Sunday, 29 November 2015

Random Paperbacks:
The Inquisitor:
Last Rites For The Vulture
by Simon Quinn
(Dell, 1975)

Until I randomly pulled this one off the shelf in a branch of Oxfam last weekend, I was entirely unfamiliar with Dell’s ‘Inquisitor’ series of books. Nonetheless, regular readers will appreciate that it took all of 0.5 seconds for me to decide that it was coming home with me, even if I had to fight someone for the privilege of ownership. (Thankfully I didn’t.)

Reading the back & interior cover blurb as I queued at the counter to pay made me all the more excited to get stuck into the extraordinary bit of gutter pulp lunacy I had apparently unearthed, but, I’m sad to report, a quick skim read on the bus home proved slightly underwhelming.

Despite the blatant horror / witch-smut come-ons of the cover and the papal evil-hunting nature of it’s protagonist, ‘Last Rites of the Vulture’ is a more or less generic globe-trotting, Bond-esque action adventure story, very much in line with other mid/late ‘70s ‘action’ series like the ‘Enforcer’ or ‘Destroyer’ books. There are plentiful exotic locales, daring crimes, gratuitous pop history info-dumps and cartoon tough guy antics... but very little hint of any supernatural/ or occult elements, insofar as I could tell. Oh well.

Then again though, it certainly has its moments. The following extract comes from chapter # 7:


“She sat up while he pushed on the door. It didn’t occur to him that they could simply dive off the trunk. As soon as he did manage to shove the door open, fifty pounds of water rushed in, and a dark form seized his pants. Killy pulled the door tight and pulled his leg back as far as he could.

‘It’s a shark, isn’t it?’ he asked Alexandra with disgust.

‘Yes.’ She squinted into the water. ‘The whole place is full of them, especially in the cannery when they dump the fish tails. They’ve probably been circling us ever since we landed.’

‘Jesus Christ, sex on the brain, and a shark on my leg.’

‘You’re lucky, he’s a small one, push him out.’

‘You push him out.’

‘He’s your shark.’

‘Look, get the bottle. We didn’t lose the bottle, did we?’

She fished the tequila bottle from the back, carefully making sure the cap was tight.

‘Oh good’ – he applauded her – ‘we don’t want to lose any of that.’

The thing on his leg began wrestling with his pants. Its head came out of the water, showing a saucer-shaped mouth full of teeth and eyes on long gray bars that extended from the head.

‘Great, a hammerhead shark. How the hell do you push a hammerhead shark out a car door?’

‘Hit him between the eyes. That shouldn’t be so hard,’ she giggled.

He pulled his leg up. He hit his ankle first, but his second swing scored where Alexandra had suggested. As soon as his leg was free, Killy grabbed her and rolled over the seat in to the back of the car.

‘I thought you were going to throw him out,’ she complained.

‘He wants to come in, let him come in.’

‘Oh well, the tide’ll go out in the morning. We’re stuck here until then.’

‘We’re not stuck, I saved the bottle.’

She sighed, smiled, and opened her arms for him.”


Shortly thereafter, Chapter # 9 begins with the sentence “He woke up still inside her.”.

There are no words.

A few seconds of googling reveals that ‘Simon Quinn’ was a pseudonym of American writer Martin Cruz Smith, who went on to slightly more legitimate acclaim after his novel ‘Gorky Park’ was published in 1981. Be warned: trying to square the inebriated, shark-punching mayhem outlined above with the photo on the author’s wikipedia page is quite a trip.

Monday, 23 November 2015

This Month’s Zatoichi:
Zatoichi’s Cane Sword
(Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1967)

As regular readers will no doubt have noticed, I’ve fallen off the wagon somewhat with my monthly Zatoichi reviews this year; partly a result of unavoidable busy-ness, but to be honest, the last few uninspiring installments in the series have not really inspired me to get a move on either. If I’d kept to schedule, we should really be finishing up this series in about February or March 2016, but as it stands at the moment, we’ve still got ten movies to go. So, buckle up – it’s time once again to hit the dusty streets of some beatific Edo Period backwater, and I promise that this time, I won’t keep you long.

Film # 15, Zatoichi Tekka Tabi (‘Zatoichi’s Cane Sword’), released in Japanese cinemas in January 1967, marks an important sea-change in the Zatoichi series, being the last installment directly produced by Daiei studios. One of the biggest players in Japan’s post-war studio system, Daiei did at least continue to distribute the next few Zatoichi films after Shintaro Katsu took the series under the wing of his newly established Katsu Productions, but one assumes that the gradual loss of revenue from their biggest cash-cow inevitably took its toll on the struggling studio, whose slate of period melodramas and traditional/folk entertainments must have been looking increasingly old-fashioned by the late ‘60s, contributing to Daiei’s declaration of bankruptcy in 1971.

As the last blind swordsman adventure before this (arguably quite timely) changing of the guards, one might well expect ‘Zatoichi’s Cane Sword’ to be a rather underwhelming affair, but, happily, it’s actually a rather energetic and enjoyable entry – perhaps even a slightly great one.

Having said that though, I confess I watched it without taking notes, and couldn’t really come up with a great deal to say about it, so we’ll keep this review short.

Basically: there is little about ‘Zaotichi’s Cane Sword’ to really set it apart from the rest of the series. All the the things we have come to expect by this point are present and correct, and all are run through with a fair amount of good natured gusto. Once again, there is a picturesque small town under the heel of a craven yakuza boss and corrupt politician. There are sympathetic local characters in need of help, hospitable local inns and wilful young ladies in beautiful kimonos, along with assorted thugs, goons and moody wondering ronin. There are inventive set-ups for altercations at gambling houses, sword tricks, duels and chaotic battles, and plenty of intrigue and eccentricity along the way.

Director Yasuda proves deft at wrangling these familiar elements into a movie that is colourful, fast-moving and about as ‘upbeat’ as can reasonably be asked of a story that features a large number of people getting slaughtered in sword-fights. There is even a bit in which Ichi inexplicably performs a strange musical comedy routine about duck hunting to a small crowd of other characters; a diversion that will perhaps make more sense to those familiar with obscurer traditions of Japanese folk entertainment than it did to us.

What the film lacks though, at least for those of us who have made it through the preceding Zatoichi adventures, is a sense of anything remotely innovative, challenging or note-worthy - but it’s all such fun that it’s hard to hold that against it really.

