*. The place to start here is with the opening credits, which look very nice, what with a spider tripping along its well-lit web against a black background. The credits themselves, however, are misleading in one respect.
*. That respect is the source of the script (by Charles Beaumont, with some dialogue written by Francis Coppola). Specifically, the script is said to have been derived from a poem by “Edgar Allen Poe” and a story by H. P. Lovecraft.
*. The only thing they got from Poe, whose name is spelled wrong (it’s “Allan”), is the title and some lines we hear Vincent Price reciting at the end. Lines that have nothing to do with the movie we’ve just seen.
*. Basically what seems to have happened is that Roger Corman didn’t want to make another Poe movie and so pitched American International a Lovecraft project. They agreed, but still wanted Poe’s name on it, so they changed the title and added the voiceover at the end
*. Then there’s the story by Lovecraft. It isn’t named in the credits, but it’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a posthumously published work that is actually a short novel (it was filmed again in 1992 as The Resurrected by Dan O’Bannon). Corman was using The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as a working title, but again there is very little connection to the source. Corman says that he brought in elements from other Lovecraft stories to give it more depth, but I don’t know what these elements are, or why he needed to bring in extra material for more depth since the novel is considerably abridged as it is.
*. The biggest change to the Lovecraft story is the addition of a love interest, with Joseph Curwen attempting to revive his dead mistress and in the process sacrificing Ward’s comely wife. There are no female characters in Lovecraft’s tale (Lovecraft had . . . issues . . . when it came to women), and this business of invoking the spirit of a deceased lover is more in the spirit of Poe, and far more in the spirit of Vincent Price’s filmography. For some reason this is a situation Price’s hero-villains find themselves in again and again. I mentioned this in my notes on The Last Man on Earth, where I made the link to his Poe films and the Dr. Phibes character. I might have added his Shelby Carpenter, who is the fiancé of the missing Laura. I wonder how he got typecast playing this part so often. Whatever the explanation, here we are again.
*. It’s a pretty good little film, if you have properly lowered your expectations. That is, if you know it’s a low-budget AIP quickie, shot in fifteen days. Given those parameters, it actually has a few unconventional elements mixed in with the usual gothic trappings of oversized castle interiors and misty graveyards spotted with blasted trees.
*. Among the interesting parts I would note (1) the double role Price plays as the wimpy C. D. Ward and the malevolent Joseph Curwen (who even has a bedroom scene with Debra Paget, in her last film role, where he seeks to exercise his husbandly prerogatives in a forceful manner); (2) the deformed inhabitants of Arkham, who are interesting despite being badly made up and serving no function in the story at all (complaints I could also level against Lon Chaney’s character); (3) the first appearance on film of Cthulu, or Yog-Sothoth, looking a bit like the Creature from the Black Lagoon with an extra arm, but still; (4) the dark ending, which pretty clearly indicates that Curwen has taken Ward over completely. It’s kind of silly and feels inconsequential in such a film, but it surprised me.
*. Look, with these AIP pictures the bar is set pretty low. They’re not great. But this one has enough going for it to be worth checking out once anyway.