Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Pete Walker, 1983
Starring: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, John Carradine

It's truly a shame that this last gasp effort from a group of beloved horror legends has fallen into obscurity. Though it took me awhile to track down a copy, this is one of my favorite rainy-day movies and I recommend it to anyone who likes haunted house mysteries or anyone who wants to see Price, Lee, Cushing, and Carradine together one last time.

A snotty, young writer makes a bet with his publisher that he can write a creepy mystery novel in 24 hours. To achieve this, he rents an abandoned Welsh manor for the night, but he discovers, to his horror, that it is already occupied by the aged Grisbane family, ancestral heirs of the manor. The wizened Lord Grisbane (Carradine) has been living there with his daughter, but soon his sons Lionel (Price) and Sebastian (Cushing) make an appearance for a family visit. They are also interrupted by Mary, the publisher's secretary, who was hired to scare the writer in the middle of the night, along with a few other stragglers seeking shelter from the storm.

The somewhat decrepit family members finally admit that they have reunited to release their eldest brother, Roderick, who they have kept walled up in room because of a murder he committed as a youth. Roderick, as you may have imagined, has already escaped and bodies begin to pile up around the house. When everyone tries to leave, they discover that their cars have been sabotaged and they are forced to wait out the storm. Can they find Roderick before he kills them all?

You're going to have to brace yourself for a ridiculous ending, or rather three ridiculous endings in a row. The film is based on a book, The Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers of Charlie Chan fame, but someone should have stepped in and cut it off at the first, best ending. The script has its weak moments and definitely feels dated, but there are murky family secrets, hidden passageways, a dark, stormy night and some grisly murders. I was hoping the writer would get slowly tortured and then murdered, but no such luck. Price, Cushing and Lee outshine any of the other annoying characters and Price, in particular, is in top form as Lionel Grisbane.

Another amazing tidbit about this film is the fact that it's directed by Pete Walker, British master of nasty sex/exploitation/horror films from the '70s. This is a departure from the rest of his work, but it still has enough mean-spirited moments and brutal deaths to remind you who is at the helm. Strangely, it's Walker's last film to date.

Like I said earlier, it doesn't have the strongest script or acting, but it's clear that almost everyone involved had a really good time making this film. Track it down if you can. This is the VHS copy I have, though there are also bootlegs and torrents available.

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