Probably the most memorable story element this time around involves Ichi’s encounter with a master swordsmith (played by Eijirô Tono, a familiar face to anyone who recalls Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’). Now effectively retired (reduced to crafting the occasional hoe or pick-axe, by his own admission), this chap is actually the son and protégé of the legendary smith who forged Zaotichi’s own blade no less, and, when he asks if he can have a look at this singular example of his father’s workmanship, he has bad news for our hero.

After years spent dispensing a quantity of carnage equivalent to that of a small army, Ichi’s blade is in a perilous state. The swordsmith identifies a hairline crack within the metal, meaning it will be good for only one or two more strikes before it shears in two. Disheartened, Ichi temporarily leaves his sword at his new friend’s workshop, only later returning to reclaim it when his tussles with the local goons begin to get hairy. Meanwhile however, the film’s bad guys have also been putting pressure on the noble swordsmith, forcing him against his will to secretly complete work on a pristine new masterpiece blade for their villainous boss…. and if you can’t immediately figure out how this plot line is going to resolve itself in the final showdown, well, maybe you’ll enjoy ‘Zatoichi’s Cane Sword’ even more than I did.

I hope readers won’t think I’ve done this particular installment an injustice by turning in such a brief review. As I say, I enjoyed it a great deal. In fact it is a nigh-on perfect example of the finely tuned mass entertainments at which Japan’s creative industries excelled through the mid 20th century – exquisitely crafted, visually enthralling, effortlessly entertaining, and entirely disposable to the extent that there is basically very little to say about it to an audience already familiar with the general pattern of such stories.

Perhaps the whole ‘new blade’ storyline could be read as a coded reference to the new production regime that was on the verge of taking over the by now venerable series, but possibly that’s just overthinking things. Either way, ‘..Cane Sword’ certainly makes the grade as a worthy and affirmative farewell to Zatoichi’s Daiei years, and I look forward to discovering what new twists were added to the formula once Katsu himself took the helm from Film # 16 onwards.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Gothic Originals:
Nightmare Castle
(Mario Caiano, 1965)

BY-NOW-FAMILIAR VIEWING NOTE: Although the review below was written with reference to Severin’s recent blu-ray edition of ‘Nightmare Castle’, the screen shots above are fairly obviously NOT taken from that disc. They are sourced instead from the truly dreadful public domain DVD of the film I owned prior to that. Apologies for any alarm or bitter tears of rage caused by this, but I’m unlikely to acquire a blu-ray equipped computer any time soon, so whatcha gonna do?

The penultimate entry in the loose cycle of horror films Barbara Steele made in Italy between 1960 and 1966, Mario Caiano’s ‘Nightmare Castle’ provides one of the wildest, but also the most frustrating, of the Steele-starring black & white gothics.

An oddly off-kilter movie in any of its assorted iterations, the film’s scattershot script (credited to Caiano and Fabio De Agostini) mixes up more horror movie plot elements than frankly seems sensible, but never bothers to sufficiently develop any of them (never mind reconciling them into a cohesive narrative), instead relying entirely upon audience familiarity with the clichés being enacted to fill in the gaps. Classic Italian scripting then, in other words. Molto buono!

So, get this for plot line: Dr Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller), a saturnine scientist involved in questionable and secretive experiments involving frogs, bubbling test tubes and exotic plants, catches his aristocratic wife (Steele, of course) in an adulterous greenhouse embrace with the hunky gardener (spaghetti western regular Rik Battaglia). Crazed with jealousy, the good doctor vows to torture the lovers to death, making use of the castle’s conveniently appointed medieval dungeon in the process, only to discover in the midst of his gloating that his wife, “..upon realising what a vile, perverted monster [she] had married”, has already disinherited him, instead leaving her estate and fortune to her “simpering idiot” twin sister Jenny.

Unperturbed, Dr. A nonetheless subjects his captives to a grisly death by electrocution, after which he removes their hearts, drains their blood (for his experiments, we presume?) and burns their bodies, placing his wife’s ashes in a plant pot, from which a strange, “fleshy”, allegedly blood-dripping plant grows.

Quite how he manages to square all this with the coroner is never discussed, but presumably everything must be cool with the law, for the next thing we know, Dr Arrowsmith has revolved to retain his access to his late wife’s estate by means of seducing and marrying her ‘crazy’ sister (Steele again, now in a blonde wig) – a task he apparently manages to accomplish in short order, despite his lack of either charm or social standing, and a countenance that at best resembles that of a humanised bald eagle (sorry Paul).

To the doc’s chagrin though, Jenny actually turns out to be quite a demure and heroically-inclined young lady, who shows little sign of being either ‘simpering’ or an idiot. She is, however, still subject to the ravages of the vaguely defined ‘fragile constitution’ that has apparently plagued her family’s female lineage since time immemorial (this is demonstrated by a quick candle-lit spin through the family vault, where it is revealed that several of her forebears have died aged in their middle twenties).

As such, Dr Arrowsmith (whose name is amusingly pronounced as ‘Aerosmith’ by some of the actors on the English dub, I feel the need to point out) figures he can still drive Jenny crazy without too much difficulty via the usual methods employed by dastardly relatives in stories like this, after which he and his new lover, sullen housekeeper Solange (Helga Liné), can continue to live in the manner to which they are accustomed, with wife # 2 safely packed off to the funny farm. What they haven’t counted on however is the vengeful spirit of wife # 1, who is still very much at large on the spectral plain, causing all sorts of mischief and attempting to possess the body of her living sister!

Meanwhile, whilst all this is going on, Dr Arrowsmith has also used some miraculous rejuvenation techniques he has developed in his laboratory – presumably using wife # 1’s blood? - to return youth and beauty to the previously disfigured and decrepit Solange. But, wouldn’t you know it, now that she looks like Helga Liné again (minus the truly awful ‘aging’ make up used in earlier scenes), Solange needs regular transfusions of fresh blood to keep her pretty, and Jenny is first in line for the chloroform. (Always the way, isn’t it?)

So, there you go. Try picking the thread of sense out of that lot, if you dare.

As eventful as all this may sound on paper however, the sad truth is that the majority of ‘Nightmare Castle’s inexplicably over-extended run-time (the longest version clocks in at an eye-watering 109 minutes) remains a crushing bore. In keeping with most other aspects of the production, Caiano’s direction exhibits only intermittent bouts of inspiration and otherwise remains largely pedestrian, whilst the sheer quantity of time dedicated to watching characters yakking somberly in medium shot about stuff we have either guessed already or should by rights be seeing instead is simply inexcusable, even by the talky standards of ‘60s gothics. On top of that, the flat and careless English dubbing will likely provide the final KO for many viewers’ attention spans (I don’t currently have access to a subtitled Italian version, but I wouldn’t hold out great hope for it being much better, to be honest).

