Pete Walker, 1983
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, John Carradine
An agent bets one of his writers, Kenneth Magee, that if he can write a Gothic novel in 24 hours, he will pay him $20,000. Magee agrees and the agent sets him up with a foreboding and allegedly abandoned Welsh manor where he can write throughout the night. Unfortunately for Magee, the house is inhabited by the ancient Lord Grisbane and a caretaker, his also very old daughter Victoria. Kenneth is further interrupted by Grisbane’s elderly sons and Mary, the publisher’s secretary there to lend a helping hand. They are further interrupted by Corrigan, a man who intends to buy the mansion.
The strange Grisbanes admit to Magee, Mary, and Corrigan that they have all gathered together because of their third brother, Roderick, who has been imprisoned in the attic for several decades due to a misspent, violent youth. He seduced a young girl and murdered her when she became pregnant. They all discover, to their horror, that Roderick is missing and soon after, members of the Grisbane family begin to drop dead. Their tires are all slashed, so they are trapped in the house. Can they find Roderick before he slaughters them all?
Produced by the infamous Cannon Films, this is British exploitation/horror director Pete Walker’s final film and certainly the most against type. Written by Michael Armstrong (director of Mark of the Devil), this is based loosely on the novel Seven Keys to Baldpate, which was also turned into a play. House of the Long Shadows is far from a perfect film, but will always be one of my favorites because of the union of horror actors Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine. This is the last time either Price or Lee would appear in a film with Cushing. They are also joined by Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith, though the role was originally intended for Elsa Lanchester, who was too ill to fly to England for filming. Desi Arnaz, Jr. is definitely the worst part of the film, but fortunately it is easy to forget about him alongside Price, Lee, Cushing, and Carradine. His love interest, played by Julie Peasgood (Emmerdale) is also pretty terrible, but, again, it is easy to get caught up in the fun and ignore some of the more grating elements.
Speaking of grating, the ending - I’m sorry, endings - are all absurd and ruined the film a little the first time I saw it, but it’s easy to get used to or ignore them upon multiple viewings. The main thing to remember about House of the Long Shadows is that it is mostly concerned with being a fun, quirky swan song to entire generation of horror actors, as well as for the short-lived but wonderful career of Pete Walker.
While this is basically an old dark house film, it seems like both Walker and Cannon had trouble deciding if it should be a horror film or a comedy. Other old dark house films from the period, such as Clue, were undoubtedly comedies and I think House of the Long Shadows would have been stronger and more successful if Walker had fully played to his horror strengths. There are several references to Gothic fiction throughout the film and I also would like to have seen more done with that, but alas.
With that said, it’s surprising this was allowed to pass with a PG rating as there are a number of violent scenes, including a particularly nasty moment where acid dissolved someone’s face. There is plenty of other violence, including a hanging, throat slitting, an axe attack, and more. Horror fans will find a lot to love here and the enthusiasm from Price, Lee, Cushing, and Carradine is infectious. Despite its flaws, it is simply impossible not to enjoy House of the Long Shadows.
Sadly, it is also impossible to find on DVD or Blu-ray, though I’m still holding out hope that someone like Shout Factory will get the rights sometime soon. There are a number of bootlegs floating around online. Many of these are very dark and the quality is awful, so be forewarned, but it comes highly recommended anyway that you can find it.