It is near impossible to declare a favourite in a genre so heterogenous. Does one choose an example of body horror, or celebrate the nostalgia of slasher films? Should we recognise a cult classic, or applaud the slew of modern horror reclaiming some seriousness? I feel inclined to give the vied-for-top-spot to 1963’s ‘The Haunted Palace’, a film that could hardly be called serious or intelligent, but is nevertheless a prime example of thrilling storytelling.
The film is an 87 minute long melodramatic romp complete with all the tropes of black and white horror films: the cobwebbed castle, the remote location and an event hundreds of years ago that continues to haunt the community. The plot plays out as follows: a warlock’s experiments are not received well by the surrounding town, and he meets his untimely end: burned at the stake by an incensed mob of villagers. Hundreds of years later, the ancestors of these villagers continue to whisper of the terrible events, the memory looming over them in the shape of the now abandoned palace at the top of the town’s hilly outskirts, where the warlock resided. When an heir to the palace comes to claim it back, the memories of the past and his murdered ancestor come back to haunt him too.
Borrowing inspiration from an Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name, and based on the plot of H.P Lovecraft’s ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, the film is a homage to the literary history of horror. Vincent Price in a starring role struts about in his typically suave manner, caught off guard every so often by a painting above the fireplace of his ancestor that seems to taunt him with its remarkable likeness to his own visage. The film is about history, but more than this, as a film, it makes history, bringing together strands of horror culture from over the centuries, and weaving its own new narrative.