Despite all the plot threads flying around the place, the ghost story stuff – and the accompanying spooky atmospherics - is largely sidelined through the central hour of ‘Nightmare Castle’, allowing the rehashed mad science and half-baked thriller elements to predominate, sometimes threatening to revert to a tedious plod through the old “couple have a deadly secret, must murder others to preserve it” routine that would go on to become the prime motivator in dozens of subsequent Italian horror and giallo scripts. (Whilst you’d be hard pressed to call ‘Nightmare Castle’ a ‘proto-giallo’ in any sense, certain recurrent bits of plotting, together with a general vibe of predatory cynicism, certainly point in that direction.)

The film does at least benefit from a superb shooting location – the same villa used in The Horrible Dr. Hichcock I believe? – but, although we get a good eyeful of grandly baroque dining room, some derelict exteriors and an ancient-looking medieval-ish bed chamber, surprisingly little atmosphere is wrung from these surroundings in most sequences, whilst, unhelpfully, many scenes are instead confined to bare-walled corridor and lab sets.

Such persistent tedium is disappointing, given that the sheer amount of improper shenanigans going on in ‘Nightmare Castle’ does at least invest it with a pleasing air of of cynical, polymorphous perversity. Indeed, the film is not without thematic interest, and the few bone fide ‘good bits’ are real knockouts.

Early on for instance, there is an extremely effective fantasy sequence (perhaps modeled after the ones in the Corman/Poe films?), utilising a mixture of diffuse lighting and seemingly ‘damaged’ film stock that rendered it almost unintelligible on the much-degraded public domain prints that for many years represented the only way to see this film. Much aided by the pre-Eraserhead drone and magisterial organ dirges of what I think must have been one of Ennio Morricone’s first scores for a fantastical/genre film, this sequence makes for an authentically disorientating and hair-raising couple of minutes. As with the somewhat stoned scripting decisions, it’s basically a dry run for the kind of surrealistic cheap thrills that would predominate in the Erotic Castle Movies that supplanted the old fashioned gothics in the following decade, and it also busts open one of the more interesting elements of ‘Nightmare Castle’ - namely, its position as one of the more overtly Freudian Italian gothics.

After the initial ‘trauma’ of Muller’s discovery of Steele and Battaglia, the film constantly seems to want to drag us back to this ‘primal scene’ in (where else?) the greenhouse. During the (sadly all too rare) moments when ‘Nightmare Castle’s sense of reality becomes more tenuous, we seem to plunge into the subjective consciousness of the characters, as life/death, part/present, dream/reality etc all begin to implode into one swirling stew within the troubled psyche of the blonde sister, or the doctor, or of the disembodied spirit of Steele’s brunette incarnation, or some strange mixture of all three. If the film’s crude plotting and propensity for blandness ultimately never allows these potent ideas to fully manifest themselves, there is still enough meat within the stronger sequences for cinematic dreamers to get stuck into (and god knows, they’ll have plenty of time to chew it over whilst Muller, Line et al are blabbing inconsequentially on those drab sets).

Likewise, ‘Nightmare Castle’ is also one of the few early ‘60s horror films to directly address the subject of Sado-Masochism that so frequently hangs over these stories (Jess Franco’s ‘The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus’ (1962) being the only other example that immediately springs to mind). The depiction here of Arrowsmith’s torture of his wife and her lover is quite lengthy and mean-spirited, but also highly aestheticised, as if Caiano realised that Steele’s fans would get a kick out of seeing her writhing in various stage of torment whilst we are invited to share in Muller’s delighted smirking. Though not overly explicit, it’s all rather kinky to say the least, and likewise, the electrified bedframe gimmick that Arrowsmith subsequently uses to dispose of his victims – frying them in some hideous mockery of sexual embrace - seems an alarmingly unwholesome innovation for an old fashioned gothic horror, more suited really to some blood-thirsty‘70s exploitation epic.

Once Steele (brunette version) returns as an undead avenger during the film’s conclusion, these intimations of S&M are made explicit, as she says to Muller, “you gave me extreme pleasure, you taught me the pleasure of the torment of the flesh, which turns into ecstasy that passes beyond life and death and into eternity; now I’m going to reward you with that same pleasure…” – not much room for ambiguity there.

And that brings us to the main reason why it’s worth sitting through catatonic drag of ‘Nightmare Castle’s director’s cut – namely, the fact that the movie’s closing reel is flat-out fantastic. Suddenly, the camera spins, the castle’s ornate interiors become vast, shadow-haunted and oppressive, and, as thunder roars and Ennio goes nuts on the organ, the film fully embraces the kind of maniacal atmosphere that has been so sadly lacking up to this point, as the bodies of Steele and her lover arise as avenging, acid-scarred zombies (you what!?) for a brief but exhilarating campaign of baleful carnage.

Steele is magnificent here, her performance dripping menace. Her initial appearance from the deep blackness of a castle hallway, the left side of her face covered by hair, has a quite haunting, genuinely spectral feel to it, and, once she reveals her scarred face and gets down to business vis-a-vis giving Muller what for, she just goes all out – guffawing and hissing and growing in wonderfully unhinged, scenery-shredding fashion. Tremendous stuff.

Belatedly introduced during this final fifteen minutes, her family’s ‘twin hearts’ coat of arms, ironically mirrored by the hearts of the two lovers that Arrowsmith has kept impaled on the same spike in his lab, makes for a great horror movie motif, with the closing image of the hearts consumed by flames providing an effective – if not exactly subtle – commentary on the petty cruelty and self-interest that has motivated just about every plot point in the preceding ninety minutes.

Buried somewhere within ‘Nightmare Castle’s rambling, nap-inducing expanse is the essence of a great, transgressive horror movie. As David Del Valle points out on the Severin edition’s commentary track, its best moments represent an early exemplar of the kind of delirious, irrational take on horror cinema championed by France’s Midi Minuit Fantastique magazine, and as such, it still packs a considerable punch for fans of this-sort-of-thing.

So - what went wrong? In answering that question, an interview with director Caiano on the same discs provides some illuminating background.

In short then: Caiano’s father Carlo had been a successful producer in Italy during the ‘50s, but by the early ‘60s, had fallen upon hard times. Having naturally enough grown up around movies, but with no direct writing or directing experience of his own, young Mario was mad on gothic fiction, and, seeing how the genre was ‘in’ at the time, convinced his father to give him a shot at making a horror movie, as a kind of “one last mission” deal.

