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Monday, March 9, 2020

House of the Long Shadows (1983)



I’m a huge fan of director Pete Walker’s movies, especially his output from the seventies. He had retired by the end of that decade only to return for this one last time. With House of the Long Shadows he was hired by Cannon films to make an old school horror flick and boy did he succeed at that.

Desi Arnaz Jr. plays Kenneth, an American author touring England promoting his latest novel. When his publisher makes a comment about how they don’t write them like they used to Kenneth bets him that he could knock out an old school story in twenty-four hours. The bet is accepted, and an isolated country house is chosen as a nice quiet location to work. Only the place turns out to not be so peaceful. The weekend that he arrives to write also happens to be the same time that the former inhabitants decide to revisit their ancestral home. If that weren’t enough the publisher also sent his lovely assistant Mary along to spook Kenneth and distract him! I suppose all is fair when bets are involved.

Now if this alone were the story it wouldn’t be terribly interesting, would it? The family has a skeleton in their proverbial closet, as well as one upstairs in a locked room! Before anyone realizes it they are all being stalked and killed off one at a time by an insane brother bent on revenge. It doesn’t matter if you are family or not, being present is enough to make you fair game. The rest of the movie plays out as a mystery/stalk and kill. Along the way we get a couple old school twists and turns to make things entertaining.

I love this movie for a couple of reasons. The first of which is the casting. When Walker was hired to direct an old school horror movie, he basically cast everyone still living from the old days. The patriarch of the family is played by John Carradine with his sons being portrayed by Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price. Let that marinate in your brain for a few seconds. Here we have four of the greatest horror actors ever, and certainly the best still living at the time. The only bummer was that they had intended to cast Elsa Lanchester as the only daughter, but she was too ill to travel to the set. Not only is it amazing to see these guys working off of one another, but individually they are each able to bring something unique to the screen. Cushing plays the mousy, cowardly brother with zeal. Price is larger than life delivering over the top soliloquies and chewing up scenery, and well Lee is awesomely creepy. This alone makes House of the Long Shadows worth a watch. But that isn’t all we get.

Look at this cast... seriously drink it in. Amazing...
The source material for the movie is based on an old play, Seven Keys to Baldpate, which itself had already been made into a movie seven times as well as a television adaptation in the fifties. While this story only loosely references the material in spirit it is very close. Basically, this is a more modern, for the early eighties, take on the old dark house movies that were immensely popular in the thirties. We get hidden doors, cobwebs, candles, and a big storm outside effectively trapping our characters in a giant spooky house. Of course, there is murder and a family secret that no one wants to revel as well as an unknown and unseen killer lurking about. The filmmakers effectively took these classic actors and put them in an equally classic story completely succeeding in making a fun throwback film.

I could and want to go on talking about House of the Long Shadows, but I’m afraid I’d spoil things and I really don’t want to do that. The decade of the eighties was dominated by Slasher movies and other gorefests. While I love those movies there is something special about seeing these old favorites getting a chance for one last hurrah together. Plus, this is the only movie where the big three of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price appear onscreen together. How can you pass that up? In case it isn’t obvious I’m going to recommend that you don’t pass on it. For many years you could only find this movie on bootlegs of varying quality, but now there is a very nice and affordable Blu-Ray from the fine folks at Kino Lorber. I suggest this as the best way to check out the movie.


© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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