Synopsis: Horror legends Vincent Price (The Oblong Box), Christopher Lee (The Crimson Cult), Peter Cushing (Madhouse) and John Carradine (The Sentinel) star as the screen’s greatest gruesome foursome! When a young novelist, Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr., Billy Two Hats) spends a night at Baldpate Manor to win a bet that he can turn a best-selling novel in 24 hours, he gets more than he bargained for. The grizzly Grisbane clan arrives to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a ghoulish family secret. And their dinner party has murder on the menu. Lightning! Thunder! Torrential rain! Clattering shutters! Creaking doors! A locked attic! A sinister secret! Murder! All the ingredients of the classic “Old Dark House” tale come together in this top-notch horror film by cult film-maker Pete Walker (House of Whipcord). Co-starring Richard Todd (The Assassin) and Sheila Keith (Frightmare).
eyelights: its illustrious cast. its atmosphere. its mysteriousness. its self-awareness.
eyesores: its mundane plot.
“Don’t interrupt me while I’m soliloquizing.”
Vincent Price. Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing. John Carradine.
Need I say more?
1983 saw the release of ‘House of the Long Shadows’ a tongue-in-cheek spookshow which is based on the classic Earl Derr Biggers’ novel ‘Seven Keys to Baldpate’. Though they had worked together in various iterations before, it’s the first and only time that horror icons Price, Lee, Cushing and Carradine were ever together on screen.
The plot is simple: Kenneth Magee, a best-selling young American author, is dared by his English publisher to write a modern masterpiece within 24 hours. He accepts the wager, and heads to a secluded mansion that belongs to his publisher’s friend. But, when he arrives, he discovers that he’s not exactly alone in the old house.
Then more people arrive. And even more. They won’t stop showing up.
Who are these people? What do they want?
Then… some of them die.
Who could be behind all these murders? And what is his/her/their motive?
And what’s behind that locked door upstairs?
Kenneth means to find out.
And he will.
Oh, he will.
Honestly, I knew nothing about this picture going in. Like ‘The Mad Magician‘, I merely picked it up because it starred Vincent Price and it was one of the rare ones that I hadn’t yet seen. My expectations were low, given the period: it’s a known fact that Price and company weren’t exactly at their career zenith by the early ’80s.
But I was pleasantly surprised: though ‘House of the Long Shadows’ isn’t without its flaws (ex: a number of tidbits simply don’t add up), it also doesn’t take itself seriously; it merely wants to have fun in a big dark manor – with a cast of venerable thespians doing what they do best: spook their audiences. And it does exactly that.
The picture isn’t quite comical, but it wields an amusing cynicism that I rather enjoyed; it pokes fun at its characters, the era, the genre and even at the audience (as evidenced by the great reveal at the end). It’s a somewhat self-aware piece that knows how to deliver on audience expectations all the while also subverting them.
It’s also incredibly atmospheric, thanks to Rotherfield Park, a 19th century country manor in Hampshire. For most of the picture, the house is basically lit by moonlight and (sometimes) by candlelight; it basks in shadows. It’s the perfect setting for this kind of picture, which depends on nooks and crannies to surprise us.
Unsurprisingly, the picture also kind of rides on its cast: audiences were likely going to see it for Price, Lee, Cushing and/or Carradine. But it cheekily holds off by focusing on Kenneth and only showing its full hand later on (over 40 minutes in, in some cases). It’s the perfect move, actually, as it gives our quartet far more heft.
Interestingly, while the legends are superb, as can be expected, the younger cast are really not up to snuff. They’re probably as good as a sub-million dollar production can get, but they pale in comparison. And, given that they’re the greatest focus of the picture, as it’s from Kenneth’s perspective, it weakens things a little bit.
But when Price and co. are on screen, is it ever a hoot! Their entrances are dramatic, showboating moments, and they frequently get to make speeches – which in Price’s case, he delivers with his tongue firmly planted in cheek and a wink at the audience. They’re there to entertain their fans and, boy, do they ever know it!
The whodunnit portion of the picture is patently absurd, with one flat red herring being slapped across the audience’s face like in Monty Python’s fish-slapping dance. And the scares are frequently clunky as all get out. But it’s all in keeping with the tone and conceit of the picture – and it actually makes sense when all is revealed.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
On that note, while some critics felt insulted by the contrivance, I loved that the picture has a double twist ending – one for the novel that Kenneth is writing and one for the picture proper. It made sense to me. The only thing I decry is that the true finale didn’t show all of our screen legends in it; that would have been fitting.
One thing that’s terrific about the novel-within-a-movie conceit, though, is that all of the questions I had can be written off by the fact that we’re actually watching the author’s novel unfold. He’s just a weak writer, is all. Or it’s because this is the best he could hammer out in 24 hours. It’s a brilliant maneuver by the filmmakers.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
You want fake lightning? You want black cats? You want cackling in the night?
Well, you’ve been served!
While ‘House of the Long Shadows’ isn’t especially clever nor is it great filmmaking, it’s entertaining and memorable enough – though, admittedly, it’d truly be hard to forget seeing a picture that brings Price, Lee, Cushing and Carradine together at last. It’s the perfect late night movie for some cheap thrills and a few chuckles.
Pop some corn, turn the lights down low, and enjoy.
Date of viewing: August 15, 2017