Initially, Mario had envisaged more delirium, more camera tricks and special effects, and, most importantly, he wanted to off-set the film’s black & white photography by strategically inserting blobs of bright red blood (ala the techniques used in Roger Vadim’s ‘Blood & Roses’ (1960), presumably). Finances were tight though, and, after shooting began, Dad put the nix on all this.

And suddenly, the mysteries of this odd film fall into place. The over-extended run-time, the over-ambitious but nonsensical script? These are of course common errors of rookie filmmakers the world over, especially when working, as here, with no professional studio backing or more experienced creative hand on the tiller. Unable to realise his more ambitious visual ideas, Caiano must have taken the decision to concentrate on the strongest element he did have to work with – namely the excellent cast – whilst minimising action and cutting back on unnecessary camera set-ups, and… at the end of the day, we get what we get.

And if what we get is about half a year’s worth of flatly dubbed yakking, well, no matter. God bless you Mario, you tried your best, and, viewed in the context outlined above, I think you did pretty damn well - ruffling a few feathers, cannily anticipating a few subsequent developments in the horror genre, and giving one of said genre’s finest ever actresses a few of her best ever scenes. I think that’s more that worthy of celebration, and, if ‘Nightmare Castle’ isn’t exactly the rip-roaring Friday Night Horror Movie some may be hoping for, it’s still an experience that devotees of this particular corner of cinema should definitely make time for once or twice a lifetime. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just went through it a third time to get the screen grabs, and I really need a snooze…

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Gothic Originals / Lovecraft on Film:
The Haunted Palace
(Roger Corman, 1963)

“Opening his eyes before staggering out of that room of horror, Dr. Willett saw that what he had kept in memory had not been kept amiss. There had, as he had predicted, been no need for acid. For like his accursed picture a year before, Joseph Curwen now lay scattered on the floor as a thin coating of fine bluish-grey dust.”


Ever since I started this weblog, one of my objectives has been to undertake a survey of films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft – more or less a rite of passage for any writer focusing on quote-unquote ‘weird horror’ - but somehow I just never quite got around to it. Until now.

As is widely acknowledged by just about anyone who shares a joint interest in Lovecraft and off-the-beaten-track horror films, ‘Lovecraft Cinema’ is a bit of a two-edged sword. Speak to any dedicated fan of Lovecraft’s writing, and they will no doubt tell you, correctly, that not a single motion picture adaptation has ever adequately captured the themes, ideas, images or atmosphere of the man’s work. Indeed, it is ironic that the few films that do to some extent trespass into Lovecraftian territory (Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ for instance, or Zulawski’s ‘Possession’) are those that exist entirely outside of his authorship or direct influence.

From a high-minded literary/artistic point of view in fact, the history of ‘official’ Lovecraft Cinema is a chronicle of travesty, failure, compromise and misunderstanding that it is best to draw a veil over, focusing instead on the vain hope that some long-promised ‘serious’ adaptation (Del Toro’s ‘At The Mountains of Madness’? Richard Stanley’s ‘The Color Out of Space’?) may one day emerge to right the wrongs of the past and send punters screaming from multiplexes with a reassuringly soul-crushing vision of existential cosmic terror.

At the same time though, from our POV as b-movie / cult film fans, is it not within the darkness of travesty, failure, compromise and misunderstanding that some of our most cherished stretches of misbegotten celluloid can bloom? If none of the Lovecraft adaptations that have made it to the screen thus far can really be said to be ‘successful’ adaptations of their subject matter, they have nonetheless tended to be strange, fevered and twisted movies, borne of a collision between unwieldy literary subject matter and brutish commercial necessity, and I have found at least something to enjoy in just about all of them.

In fact I have a great fondness for many of them, even as they busy themselves with mashing the vision of one of my favourite authors into a confused and often unrecognizable mush. Time and time again in fact, the trace elements of Lovecraft in a film’s DNA seem to act as a trip-wire, sending potentially bland horror vehicles staggering off into the realm of something wholly other - and it is those moments, more than anything else, that I would like to think this blog exists to celebrate.


This of course brings us to the film that American International Pictures insist we refer to as ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s The Haunted Palace’, better known to most of us of course as Roger Corman’s attempt to infuse new blood into his “Poe cycle” by ditching Poe altogether and mounting a loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’.

As in so many things, Corman was ahead of the curve in choosing to adapt Lovecraft. Whilst HPL’s name may be ubiquitous in horror fiction today, he did not actually attract a widespread readership until mass market paperback editions of his work began to proliferate in the mid/late 1960s. At the time Corman was planning this film, Lovecraft’s following was still a closely-guarded cult within the wider cult of Weird Tales/fantastic fiction devotees, his reputation kept alive largely via the expensive, small-press editions produced by August Derleth’s Arkham House. (In fact, insofar as I can tell, one of the earliest Lovecraft paperbacks put out by a mainstream publisher was a 1963 UK Panther edition of ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, presumably intended to coincide with ‘The Haunted Palace’!)

If juggling the names of Poe and Lovecraft seems a cinch in the 21st century, it was a considerably more daring proposition in the early ‘60s, when the former was a celebrated pioneer of American letters whilst the latter remained an obscure purveyor of pulp magazine schlock. It is hardly surprising therefore that AIP wanted to hedge their bets by making sure Poe’s name remained front and center in the film’s marketing, even if one suspects that the initials of the film’s release title are less than accidental. (The name ‘The Haunted Palace’, by the way, is taken from the poem recited by Roderick Usher in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, which Vincent Price’s post-dubbed voiceover dutifully gives us a few stanzas of here.)

In spite of its faux-Poe makeover though, ‘The Haunted Palace’ has still always seemed like a bit of an outsider within the early AIP gothic cycle. True, there had been other entries that diverged from the central axis of Price / Corman / Poe, but for one reason or another, these are generally considered disappointments, and kept at arm’s length by fans and critics from the rest of the series. (‘The Premature Burial’ lacked Price, and emerged as forgettable and dreary; ‘The Comedy of Terrors’ dropped both Corman and Poe, but the combination of Jacques Tourneur’s heavy-handed direction and Peter Lorre’s ill-health render it one of the most grimly dispiriting ‘comedies’ ever put before an audience; as for ‘The Terror’… well, what can you say about ‘The Terror’ that hasn’t been said before?)

As the remaining key/successful entries in the series easily pair up into critic-friendly couples (The Fall of the House of Usher and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ are the genre-defining classics, ‘Tales of Terror’ and ‘The Raven’ are the ensemble comedies, ‘Masque of the Red Death’ and ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’ are the weird, quasi-psychedelic British ones), ‘The Haunted Palace’ eventually stands alone as the one overlooked outlier in the series that is actually *really good* (assuming of course that you like this kind of movie in the first place).


