(The following review pertains to the Region 2/British DVD release)
the end of the 1970s Pete Walker was one of the UK's most successful horror
film directors, with titles like House of Whipcord (1974), Frightmare
(1974) and The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) securing his reputation for
originality and controversy. It was perhaps surprising to many when, in 1983,
what turned out to be his last film was a throw-back to the old dark
house-style gothic horrors of the 1930s. His producers, Menahem Golen and Yorum
Globus, wanted a horror film with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, not the
“aborted foetus on the rampage” film he was trying to raise funding for.
Undeterred, and working with long-time script-writing collaborator Michael
Armstrong, he devised a film that could cast the old guard and be both an
homage to the genre as well as a spoof of its creaky conventions. Thankfully
Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and John Carradine signed up
providing the kind of dream team not seen since the heyday of Amicus or AIP in
the 1960s. Sheila Keith, in her fifth film for Pete Walker, was a replacement
forElsa Lanchester, the original bride
of Frankenstein, who at that point was too ill to make the journey to the UK.
Despite her late casting, Keith's association with Walker's horror films
ensured she fitted in perfectly with the rest of the cast.
story revolves around rich young American author Ken (Desi Arnaz Jr., son of
Desi and Lucille Ball) on a book-signing tour of the UK. A bet is made with his
publisher (played with relish by Richard Todd, himself no stranger to the
horror film) that Ken cannot write a gothic romance novel in twenty-four hours.
Taking the bet, he is given the key to a deserted manor house in Wales to
provide inspiration, only it soon transpires that the house is anything but.
Before he can settle down with his typewriter he has to deal with mysterious
caretakers, long-lost relatives, a sexy secretary, cobweb-strewn corridors, a
locked room and several grisly murders. The old cast play their parts with
obvious glee, these pantheons of terror clearly relishing the chance to play on
their horror images. Even Christopher Lee seems to be having a good time! Desi
Arnaz Jr. has come in for some criticism in the past for his performance in
this film, and whilst he is a little bland, he does provide a useful anchor for
the increasing insanity around him.
released theatrically House of the Long Shadows disappointed at the box
office, in part due to the fact that Cannon Films could not decide whether to
market the movie as a comedy or a horror, and it has become something of a lost
film since. There was a brief VHS release in the mid-1980s and a poor quality
burn on demand DVD from the MGM archive, but this release from Final Cut
Entertainment represents the first official DVD release, and it is long
overdue. Featuring a good quality widescreen print, we finally have an
opportunity to appreciate the superb lighting and cinematography by Norman G.
Langley, who was working under the difficulties of shooting in a real manor
house, not a studio set. The DVD cover is unfortunately cheap and bland,
essentially reproducing the original VHS artwork, but do not be fooled. A lot
of work has been put into this release, mainly by author, theatre director and
super-fan Derek Pykett. He accompanies director Pete Walker on a full
commentary track discussing all aspects of the production in great detail. What
is more unexpected is the feature length documentary House of the Long
Shadows... Revisited, produced and presented by Pykett. It is clearly an
amateur production, and somebody needs to teach him how to conduct interviews
without constantly giggling in the background, but we should be grateful for
his enthusiasm. It is doubtful anyone else would have gone to so much trouble.
He reunites Walker and Langley with Julie Peasgood, one of the film's younger
stars, at the original location, actually Rotherfield park in Hampshire. He has
also secured interviews with several other of the movie's participants from
both in front of and behind the camera, the most surprising of all being a
fascinating chat with Desi Arnaz. Jr himself. He has fond memories of the film,
particularly working with such a terrific cast.
this release will allow people the chance to reassess this gleefully playful
movie, which is deeply undeserving of the negative reputation it has. Far from
the disappointment it was perceived to be at the time, House of the Long
Shadows is both a tribute and a swansong to the gothic horror movie,
riffing on the clichés and sending up the over the top performances. It is a
joy to spend an hour and a half in the company of Vincent Price, Peter Cushing,
Christopher Lee, John Carradine and Sheila Keith doing what they did best, in a
lineup the likes of which we will most likely never see again.