Monday, 24 September 2012

POST No. 100: House of the Long Shadows (1982)

“Please don’t interrupt me while I’m soliloquising!” 
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS may not be the best film Vincent Price ever appeared in. In fact it’s probably not the best thing anyone involved with it worked on, with the possible exception of Desi Arnaz Jr (I know, me neither, he may well be better known in the US, at least I hope so for his sake). But that is definitely one of the best Vincent Price lines ever. It’s presumably courtesy of screenwriter Michael Armstrong, he of MARK OF THE DEVIL infamy, as well as HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR. The latter film is well worth watching on DVD with Armstrong’s commentary, by the way, as it was drastically altered prior to release, with extra sequences inserted directed by Gerry Levy (THE BODY STEALERS - a film no-one except the most obsessive 1960s BritSF movie fiend ever need consider watching) that didn’t add to the main plot at all.
      But I digress. HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is an interesting film. It’s very much a last hurrah for an interestingly disparate group of horror specialists including Price (who appeared in so many marvellous AIP pictures and THEATRE OF BLOOD), John Carradine (whose career really peaked in the Universal era before he appeared in a cavalcade of increasingly awful pictures from the 1950s onwards, - THE HOWLING being a notable exception), Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (who starred in almost everything brilliant about British horror ever), Sheila Keith (who starred in almost everything else brilliant about British horror, namely HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, FRIGHTMARE and other Pete Walker pictures), screenwriter Armstrong, and of course Pete Walker himself, who started making his own nasty brand of horror in the early 1970s with THE FLESH & BLOOD show before moving on to infamous success with HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and others. 
      Getting all these elements together might have seemed a bit daunting even for the most capable of producers. Of course Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the Cannon Group actually weren't really capable at all - at least not of producing quality cinema (their biggest hit was apparently BREAKDANCE). They did, however, become famous for being able to separate investors from their money so they could  produce films that on the whole lost vast amounts of money due to Cannon giving the public what the public didn’t really want on a regular basis until said investors realised what was going on.
      And that’s one of the problems with HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. It’s an old dark house thriller. Unfortunately this kind of picture went out of fashion in the early 1940s and never came back. Sadly Walker’s proposed project to Cannon about a murderous aborted foetus back from the dead and looking for revenge was rejected by Golan in favour of a ‘proper horror film’. It's a great shame that the project, called DELIVER US FROM EVIL (what a great title) and also due to be written by Armstrong, never reached the screen. Instead we have HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. The screenplay was apparently written very quickly in about two weeks and unfortunately it does show, with the film taking ages to get going.   
      Once it does, and the old horror stars are reassembled, each after having their own superb visual introduction, the film is a delight. In the last half an hour or so there are some well-orchestrated nasty murders and you can tell that this is where Walker’s heart is. Sadly the opening half, documenting writer Arnaz’s bet with publisher Richard Todd (presumably driving Walker’s trademark Rolls Royce at the beginning) that he can write a great gothic novel in the tradition of Wuthering Heights isn’t just slow but rambling and uninspired as well. Only Norman Rossington as a deliciously melodramatic Welsh railway station master is worth watching or listening to, and Arnaz and Julie Peasgood as the young leads just don’t have the charisma of the stars of 1930s vehicles such as Barbara Stanwyck or Dick Powell.
      One can’t be too hard on HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, though, as it’s a film that by rights shouldn’t even have existed in the Jason Voorhees / Michael Myers dominated horror cinema of the early 1980s. The leads are an absolute joy, with Vincent Price getting to do what he was always best at (and getting to call Christopher Lee a bitch - which must be a cinematic once and only), Mr Lee doing his very best arrogant and slightly miffed fish out of water bit, Cushing playing around with one of his ‘weak character’ roles - a bit like CREEPING FLESH’s Emmanuel Hildern but without the brains or reckless abandon, and John Carradine doing a nice job of being the slightly incensed elderly master of the house. Sheila Keith is just wonderful as well, and her performance here only makes it all the more regrettable that this was to be her last appearance in a horror subject until the Amicus spoof episode of Steve Coogan’s Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible (And Now The Fearing). The bit players aren’t bad either, with Benny Hill regular Louise English as the pretty girl who gets her face burned off by acid, and Richard Hunter in the typical Walker male role of henpecked weakling of a husband.
      Even Richard Hartley does a creditable job trying to sound like Walker’s regular composer Stanley Myers doing haunted house music, and the location itself is nicely spooky. Apparently the house belonged to a friend of FLESH & BLOOD SHOW screenwriter Alfred Shaughnessy, bringing Walker's horror career full circle as he never made another film after this (shame).
        So as I said HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is an interesting film. Until its recent DVD release I hadn’t seen it since it first came out. Final Cut Entertainment’s transfer is okay, by the way, but the ‘Remastered Widescreen Edition’ doesn’t look anywhere near as good as this picture did when it first came out, or when it was shown on television many moons ago. It does, however, look better than the Guild Home Video release of many years back, plus there are some nice extras of a documentary and a commentary track from Walker.
      But of course now what I REALLY want to see is the script for DELIVER US FROM EVIL...


  1. I have a soft spot for films about writers, even terrible films, and though it's not really a film about a horror author trying to write a novel in 24 hours either, but about a bunch of people dying in the most horrible ways imaginable, it's really all about assembling the finest character actors who ever graced the screen of the horror genre, and having some old fashioned fun. It doesn't really work, but nostalgia for my youth keeps the seams from bursting wide open and letting all its failures come spilling out. There is a sense of playfulness about the whole thing. And John, you are indeed right, it is amazing it ever got made in the age of the video nasty. Lovely review, of, dare I say it, a lovely horror film.

  2. Frank that's great - I think you've nailed exactly how and why this film is still enjoyed by fans. I was certainly pleased to see it again after all these years.

  3. I have to confess that I HATE this movie. I have seen it recently again and even hated it more. Not that you are wrong in your assesment, John, as far as the facts are concerned, it is old-fashioned and the actors have some good lines.

    Still, when I see especially Cushing in one of his last roles, I think they have thrown him (and the others) right under the bus. You have Price and Cushing and Lee and Carradine in the cast. What do you do? You produce a horror spoof which at the end is just a stupid, stupid joke, no harm no foul, all done with mirrors in a very cheap ghost train. And I really think they deserved better.

    I know that Karloff is kind of a bad example here as his last movies were (admittedly) even worse then this turkey, still we can remember him in Targets, which at least had something to say about the genre and the new times. It gave him kind of a noble exit. House of Long Shadows on the other hand could as easily have been a sketch in one of then so popular prime-time shows. Where they paraded already forgotten actors a last time across the stage before an uncaring audience, having a good laugh at their expense.

    They really deserved better.