I’m unversed on the whys and wherefores of how Roger Corman was introduced to Lovecraft’s writing, but I think there’s a fair chance that the connection might have been established via scriptwriter Charles Beaumont, who took the reins of the “Poe” series here from his fellow Twilight Zone alumnus Richard Matheson, having previously subbed for Matheson on ‘The Premature Burial’. Whilst not really a ‘horror guy’ as such, Beaumont’s background as a short story / pulp magazine writer may well have given him an awareness of Lovecraft, if not, apparently, a great deal of sympathy for what the Old Man of Providence was trying to achieve, if his work here is anything to go by.

Mindful above all of commercial expectations, Beaumont’s script for ‘The Haunted Palace’ carefully sifts Lovecraft’s long and complex story for elements that correspond most easily with the tried & tested gothic horror formula, then builds around what remains with a dedication to genre convention that, despite the comparatively weird subject matter, results in a film that often feels more like an exultant celebration of the established gothic tradition than the beginning of an exciting new ‘Lovecraftian’ style of filmmaking.

Predictably, Lovecraft’s beloved Arkham is here recast from the bustling Edwardian market town envisaged by its creator to an especially huddled and backward village community that doesn’t seem to have made any concessions to modernity since the days of the pilgrim fathers, dominated by the shadow of the titular ‘palace’ that looms vast and decrepit from the cliffs above the village. (The beautiful matte paintings and sprawling interior sets look more like a ‘castle’ to me, but who am I to quibble?)

Naturally, Arkham’s villagers are a cowed, suspicious bunch, ready to form a torch-wielding mob at the drop of a hat, as they promptly demonstrate during the ‘flashback’ opening sequence, which sees them stomping across the blasted heathland to the castle to put a stop to the godless depredations of warlock Joseph Curwen (Price, obvs) and his mistress Hester Tillinghast (actress Cathie Merchant, exuding a great blue-skinned gothic temptress vibe), who are midway through ‘offering’ a hypnotised local virgin to the unspeakable whatever-it-is that dwells in a well beneath their basement.

You can probably guess more or less what transpires when Curwen answers the door to the pitch-fork-happy mob, so let’s just say that, if the idea of a witches or warlocks cursing the descendants of their persecutors as flames lick around their ankles is more or less as old as the hills in horror films and literature, for our purposes here we might assume that it was repurposed from AIP’s successful Italian pick-up of a few years earlier, Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sunday’.(1)

Likewise, the notion of a hapless aristocrat becoming possessed by the spirit of his malevolent ancestor had already been thoroughly explored by Corman in ‘The Pit & The Pendulum’, and those familiar either with Lovecraft’s story or gothic horror movies in general won’t be surprised to learn that that is exactly what recurs here, when, “one hundred and ten years later”, one Charles Dexter Ward (guess who) rocks up in Arkham to reclaim his ancestral home. (By necessity, Lovecraft’s eager young scholar has been remolded into a middle-aged gentleman of genteel manners, and naturally enough he is accompanied on the journey from distant Boston by his devoted wife Ann (Debra Paget).)

Completing the roll-call of gothic cliché, the notion that everyone in the village looks identical to their ancestors from the preceding century is taken here to what many viewers may find a laughable extreme. Not only does everyone look the same after the film reverts from the ‘past’ to the ‘present’, they still all hang around in the same tavern (which doesn’t seem to have been redecorated), talk about the same stuff, seem to recall exactly what their forefathers got up to with perfect clarity, and might as well even be wearing the same costumes, give or take a few ruffled sleeves and tri-corn hats. It must have been an uneventful nineteenth century in Arkham, to say the least.

Though patently ridiculous, I personally find that this blurring of past and present adds greatly to the film’s overall atmosphere of disjointed, fairy tale-like unreality, implying a kind of entropic ‘timelessness’ that recalls that conjured rather more deliberately by such films as Bava’s masterful ‘Lisa & The Devil’ (1972).

One shot is particular, in which two actors (professional western heavy & b-movie scripter Leo Gordon and everyone’s favourite perpetual loser Elisha Cook Jr, no less) can briefly be seen together staring through the exact same window that their ‘ancestors’ stared through a century earlier, their faces carrying looks of forlorn hopelessness, conveys a crushing sense of a meaningless cycle of cruelties being repeated through time immemorial as the Dark Gods look on impassive that certainly beats what little the script itself has to offer on such topics.


Another thing that inadvertently lends a European flavor to ‘The Haunted Palace’ is the fact that, whereas Richard Matheson’s plotting tended to be tight as a drum (always your solid, all-American logic from that cat), Beaumont here seems happy to leave a few loose ends flapping in breeze, accidentally evoking the spirit of some of our favourite irrational/non-linear/lazy [delete as applicable] euro-horrors.

For a start, there’s a whole deformed village offspring/mutant-child-in-the-attic angle that is tacked onto the story but never really developed or concluded in any meaningful fashion, then there’s Curwen’s ‘crossing names off the list’ campaign of vengeance against the villagers, which kind of fizzles out half-way through, and we’ve also got random oddities like the third resurrected sorcerer (played by Milton Parsons) who turns up to assist Price and Lon Chaney Jr in their rites. After being briefly introduced, he basically spends the remainder of the movie standing around doing absolutely nothing, the rationale for his existence perhaps having been excised from an earlier draft, or somesuch. (2)

Actually, Beaumont’s writing is a tad, shall we say, unpolished, all round here, and the stretches of delectable dialogue that Matheson enjoyed crafting for Price in the earlier Poe movies are also notable by their absence. Given the slightly different tone adopted by ‘The Haunted Palace’, that’s perhaps not necessarily such a bad thing, and Beaumont does at least manage to throw in a few slightly more clipped (almost ‘hard-boiled’?) horror movie zingers amid the reheated cliché. (I’m particularly fond of one villager’s declaration that “It isn’t a house, it’s a madman’s palace, as old as sin!”, and the moment when the steadfast Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell) advises Ward and his wife to flee Arkham, “..just as you would a madman with a knife..”, right as the scene cuts to a particularly baleful exterior of the lightning-illuminated palace.)


Also missing from ‘The Haunted Palace’ is the psychoanalytical take on the material that Corman made a point of exploring in his previous gothic films – a surprising omission, given the director’s oft-stated dedication to this approach. Admittedly, ‘..Palace’ does at least follow the pattern set by Corman’s ruthlessly Freudian riff on ‘The Pit & The Pendulum’ - in both films, our ancestor-possessed protagonist exhibits a somewhat conflicted attitude toward family and gender, and meets his comeuppance whilst fiddling with large mechanisms in the basement. But here, these elements feel more like mere accidental hangovers from the earlier film than an attempt to grapple with anything more profound.

