Set in New England (mostly in the late 18th century), Vincent Price has inherited the family castle, and meets an icy reception from the locals, who are all disfigured in some way. You see, Price also plays a second role in the film, that of his evil warlock ancestor who is believed to have put a curse on the descendants of the townsfolk who saw him burned at the stake long ago. Gee, you don't think poor Vinnie's evil dead relative still haunts this palace, do you? Paget plays his beautiful young wife, whilst a slightly grey-green Lon Chaney is his all-too faithful servant. The townsfolk are played by such familiar character actors as Elisha Cook Jr., John Dierkes, and Leo Gordon.
Vincent Price's wonderfully wicked and scornful turn as the warlock is a definite highlight here. He's absolutely mesmerising and evil in the role, with his big speech early on rather chilling. Price is interesting and quite good in the second role as the tormented and genuinely decent ancestor, but waiting around for the plot to really kick in, is a somewhat arduous experience. The deadening pace mid-way comes close to sinking the entire enterprise, after a wonderful start.
But what atmosphere it has! I've long been a fan of Gothic atmosphere and opulent sets, and Corman, cinematographer Floyd Crosby and art director Daniel Haller do not disappoint here. These films always looked a lot more expensive than they probably were, and the Jack the Ripper-like street scenes and foggy graveyard are wondrous.
The cast, meanwhile, give off a rugged, rustic vibe that actually suits the film rather well. Sound-wise we also have ominous thunderstorms and one of the best scores in the Corman-Poe oeuvre by Ronald Stein. But even better than all of this are the titles, featuring a spider spinning its web, that instantly sets the scene for what we have in store.
One scene stands out above all others: The remarkably odd scene where Price and Paget are made acquainted with some of the more horrifically scarred townsfolk. We're talking, no eyes, folks. No eyes! Bizarre stuff, and one of the most memorable moments in this cycle of films. Add to that the always wonderful Price, and underappreciated actors like Lon Chaney Jr., and Elisha Cook Jr., and you still have a pretty decent film.
Not as bad as 'Tower of London' (the only Corman-Price-Poe film I really do recommend skipping), but not without its heavy flaws. Corman-Poe devotees and die-hard Price fans will probably get more out of it than anyone else. But it sure is pretty.