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House of the Long Shadows (1983).

April 6, 2010

The Scoop:
Director Pete Walker’s creaky old dark house thriller takes a long time to get going, and then doesn’t do much once it gets there. The best thing this film has to recommend it is the casting of veteran horror warhorses Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine. The worst thing is Desi Arnaz Jr.

Best-selling novelist Kenneth Magee (Arnaz) accepts a bet from his publisher that he can’t write a gothic romance novel in 24 hours. To concentrate on the task, he travels to an abandoned manor in Wales where he figures he can get some peace and quiet. He doesn’t get much writing done, though, as he’s interrupted by his publisher’s secretary (Julie Peasgood). The youngsters then discover that they and a realtor who wants to buy the place (Lee) have stumbled onto a reunion of the aging family that owns the manor (Price, Cushing, Carradine and Sheila Keith) who have plenty of macabre secrets.

If the material seems ancient, even by 1980s standards, that’s because it is. Michael Armstrong’s script is based on the play “Seven Keys to Baldpate” by George M. Cohan, which opened on Broadway in 1913. The play, in turn, was based on an early novel by Earl Derr Biggers, who went on to create the Charlie Chan detective series. The story is a product of the early 20th century wave of old dark house thrillers, and it’s not one of the better examples of the genre. It’s filled with the sort of sub-Poe clichés that were rendered passé by the Second World War and finally killed by “Rocky Horror.” Walker and Armstrong try to dress up the film with a few nods toward the slasher trend of the early ’80s, but they seem horribly out of place.

The only reason to watch “House of the Long Shadows” is to see the legendary foursome of Price, Cushing, Lee and Carradine strut their stuff. They’re always a treat individually, and work well together. (In fact, this would be Cushing and Lee’s 26th and final screen pairing.) Arnaz is too lightweight to hold his own with these giants, and it’s unfortunate that far too much screen time is wasted on him and the other younger characters. And then there’s the pathetic twist ending(s), which you will probably see coming a mile away.

And it’s a shame because the film had so much promise. These legends of classic horror deserved so much better.

Best Line:
“Don’t interrupt my while I’m soliloquizing.”

Side Note:
Keith’s role was originally intended for another aging horror icon, Elsa Lanchester, but by then she was in her 80s and too ill to work.

Companion Viewing:
“Ghost Story” (1983) and “The Old Dark House” (1932).


Take a Look:
The trailer:

Dinner with the old folks:

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