If pushed, you could perhaps make the case that ‘The Haunted Palace’ simply widens the scope of the ‘building-as-mind-map’ concept utilised in the earlier films, effectively extending the metaphor to embrace the entire village and its history-haunted occupants - but to my mind, this would just seem like over-stretching a reading that the film itself never really makes much effort to encourage.

In fact, in spite of the myriad gifts Lovecraft’s fiction offers to armchair psychologists, it is difficult to really read any valid sub-text into ‘The Haunted Palace’, beyond the bits and pieces that remain as residue from its literary and cinematic sources. If there is any “return of the repressed” stuff going on here, I would contend, it is transpiring purely on the ambient level common to all horror films, outside of the filmmakers’ conscious intent.

For viewers who like to take a more ‘thematic’ approach to their horror, this lack of ‘depth’ might make ‘The Haunted Palace’ feel a bit flat, but personally, it is actually one of the things I like best about the film, in a strange sort of way. I mean, you can delve deeper if you must, but as far as Beaumont and Corman (and more to the point, AIP) are concerned, this is a straight-up, two-fisted tale of occult evil, resurrected sorcerers and Dark Gods, executed with the utmost seriousness, and caring little for the nods, winks and grand gestures that helped the earlier Poe films win over the critics.


So dour and puritanical in fact is the film’s overriding atmosphere, it’s possible that its relative failure to make an impression on the public might be down to the fact that audiences simply didn’t know what to make of it, given that the three AIP/Price gothics immediately preceding it had all been framed more or less as arch, self-aware comedies.

Maybe I’m just over-thinking here, but my impression when I watch ‘The Haunted Palace’ side by side with Corman’s other gothics is that this one is a sneaky low-ball, bypassing critical favour and aimed straight at the kids in the cheap seats who actually just *like* all this horror shit. Though far from a satisfactory adaptation of Lovecraft, it nonetheless captures the ghoulish, pulpy atmosphere of pre-war ‘Weird Tales’ fiction better than any other ‘60s American horror film I can think of.

Cementing the film’s sombre tone, director of photography Floyd Crosby employs considerably more muted colour palette than the one he utilised for the earlier Poe films. Bright, heraldic reds and yellows are right out, and a sickly landscape of green, blue and grey instead predominates, interspersed with especially voluminous shadows and featureless New England puritan costmary.

Equally fitting is score by Ronald Stein, which is a corker. More ominous and old-fashioned than Les Baxter’s somewhat kitsch-inclined contributions to the earlier movies, there are certainly no theremins in evidence here; in fact the main theme is a stomping great thing, like a pacier, slightly more nuanced version of James Bernard’s hammer-blow Hammer scores. As is often the case with AIP movies, this single piece is repeated incessantly through the film’s run-time, but, with an indelible central melody that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a big budget adventure movie or historical epic, the repetition rarely grates.


 Clearly conscious of the slightly different direction taken by ‘The Haunted Palace’, Vincent Price here tones down the more excessive aspects of his usual screen persona, and actually does so to great effect, delivering a dual performance as the tormented Ward and the stone-cold Curwen that for me rank amongst his all-time best.

If his comparatively low-key antics may not initially stick in the memory quite as strongly as his extraordinary characterisations in ‘..Usher’ or ‘Pit..’, on repeat viewing I think Price’s work here stands up extremely well, revealing a great deal of subtlety (well, whatever counts as ‘subtlety’ in Vincent Price world, anyway), and providing some great, understated line-readings that go a long way toward elevating the uneven material into something more powerful. In particular, he is chillingly convincing once Curwen is fully in control, projecting a feeling of icy, venomous evil that often seems like a dry run for his celebrated turn in ‘Witchfinder General’ a few years later.

Opposite Price, Debra Paget’s porcelain beauty and forthright composure make her a rather good gothic heroine, even if, as per genre tradition, her character is given very little to do (but hey, at least she doesn’t spend most of the picture consigned to bed on the pre-text of some vaguely defined womanly maladies, so that’s something).

Happily, the dynamic between Paget and Price actually works quite well too. They are believable in the film’s first act as a married couple who actually respect and care for each other, and, once Ward’s possession by Curwen begins to put a spanner in the works, the scene in which he visits Ann’s bed chamber in full-on evil mode to “exercise his husbandly prerogatives” is cringey and menacing in precisely the way it should be, with Price doing his ‘thing’ beautifully as Paget delivering a surprisingly affecting portrayal of a woman who has witnessed her life partner transformed into an unrecognisible villain of some dreadful, inhuman variety.

Whilst talking actors, we should also throw in a word for ‘The Haunted Palace’s second Jr-affixed hard-luck case, Lon Chaney Jr, who is third-billed here as Curwen’s oatmeal-faced servant Simon Orne. Though not exactly blazing with thespian fire, Lon does a dignified and professional job, staying in the background and not making a fuss, as he had learned to on innumerable Westerns and ‘40s b-horrors. If he never shows a hint of the depth of feeling he brought to Jack Hill’s Spider Baby at around the same time, well, neither is he the lumbering, drunken embarrassment he personified in 1964’s ‘Witchcraft’, so again, that’s something. A Likeable, comforting presence, the only thing that undermines Chaney’s performance here is that he just seems too *nice* to be an evil, undead warlock.


Forgot about all that though. As I’m sure most fans of this film will readily acknowledge, the real star of ‘The Haunted Palace’ is Daniel Haller’s extraordinary production design.

If you’ve read anything about the AIP Poe pictures, you’ll probably be familiar with the way in which the crew maintained the ‘flats’ used for the sets of the films, slightly expanding and redressing them as the budget of each installment allowed, thus creating the impression that production values and interior sets were gradually becoming grander as the series progressed. As the last of the cycle made on U.S. soil, ‘The Haunted Palace’ presumably represents the apex of this approach, and, however hackneyed you may find the film’s constituent parts, you’d be hard-pressed to deny that the results are pretty damn magnificent. Expertly rebuilding and redressing the materials they’d assembled over the past few years, Haller and his collaborators here set a new benchmark for visual splendor in ‘60s gothic horror cinema; a benchmark that, to be honest, few ever stepped up to challenge as the appeal of these studio-bound fantasias declined sharply in the second half of the decade.

