GORE IN THE STORE
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS ****
Directed by Pete Walker.
Starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, John Carradine, Sheila Keith, Desi Arnaz Jr., Julie Peasgood, Richard Todd.
Horror/Comedy, UK, 102 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Fabulous Films on 28th March 2022.
Originally released in 1983, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is a mass of contradictions that has benefitted from nearly forty years of hindsight and audiences now more clued in to what it was trying to achieve. Directed by British exploitation filmmaker Pete Walker (FRIGHTMARE/DIE SCREAMING, MARIANNE), the movie has an obvious hook with its casting choices but how this came about is just as interesting and represents the end of an era for both cast and crew.
It is interesting because Pete Walker became a name in the 1970s by making exploitation movies that were a lot edgier than the old-fashioned Gothics that the likes of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price were still making, to diminishing returns. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE had changed the horror landscape to a more brutal, realistic setting and Britain was answering back, with Walker probably being the closest to a Wes Craven that the UK produced, and his movies such as proto-slasher FRIGHTMARE and the sadomasochistic HOUSE OF WHIPCORD were as grim and violent as anything that came out stateside.
Which makes Pete Walker an odd choice to make an antiquated ‘old dark house’-style movie in 1983, especially during the first wave of gorier, more violent slasher movies, but he was approached by Cannon Films’ head honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to make a horror movie. However, they were expecting a Gothic horror starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and upon being told by Walker that both actors had been dead for decades it was decided to try and cast whoever was left of the Hammer/AIP-era, and so Walker reached out to Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine (who had a brief appearance in 1935s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN before replacing Bela Lugosi as Dracula in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), all of whom accepted straight away.
In the movie, author Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) is challenged to a bet by his publisher Sam Allyson (Richard Todd) that he cannot write a decent novel in 24 hours. Accepting the challenge Magee goes to an allegedly deserted manor but when he arrives he discovers that the house is already occupied by two ‘caretakers’, the elderly Lord Grisbane (Carradine) and his daughter Victoria (FRIGHTMARE’s Sheila Keith). Before long he is joined by Sam Allyson’s secretary Mary Norton (Julie Peasgood), who has come to warn him that odd things are abound, and before anyone can say “BOO!” the house is visited by Lord Grisbane’s two sons Sebastian (Cushing) and Lionel (Price), who have come to their old family home on this night to release their younger brother Roderick from the room they imprisoned him in 40 years ago after he killed a local girl.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement a young couple sheltering from the storm brewing outside enter the house, as well as Mr. Corrigan (Lee), the current owner of the property who wants to know why all of these people are here. Once all is explained the Grisbane’s go to free Roderick, only to discover that their deranged younger brother is nowhere to be found; it’s enough to make a good novel out of…
So HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is something of a mystery but it is no mystery as to why it holds so much joy for so many, as it is the only movie that features horror royalty Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine together on-screen at the same time. Not only that but you also get a tremendous supporting cast in Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith, popular British TV faces Julie Peasgood and Louise English and legendary actor Richard Todd in his small role as Sam Allyson. There is also Desi Arnaz, Jr. trying his best, but never mind because when the main leads ham it up this much there isn’t much room left for the cheese.
One thing that gets repeated a lot in the accompanying documentaries is how professional and easy to work with the four main actors were, and this shows as the script allows them all to bounce off each other as they naturally would if they were casually chatting off-camera. Vincent Price gets top billing and he does get the lion’s share of the dialogue, often delivering the quips and providing much of the humour, and he and Peter Cushing get most of the screen time. Cushing also gave his character a speech impediment that wasn’t in the script, just a character quirk that makes Sebastian more memorable. Cushing and Price were also in their early seventies at the time, which makes it quite difficult to be John Carradine’s sons as he was in his late 70s, but we’ll ignore that.
John Carradine doesn’t have quite as much to do as the others, given his advanced years and his penchant for nodding off, as he does in one scene when everyone is sat around a large dining table. However, he wakes up and delivers his lines with perfect timing and Pete Walker left the take in the film. As for Christopher Lee, he was a decade younger than his co-stars but his box office clout had faded in the wake of the younger horror actors rising through the ranks, although he does give a very knowing performance as what is essentially the ‘baddie’ of the piece, using his intimidating size and those classic old DRACULA expressions when stalking about the creaky old house, and he is clearly having a great time with his old friends.
But as a last hurrah for the bygone era of horror movies, does HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS offer anything up other than nostalgia? Not really, but that was always the point, as Pete Walker explains in the accompanying documentary. The script was never going to equal – let alone top - anything the main actors did in their prime, and it was highly unlikely that any of them would have agreed to do it if it were a serious piece. Naturally, every haunted house horror movie cliché is used, and if you went to see this in 1983 - during a year that gave us SLEEPAWAY CAMP, VIDEODROME, CHRISTINE and PSYCHO II - and expected a ‘proper’ horror movie then it would probably have been a disappointment, but when viewed as the nostalgia piece it is there is much joy to be had within the dark, shadowy walls as Vincent Price declares “I have returned” during his dramatic, rain-soaked entrance.
The disc comes with an audio commentary by Pete Walker and filmmaker Derek Pykett, plus two documentaries, one being a short interview with Pete Walker about the movie and the other Derek Pykett’s feature-length HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS… REVISITED, where Pete Walker, actor Julie Peasgood and cinematographer Norman Langley return to the mansion and discuss the movie, as well as featuring interviews with Desi Arnaz, Jr., actors Louise English and Richard Hunter, and other crew members. The stories they all tell add to the legacy of the four main actors’ reputations of being total gentlemen – there is a scene where Julie Peasgood is handed a handwritten letter from Peter Cushing dating from 1989 which brings a tear to the eye and shows what type of man he was – and help bolster the movie so you can enjoy a few hours of classy Gothic horror with a huge dose of black comedy running through it in the company of people who were more than happy to send themselves and their body of work up in the name of entertainment. It may not be THE EXPENDABLES in terms of older actors doing the thing they were known for decades previous but HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is a lot of fun, and is now thankfully on a UK Blu-ray so it can sit alongside your remastered Hammer, AIP and Universal classics as a nice bookend, which is all it was ever trying to be.