House Of The Long Shadows

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

I like to think that I have become a very good movie critic, at least with the angle that I have chosen to devote to - unknown movies. It certainly didn't happen overnight - it took many years of practice and preparation. Quite frankly, I think it's amazing that I managed to become a good critic when you consider the limitations I had to face growing up. As I think I have mentioned before years ago on this web site, I grew up in a small town. Although that environment saved me from problems that plague big cities like crime, it was not the ideal environment for someone who deeply loved movies. For example, in my town there were a total of four movie screens, one of them being a drive-in theater screen. Yes, yes, I know that is more than what many people in other towns had on hand back then and even today. But I would look at the entertainment section in newspapers from the metropolis of Vancouver and I would see that I was missing a great deal of interesting B movies. The drive-in in my city would occasionally show one - I remember being intrigued by a local ad for The Last American Virgin when it came to my city - but I knew that I would never convince my folks to drive to the drive-in and let me see such movies. Another movie handicap that I had to face while growing up was with television. While other critics growing up had access to television stations that would show "fun" classic movies on a regular basis, I was not so lucky. The Canadian television channels that our family television could get would seldom show such movies. And the American channels (from Seattle) that we would get also for the most part also didn't seem interested in broadcasting such movies. (They were all major network affiliates.)

So you are probably thinking that once home video came in full force to my city, it was all smooth sailing from there. Well, not quite. Certainly, it was a godsend when it came to modern day B movies - the local stores would regularly get them, and I would regularly rent and watch them. But when it came to "fun" classic movies, I was still in the doldrums. While the local video stores got a few token classic movies in their collections, they were largely devoid of Universal horror movies and other movies in that vein. They didn't even stock King Kong, a movie I had to wait until I was an adult before I could finally see it. So because of circumstances like that, I became an adult who didn't have fond memories of seeing classic horror movie stars as a child. I certainly didn't see any Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff as a child, and when it came to other stars like Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and John Carradine, my childhood exposure wasn't that much better. When it came to Peter Cushing, for example, I certainly saw him in Star Wars... and that was it until many years later when I was a seasoned adult. With Vincent Price, I saw him in The Fly when my parents brought home a copy from the video store, and earlier I had seen Theater Of Blood when my parents urged me to watch it after they taped it off television... and that was it. When it came to Christopher Lee, I saw him in the Chuck Norris movie An Eye For An Eye and the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun, and that was it. As for John Carradine, I believe my only childhood exposure to him was hearing his voice in the animated movie The Secret Of NIMH.

To this day, I am kind of embarrassed that with Cushing, Price, Lee, and Carradine, I never really got a chance to grow up with them, even though I have clearly illustrated that circumstances were more often than not against me. But since becoming an adult, I have given a good effort to House Of The Long Shadowswatch many of the various movies these four gentlemen made. Turner Classic Movies, for one thing, has been a godsend. Also, DVD and Blu-Ray has helped fill in some of the missing pieces. I am slowly but surely catching up with my peers when it comes to these actors' films, and I am finding these films for the most part to be good fun. So you can imagine I was pumped when I got my hands on a Blu-Ray of House Of The Long Shadows, since this movie had all four of these actors in it. But in the back of my mind there was a voice cautioning me, pointing out that even though the movie had all these four actors in its cast, it was all the same an unknown movie. That suggested that the end results might not be so good. But all the same, I could not resist popping the disc into my Blu-Ray player. At the start of the movie, we meet American writer Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz Jr., Automan). He makes a $20,000 bet with his publisher (Richard Todd, The Dam Busters) that he can write a classic gothic-style novel in just twenty-four hours. Feeling he needs to work in an appropriate atmosphere in order to pull off the task, Kenneth travels to what he thinks is a deserted manor in the Welsh countryside. But shortly after getting to work, he soon finds out he's not alone - the supposedly long dead owner of the manor, Lord Grisbane (Carradine, The Mouse And His Child), pops up with his daughter Victoria (Sheila Keith, House Of Whipcord). Soon after, more people arrive at the manor, including Grisbane's sons Lionel (Price, Theatre Of Blood) and Sebastian (Cushing, Star Wars), as well as a man named Corrigan (Lee, The Rosebud Beach Hotel), who claims to be the manor's property manager. It soon becomes apparent that everyone but Kenneth is hiding secrets... and some may resort to murder to keep what they know a secret.