By the standards of low/mid budget 1960s filmmaking, the scale and detail of Curwen’s subterranean altar chamber is astonishing. From the vast wooden gantries leading down to the main hall, walls atmospherically lit by dozens of flaming torches (which, surprisingly, do not end up contributing to the obligatory closing inferno) to the towering, apparently ceiling-less cavern that houses the altar itself - its sheer size implying that it was designed to house the manifestation of some Cthulhu-like monstrosity - the gradual reveal of this centerpiece during the opening flashback is one of those wonderful “good grief, they actually BUILT this?” moments that horror films all too rarely manage to deliver; a jaw-dropper on par with the vertiginous grandeur of the iconic lab set in ‘Bride of Frankenstein’.

The eight foot high gouts of flame that Price ignites in the braziers surrounding the altar, the grotesquely elaborate wooden winding mechanism, reminiscent of medieval torture devices (and probably repurposed from the ones used in ‘Pit..’, more than likely) that opens to grated door to the glowing pit below, the angular, S&M-tinged frame to which sacrificial virgins are bound… what can you say? It’s certainly one of my favourite cinematic representations of this perennially blood-curdling pulp fiction spectacle.


Happily, this attention to detail is carried across to most other aspects of the film’s visual identity too. The matte paintings that introduce us to the geography of the village and the exterior of the palace – always one of my favourite aspects of these ‘60s gothics – are particularly lovely examples of the form, each looking as if it could have been pulled straight from the pages of some much-loved Victorian storybook, and the fog-shrouded village sets remain equally evocative, even as their theatrical painted backdrops and wobbly fence-posts are rather unflatteringly revealed via the miracle of blu-ray.(3)

Meanwhile, the extensive graveyard set that forms the conduit between village and castle is also wonderfully realised; the slow pan across the blasted heathland carelessly dotted with headstones, harking back of course to the opening of ‘..Usher’, must have had Tim Burton shuddering with envy every time he revisited ‘The Haunted Palace’ (which, I would humbly suggest, may have been frequently).

And thankfully, it’s not just the sets in ‘The Haunted Palace’ that are right on the money either. Intelligent casting ensures that even the film’s minor characters are vividly and memorably portrayed, from the gurning villagers (old pros Cook and Gordon are joined by several other agreeably gnarled faces) to the aforementioned Cathie Merchant as Curwen’s mistress; even the young blonde girl shanghaied by Curwen and co in the opening flashback makes a strong impression with her unnerving look of dead-eyed, sinister acceptance.(4)

The only major misstep with the film’s production design in fact is the extremely questionable realisation of the creature in the pit during the finale. I’m not sure at what stage of the film’s production the decision was taken to feature a visible ‘monster’, but apparently the old “the house is the monster” line that Corman used to sell ‘..House of Usher’ to his paymasters just wasn’t going to cut it this time around, and, from all appearances, I’m guessing the filmmakers weren’t given much time in which to ponder the problem of how to film the indescribable before the curtain fell and the finished effects shots were needed.

As such, there’s no way to sugar-coat the fact that what they came up with can best be described as a mutilated ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ Aurora model kit shot through a fish-tank, accompanied by ‘roars’ that sound like they just put some reverb on the MGM lion. As far as on-screen representations of cthulhoid monstrosities go, it’s not a good start.

That ‘The Haunted Palace’ manages to stumble through such a disaster without completely annihilating the audience’s good feeling is, in a sense, the best possible testament to the atmosphere and dramatic exuberance the film manages to accumulate prior to its final reel. Even whilst I sometimes wish there was a special edition of the film in which those ‘special effects’ shots were prefaced by footage of an apologetic Roger Corman saying “well, the word was, we had to have a monster, and we only had about fifty bucks to split between this and the catering, so… y’know..”, it’s still remarkable that, when I re-watch ‘The Haunted Palace’ in the right frame of mind, I’m just about able to suspend disbelief and go with it.


Whilst ‘The Haunted Palace’ is undoubtedly a travesty of Lovecraft’s work in many ways, I can’t deny that I still get a huge kick out of the elements of his mythology that do remain within it. As diluted and ill-served as the source text may be, the film is still full weird and incongruous notions, creeping around the corners of the film’s rigidly formulaic structure in a manner that, for me at least, is hugely entertaining.

Having sat through what feels like a thousand exposition-heavy dinner table conversations in gothic horror movies, it’s difficult to express how much I love the equivalent scene here, in which, rather than directing us toward family curses, tainted bloodlines or some other over-familiar hokum, nominal voice-of-scientific-reason Dr Willet instead starts banging on about the “..the Elder Gods, the dark ones from beyond who had once ruled the world, and will one day rule again..”, name-checking Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth before directing Ward and his wife toward a certain forbidden tome that was once said to reside in the palace (I like the slight New York twang Frank Maxwell gives to the word ‘Necronomicon’) - all of course framed in conventional “ know the kind of thing these primitive people believe..” terms, even though Arkham’s villagers display no knowledge of or interest in such obscure notions.

Whilst the old “doing the Lovecraft bit” speech may seem quaintly familiar to horror fans these days, such ravings must have left yr average 1960s audience slightly taken aback. Simply by throwing this stuff in as background for Curwen’s sorcery, Corman and Beaumont suddenly change the game completely, breaking free from the comparatively cozy Christian cosmology and human-shaped ambassadors from the beyond that had dominated horror movies up to this point, and no doubt planting the seed of all manner of vast and horrifying possibilities within the minds of more imaginative young viewers, just as HPL originally intended.

Though the mellifluous Latin incantations Vincent Price uses to summon his pet whatever-it-is during the film’s finale may be a far cry from the guttural, alien tongues favoured by Lovecraft’s cultists, Curwen nonetheless delivers a particularly chilling line during his obligatory ‘villain diatribe’, wherein, after chiding his opponents for their failure to ‘understand’ his work, he says of himself and his fellow warlocks, “ a matter of fact, we don’t really understand ourselves… we just obey..”.

Beautifully delivered by Price with a cracked half-chuckle, this gets about as close as this or any other movie adaptation has to a genuinely Lovecraftian moment of cosmic horror – the vain-glorious sorcerer sheepishly admitting that it is not his own will he is realising; that he is in fact just as much of a ‘victim’ as the hypnotised women he strings up on his altar, blindly propagating the unknowable, inhuman agenda of the ancient entity he has blundered his way into serving, and just a likely to be gobbled up alongside them when the time comes.


It is also interesting that, mirroring the ‘pick & mix’ approach taken by the Poe films, Corman and Beaumont actually manage to incorporate a few elements into ‘The Haunted Palace’ that were taken from Lovecraft stories other than ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ – further suggesting that this project arose from a wider appreciation of the author’s work, rather than a “hey, this is a cool story, let's do it” one-off.

