Lucas writes that Bava wanted to follow up Black Sabbath with an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, ideally The Dunwich Horror. AIP had started a Lovecraft series with Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace. AIP presented this as one of Corman’s Poe films, since the title comes from a Poe poem, but the story is Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
I was intrigued by this. I’ve always been interested in Lovecraft, although I don’t think his work translates well to the screen. Corman, like Bava, is under-appreciated as a director, as they both worked in the low budget b-movie realm. So I had to look into it. I found the film on youtube. It has some similarities to Black Sunday. It opens with a scene from more than a century earlier, where the warlock places a curse on the town and its descendants as he is being burned. (Sorry about the ads. I wonder if there’s a way to change to thumbnails so they aren’t all the same.)
Then the great-grandson shows up, identical to his ancestor, and ends up possessed by the spirit of the warlock.
There’s a “waking the dead” scene
and a collection of people with facial deformities
although Bava seemed more interested in facial ruination than deformity.
I think Corman did a good job with what he had – it’s atmospheric and well-paced. But there’s a level of visual artistry that Bava brings to his work that Corman doesn’t reach, as he seems more focused on storytelling functionality than using visuals to achieve emotional impact. Compare the scene where Ward and his spouse are walking through the castle with the scene where the Count and Sdenka are walking through the ruins.
There’s a powerful subtlety in the way Bava uses light and color and contrast and composition. Corman isn’t bad, but the darkness is a little too dark, the contrast a bit lower, the color a little less imaginative, the composition a little more matter of fact. And all the little bits add up.
I wonder what Bava could have done with a Lovecraft story. The psychological dimensions to his stories and the way he hints at things would have played into Bava’s hands.