While this American International Pictures horror classic was released in the US in the summer of 1963, it wasn’t until 21 February 1966 that UK cinemagoers got to enter The Haunted Palace.
In 1875, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) and his wife Ann (Debra Paget) inherit a mansion in the New England village of Arkham, where they find themselves shunned by the local townspeople who live in fear of a curse placed on them by Charles’ great-great-grandfather Joseph Curwen, a necromancer and warlock, who was burnt at the stake for practising witchcraft 110 years previously.
But, just as the Ward’s decide to pack their bags, Charles is taken over by the spirit of his evil ancestor who then sets out to wreak revenge on those who stopped his ‘work’…
Roger Corman’s sixth Gothic horror in his Edgar Allan Poe cycle, borrows its title from an 1839 poem by the macabre writer, but owes a huge debt to the nightmarish Cthulhu-verse of HP Lovecraft, as it is loosely based on the 1927 novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
With suitably atmospheric cinematography from Floyd Crosby, and probably one of the best film scores ever from Ronald Stein, this entry in the Corman/Price/Poe cycle is a true classic, while the restrained performance by Price in the dual role of the evil Curwen and the ineffectual Charles adds to the sense of underlying horror.
Along for the ride are some genre favourites, Lon Chaney Jr and Elisha Cook Jr (who adds being burnt alive to his many screen deaths), while this was the last film of Debra Paget, who quit acting soon after.
‘You’ll need someone to hang onto when you come face to face with the blood-chilling terrors in the tower!’
In this tale of murder, ghosts and guilt directed by Roger Corman for Admiral Pictures, 1960s cinemagoers were dared to spend 83-minutes (actually 79-minutes) in the Tower of London – a monument to the corruption of the soul – according to the film’s narrator (Paul Frees).
It is the year 1483 and the body count begins following the death of Edward IV as Vincent Price’s Richard murders his way to the throne of England, killing his brother Clarence, his political rivals, his nephews and even his beloved wife Anne.
Tortured by guilt, the ghosts of his victims return to haunt the newly crowned monarch, and ultimately lead him to his death on a muddy field at the Battle of Boswell from the sharp end of a double-edged battle-axe.
Produced by Roger Corman’s brother, Gene, Tower of London was an attempt by Admiral Pictures to cash in on the success of American International Pictures successful Poe pictures, but was ultimately let down by its cut-price production values. But the one thing it has got going for it is Vincent Price.
Being the go-to guy for gothic horror in the early 1960s, only Vincent could take on this twisted sibling to the macabre Poe-universe, which made him the King of Horror following his genuinely menacing turns in The Fall of the House of Usher and Pit and the Pendulum, and his multiple roles in Tales of Terror.
Plagued by Hamlet’s ghosts and cursed to die like Macbeth, Vincent Price’s take on Richard III – based on ‘a screenplay by Leo Gordon from stories by Poe and Shakespeare’(*) – is like no other – and nor should it be. It’s a virtuoso one-man show in which he goes from quietly ominous to all out ham hysterics – the kind of which would enshrine Vincent’s unique style forever more.
While its not his best work – Price himself admitted he could have done more with the character– his trademark arched eyebrows, wild-eyes and lip curling leers are certainly worth the price of admission, while the occasional flashes of subtlety serve to remind us that Vincent was also capable of truly great performances when reigned in. This would be most evident in 1968’s Witchfinder General, but also in Roger Corman’s HP Lovecraft horror The Haunted Palace.
Vincent’s Richard is not purely evil, unlike his satanic Prince Prospero in Masque of the Red Death. Instead, he presents Richard as a man whose guilty conscience drives him to madness. Before the histrionics begin, Vincent does inspire genuine sympathy for his character in a couple of genuinely poignant scenes: one in which the ghosts of the little princes try to lure him into committing suicide, and when Richard’s mother, the Queen, shows her hatred for her son’s physical deformities (a hump and a limp hand).
Of course, when Vincent turns on the ham, you can’t help but be reminded of his horror film opus, Theatre of Blood, in which he played the vengeful Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart. Venting in the same ‘voice beautiful’ that Lionheart was accused of by his critics in the black comedy horror, Vincent becomes Lionheart personified. It’s quite a hoot.
Arrow’s High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of Tower of London has been transferred from original film elements by MGM, and includes the original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles. This is a super transfer and a must-have in your Vincent Price library, although the cover art really isn’t to my taste. There’s also a collector’s booklet with an article by John Upton (but this was not included with my screener).
Included in the disc are two archive interviews with Roger and Gene Corman, who spill the beans on the problems behind making the picture, as well as a splendid slideshow featuring behind-the-scenes photos (that I have never seen before) from the collection of Brett Cameron, which plays alongside Michael Anderson’s rousing theme tune.
The other bonus is an audio commentary from Hollywood historian David Del Valle in which he describes Vincent’s Richard as ‘a Todd Slaughter performance’, which he ‘dials up to 12’ in the ‘Plantagenet fun house’ haunting scene, and gives a ‘150-watt leer’ in the battle scene. It’s all great fun to listen to. Del Valle also sets the record straight about Vincent’s acting prowess: that for all the camp barnstorming, he was indeed an actor of wide range, which culminated in his one-man show Diversions & Delights. Nice one, David.
The film’s supporting actors also get the Del Valle once over, including Richard Hale, who appeared in The Incredible Docktor Markesan episode of TV’s Thriller and the chap playing the Duke of Clarence (Charles Macaulay), was Dracula in Blacula.
Tara Gordon, the daughter of the film’s screenwriter Leo Gordon, also features in the commentary. Her father’s amazingly varied career could have made a feature-length commentary by itself, and though I would have like to know more, we do get to hear from her about her dad’s association with Roger Corman and his co-writer Amos Powell, who shot himself, while her story about her dad’s fart machine is hilarious.
(*) Roger Corman interview (Arrow Blu-ray, bonus feature)
To celebrate the UK Blu-ray release of the Roger Corman-directed 1962 hysterical historical horror, Tower of London, starring Vincent Price as Richard III, check out this fine Gallery of Horrors, which includes the full set of original lobby cards and excerpts from the UK Pressbook.
Please do share feel free to download and share, just tell them the Vincent Price Legacy UK sent you… and don’t forget to check out our 20 Frightfully Fun Facts about Tower of London (CLICK HERE).