbs of the town’s hidden population doesn’t do the makeup any favours. And the scenic matte paintings and backdrops stand out a mile. None of this is detrimental to the enjoyment of the film, though... and probably only adds to its kooky gothic ambience. The image is stable, with the only wobbles courtesy of Crosby’s camera lurching in its attempt to traverse some of the more audacious and elaborate of movements. In all, this is a great transfer of a film that tends to savour its time in the murk and the shadows.
Blu-ray Sound QualityArrow presents The Haunted Palace with a mono PCM track. Sadly, I found the sound to be a little underwhelming. Obviously we have to take into consideration the age of the audio elements and the relative limitations of the time. But, even so, with the film feeling very operatic and visually immersive, it does, therefore, seem something of a shame that the dialogue and the fantastic score from Ronald Stein come across as sounding rather flat and hollow.
Some would argue that this foreboding music is a little too over-the-top for the sequences it supports anyway, and although I love it as a standalone symphony of dementia, I would tend to agree. So perhaps keeping a lid on it is for the best? The main title theme, so full of fateful dread and lyrical melancholy, struggles to gain some pervasive presence, but is at least partially successful. And this typifies the rather harsh sound of the more bombastic moments in the movie. The track feels quite strained with regards to such shrill elements of screaming, shouting and the copious musical stingers, and loses detail within.
All this said, the dialogue from Leo Gordon as the reproachful and demonstrative Weeden (in both his incarnations a century apart) actually comes over really well. His uniquely brusque voice just cannot be tinned, it appears. This isn’t a track of subtleties. Footsteps, some chain rattling and the whooshing of wind and the crackle of thunder and lightning make some degree of impact. But still feels all a tad too subdued. Still, this has to be authentic, and that should be applauded.
Blu-ray ExtrasAlready released as part of Arrow’s Six Gothic tales collection, and also featured in Scream’s US volume 1 boxset of Vincent Price features, this standalone edition features a fine, though hardly definitive selection of supplements. Personally, I wish the two commentaries from the US disc had been incorporated here too, but the UK gets the 24-page booklet, the reversible sleeve and a couple of bits and bobs unique to this region. Personally, I prefer Arrow’s commissioned artwork to the original poster art.
The single commentary found here is from David Del Valle and writer Derek Botelho, and is another great example of the Price biographer bequeathing us background trivia, production detail and the sort of well-observed dissection and opinion that we have come to appreciate over the many Price/Corman releases. Botelho keenly pitches in, and the chat track is fast and illuminating. However, I think the film’s soundtrack could have been dialled down a little bit more as it began to intrude at times.
Possibly the best feature here is the half-hour overview that Kim Newman delivers. In this piece entitled Kim Newman on H. P. Lovecraft, critic and author Newman assesses the influences that, once blended together, created the first fully acknowledged movie adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft. He describes both authors, Poe and Lovecraft, the Corman gothic film series and the cultural impact that the Cthulhu Mythos had in terms of the literary, filmic and cult appreciation that it eventually spawned. I love listening to Kim Newman and could happily sit and talk genre with him until the Elder Gods finally return to crush our ramblings.
Corman has his say about the production in A Change of Poe. The marketing of the film as part of the successful Poe cycle is discussed, as is the script cleanup by a young Francis Ford Coppola. As always, Corman is warm, engaging and entertaining. There is also a Stills and Poster Gallery, as well as the film’s original theatrical trailer. Quite nicely, Arrow has also added the film’s score and FX on an isolated track. Ronald Stein’s heavy, brooding score is terrific, even if it actually seems to slow the film’s already funeral pace down even further.
The Haunted Palace Blu-ray VerdictIt may not be hailed as highly as its gothic brethren in Corman’s celebrated canon, but 1963’s The Haunted Palace is definitely a visually sublime and redoubtably atmospheric offering that certainly stands on its own Eldridge-scented and webbed feet. The way that screenwriter Charlie Beaumont integrated Poe’s original “Haunted Palace” poem into a dark and sinister Lovecraftian embrace is uncannily well crafted and, come the end of the day, it matters not a jot that Corman’s production becomes a melange of the moods and themes of the two renowned literary fabulists. The fit is neat and enjoyably sinuous. And deliciously dark.
By this time of course, Price could do this sort of thing in his sleep if he wanted to. But the performer always delivered more than the written page gave him, and in this dual role of vengeful warlock and hapless host he brings his customary aristocratic leanings to bear with full force. Woe begotten, aloof and vulnerable as Charles Dexter, and regally sadistic as Joseph Curwen, Price has a ball swooning and simpering over Debra Paget one minute and sneering vile curses and demonic beseeching the next.
On the downside, though, the film, not unlike Lovecraft’s prose itself, can be a little ponderous and somewhat laboured. Its moody longeurs are all build-up, with only a few choice instances of outright shock value... quite amusingly courtesy of Lon Chaney’s zombie-like retainer. Certain characters suddenly vanish come the Universal-style finale, leaving a note of indecision and haste, indicating a lack of vision to really see the project through satisfactorily. Possibly a rush to get the film in the can for AIP, despite even Corman’s famously swift turnaround.
Definitely a visually sublime and redoubtably atmospheric offering.
Arrow presents the film with a fine transfer that perfectly captures Floyd Crosby’s gliding photography and always with an on Daniel Haller’s exquisite sets. The extras are nice selection too. Cruelly overlooked and often thought of as Corman’s gothic ugly duckling, The Haunted Palace is superbly rich with inky malevolence and contains a number of skin-crawling delights.
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