For one thing, mythos nerds will have been yelling at me since this review’s opening paragraphs for failing to clarify that the events of ‘..Charles Dexter Ward’ actually take place in Lovecraft’s real life home of Providence, Rhode Island, rather his fictitious Arkham, as featured here. For another, the “village cursed by half-breed/mutant off-spring” sub-plot appended to ‘The Haunted Palace’ is one that plays a prominent role in several other Lovecraft stories (most famously of course in ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’), but is entirely absent from ‘..Charles Dexter Ward’, whilst the dread Necronomicon – allotted much importance in Beaumont’s screenplay – is only mentioned in passing in the story, slotted in amid references to numerous other forbidden tomes, both real and invented.(5)

Curious too is the way that ‘The Haunted Palace’ seems to some extent to have ‘set the blue-print’ for Lovecraftian cinema, as can be seen from the way that several ideas and images from the film frequently reoccur in subsequent adaptations, despite the fact that they have only the most tenuous connection to Lovecraft’s fiction.

In particular, the image of a screaming heroine trussed up for sacrifice on an altar above a pit from which some unspeakable creature clamour is one that I don’t think ever actually occurs in Lovecraft, but, given its self-explanatory appeal as a cool scene for a movie, such scenarios have popped up again in both AIP’s version of ‘The Dunwich Horror’ (1970) and Stuart Gordon’s ‘Dagon’ (2001), amongst others.

Similarly difficult to account for is the longevity of the old “deformed, cannibalistic relative locked in the attic” meme, which appears for what I think may be the first time in ‘The Haunted Palace’. This went on to recur in both David Greene’s ‘The Shuttered Room’ (1967) and Gordon’s ‘Castle Freak’ (1995), in addition to dozens of other, unconnected horror films, in which it is often identified as a ‘Lovecraftian’ element, despite the fact that, as far as I recall, this idea never features at all in any of Lovecraft’s core stories.(6)


One last item I’d like to discuss before we (FINALLY) get to the end of this review is something that occurred to me whilst rewatching ‘The Haunted Palace’ for the first time in a few years – namely, the possibility of it having exerted an influence on another much-loved key text in the “Lovecraftian-but-not-Lovecraft” canon mentioned earlier, Lucio Fulci’s ‘The Beyond’ (1981).

Now, I’m not saying I have anything concrete to go on here, but the casual similarities between the two films are such that I can’t help but speculate that ‘The Haunted Palace’ may have been lurking in the background when Fulci and his collaborators knocked out their initial outline for ‘The Beyond’. I’m not sure whether any of the numerous writers who have lavished attention on Fulci’s film over the years have picked up on this before, but think about it. Opening flashback in which a grimoire-toting necromancer is violently punished by torch-wielding villagers? His clueless descendants inheriting the deserted property and umming and ahhing over whether to sell or renovate it? Sinister encounters with blind/eyeless people? The implication of a ‘gate to other dimensions’ or somesuch lurking in the basement?

As I say, none of this would stand up in court, and none of these were exactly novel elements for a horror film in 1981, but the similarities are sufficiently numerous to make it worth mulling over I think, especially in view of ‘The Beyond’s oft-remarked Lovecraftian overtones.

Ok, now that we’ve got that over with – concluding paragraph!

It is an odd paradox that, despite its novel subject matter, ‘The Haunted Palace’ is actually the AIP gothic horror film that adheres most strictly and straight-facedly to the conventions of the genre. There are no innovations, sub-texts or big ideas to upset the apple cart here, and to my mind the film is all the better for it. Taken on its own terms, it is a nigh-on transcendent testament to the power of ‘60s gothic, a towering heap of fan service to those of us who love the peculiar architecture of this particular misbegotten corner of filmmaking. And of course, this formal context only serves to make it all the more enjoyable when weird incursions of pulpy, Lovecraftian strangeness begin to make themselves felt, like a glowing green icing on the cake.

To more, shall we say.. rational?.. viewers, ‘The Haunted Palace’ will seem a superfluous and unremarkable addition to the Corman/Poe cycle – a “more of the same” hotch-potch of undercooked ideas and clichés. But for those of us with the right temperament, we who revel in the texture, the atmosphere and the mad, misfiring notions of horror films that seem to have been left to warp for too long in some mildewed basement, it is a pure joy - one of the most immersive and richly satisfying experiences that early ‘60s horror has to offer.


(1) Opening-witch-curse-flashback also popped up in 1960’s ‘City of the Dead’ (aka ‘Horror Hotel’), and reoccurred a year after ‘The Haunted Place’ in The Long Hair of Death, if anyone’s keeping score. As Mondo 70 recently reminded me, it also pops up in Chano Urueta’s great ‘El Baron del Terror’ (aka ‘The Brainiac’, 1962), which gives us examples from three continents. Anyone want to point me in the direction of an Asian witch-burning/curse movie circa 1959-63, for a full house..?

(2) Seriously, this guy walks in, apparently out of nowhere, says “hi, how you doing?” (I paraphrase), then quietly hangs out in the background until the conclusion, at which point he inexplicably disappears! Scripting issues aside, I’m frankly amazed that Corman didn’t see the opportunity to save an actor’s fee here.

(3) To clarify, I should point out that the screen-shots used in this review are definitely NOT taken from any of the recent blu-ray presentations of this film. They are actually from the Studio Canal DVD included in a UK Corman box set from a few years back, if you must know, and I’ve artificially brightened a few shots because it looked pretty goddamned dark.

(4)The oracle of IMDB reveals to me that the sacrificial victim was portrayed by one Darlene Lucht, whose other notable screen credits included ‘Muscle Beach Party’ (1965) and ‘Five Bloody Graves’ (1969). You go girl, etc.

(5) Purely based on the text of ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, one would probably have sidelined the Necronomicon (mentioned twice) in favour of the works of one ‘Borellus’ (most likely 17th century French scholar and alleged alchemist Pierre Borel), whose speculations about resurrecting the dead using “..essential Saltes of humane Dust” seem to have provided Lovecraft with the inspiration for the story, and whose name is mentioned over a dozen times in the text.

(6)Ok, so I’ll cop that “deformed, cannibalistic relative locked in the attic” is admittedly the basis of the August Derleth “collaboration” upon which ‘The Shuttered Room’ is based, and the idea is at least vaguely implied in both ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ and ‘The Lurking Fear’… but I still find it interesting that this has come to be seen as a “Lovecraftian” reference point in horror cinema, despite the fact that Lovecraft never actually set pen to paper to fully describe it in the first place.