I know, I know - you don't have to bombard me with requests concerning the first thing you want me to discuss about House Of The Long Shadows. I know full well that you want me to start with talking about "the boys". So how are Carradine, Price, Cushing, and Lee? I'll tell you now. As the Lord of the Grisbane manor, Carradine has the smallest part of all four actors. Perhaps because he isn't given as much to do as his co-stars, he often seems to be just going through the motions. Still, his trademark grumpiness does come through at times and provides a little spark that's amusing. Though it's a little sad to see his crippled hands (from arthritis), though he tries to hide it by always clutching objects. Price, on the other hand, is at the opposite extreme, giving the most memorable performance. He seems to be having a lot of fun, getting delicious lines of dialogue like, "That cruel, twisted mind!" or "This house once sparkled with light and laughter!", all of which he delivers with his typical bravado acting style that steals the show. Unlike his famous co-stars, Cushing gets the opportunity to play a somewhat different character than he usually played. Instead of being stern and creepy, he is instead a more meek kind of person. Not overly cowardly, but when he delivers lines such as, "It's all I've ever known - fear", he is quite believable. Cushing also playfully adds a little lisp to his speech to put on a slight pathetic air that aids in selling this wimpish fellow. As for Lee, he plays the most "normal" character of the four. He puts on an air of authority and manages to convey that he knows what he's doing and what needs to be done. This may not sound all that creepy, but Lee manages to do this in a way that is kind of subtle, yet at the same time giving the idea his character may be hiding something. His character's confidence, while not overplayed, doesn't seem quite right all the same. As a result, we in the audience study him... carefully.

As you can see, there is a considerable amount of enjoyment seeing all four pro actors in House Of The Long Shadows doing what they are best known for. However, I wish I could say that for the rest of the cast. Actually, I'll give most of the supporting cast a pass since they aren't given that much to do to make it right to critique their acting. However, I can certainly judge actor Desi Arnaz Jr. A number of other reviewers of this movie have criticized the presence of Arnaz, and to a significant degree I can understand why. While Arnaz isn't downright irritating to watch, he all the same sticks out like a sore thumb. In his opening scenes, he comes across as having a gee-whiz attitude and some arrogance. When his character should be showing some concern, you feel he instead doesn't give a hoot about what's happening in front of him. And in the scenes he's paired up with a potential love interest (played by Julie Peasgood), he can't seem to generate any chemistry at all. To be fair to Arnaz, his character isn't particularly well-written. We learn next to nothing about him in the first five minutes of the movie before accepting the bet, and we learn little else for the remaining ninety-five or so minutes. The character is so weakly written that I think even any of those four horror icons would have had trouble playing it at any point of their careers. But that's not the only flaw to be found in the screenplay by Michael Armstrong (Mark Of The Devil). I could go into detail about several flaws in the screenplay, but let me just instead rant about the ending of the movie. There are not one but two twists in the final few minutes, and both are infuriating. (SPOILERS AHEAD). The first twist entirely depended on the Arnaz character doing something extremely specific just before the twist that nobody could have been sure would have happened. The second twist pretty much rehashes a variation of the old "it was all just a dream" twist, which since the first time was used in motion pictures has extremely frustrated audiences who realized that their emotional investment in the characters they were watching was for naught.

Though the screenplay for House Of The Long Shadows could have used a lot more work before filming started, a better written effort would still have had the bad luck of being filmed by the chosen director. Looking at director Pete Walker's career, the majority of his past film credits had been with low budget soft core sex films. Though he did direct some low budget horror movies before this one, it's all the same strange that he would be chosen to helm a more higher class horror movie that had four big stars. (Though producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus weren't exactly known for wise decisions.) In fairness to him, he doesn't totally botch things up in the director's chair. He knew with this cast to have a few sequences where we see all four horror icons together in the same shot. He also shows some understanding of the right atmosphere at times, ranging from having a long nighttime thunderstorm happening outside to the use of little to no intrusive music in some key moments, the best being when Arnaz is first inspecting the darkened manor shortly after arriving. And the PG level amount of gore and violence seems appropriate for this kind of movie. However, Walker makes the movie an extremely sluggish enterprise. The movie creeps along very slowly for the most part, and as a result there is absolutely no bite. The (few) attempts at comic relief (black or otherwise) simply aren't that funny at all, and when people start to get knocked off, there is absolutely no impact at all during their deaths or subsequently when their bodies are discovered. The movie is so soft and slow that quite frankly I was really bored most of the time. However, I have the feeling that my words of caution aren't going to make much difference to fans of Carradine, Price, Cushing, and Lee. I realize that the idea of seeing all four icons together in a movie will be irresistible to those particular people. If that is what you are thinking, I know I can't stop you. But I will add some extra advice, that being that if you are determined all the same to watch the movie despite what I've told you, set your mind to watching it as a historical artifact instead of as a piece of entertainment.

(Posted May 19, 2017)

UPDATE: Bill Culbertson sent in this information:

"It may be hard to believe, but House of the Long Shadows is the 13th adaptation of Earl Derr Bigger's novel Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913).  Twice on Broadway with actor/playwright George M. Cohan; seven motion pictures (three silent, four with sound); two radio adaptions; and two television productions.

"Cohan deliberately made the stage play "old fashioned" in 1913, and that sensibility stuck with it ever since.  Golan and Globus probably OKed the production because by 1983 it was in public domain and wouldn't have to pay royalties.

"So it is no surprise that a copy of a copy (of a copy, etc.) fails to catch fire.

"Thanks for the enjoyment your web page has brought me."

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See also: Death Ship, The Evil, Mansion Of The Doomed