House of the Long Shadows Blu-ray Review: Four Horror Icons Enter an Old Dark House

House of the Long Shadows (1983) directed by Pete Walker (Frightmare) brings together Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine for the first (and last) time. As thunder rolls and lightning flashes, they gather to spook Desi Arnaz Jr in this old, dark-house send-up that stands as a tribute not only to them but to those horror icons that came before and the movies of an era long vanished.  

Cocky, young, American author Kenneth Magee (Arnaz) takes a trip to England where he bets his publisher Sam (Richard Todd) $20,000 that he can knock off a “Wuthering Heights” type novel in 24 hours if he’s left alone and immersed in the proper atmosphere. Sam knows just such a place; miles away from the city, no one else around, complete with no electricity and an odd Welsh name. So Magee merrily sets off on a bright, sunny day that quickly turns dark and gloomy. By the time Magee arrives at Bllyddpaetwr (Baldpate) Manor, it’s a full blown dark and stormy night. Once inside, he discovers he won’t be alone as there are two old caretakers, a father/daughter team (Carradine and Sheila Keith) roaming the house. 

Once Magee finally sets to writing, he’s quickly interrupted by a pretty blonde (Julie Peasgood) sent by Sam to disrupt his peaceful night of writing. Just as soon as that’s all squared away, a gentleman named Sabastian (Cushing) enters the house in search of refuge from the rain. Then another named Lionel (Price, whose entrance is amazing as he announces, “I have returned”) and yet another (Lee), the future owner of the manor. After stumbling around a house well-lit by candles, Magee learns all these old folks are part of the Grisbane family, who have owned the house for years and have returned to release a long, locked-away evil. Are they really all family? Will Magee win his bet? Will the family’s secret doom them all to death? Or is this all just an elaborate hoax to spoil Magee’s productive night? Only the House of the Long Shadows has the answers. 

With a runtime of 100 minutes, House of the Long Shadows is a classic play on the old, dark-house theme and draws inspiration from Earl Derr Biggers’s novel “Seven Keys to Baldpate.” It has suspense, a touch of horror, a splash of comedy, and a twist ending. Walker brings a darker, more modern air by adding some decent gore effects when needed, but not going over the top and keeping the principal actors in a setting that they are comfortable with; a fun story with witty dialogue and no blood splashing everywhere. There are some graphic scenes including the acid bath and the battle axe murder but most of that action happens in the shadows or just off screen. A brilliant tip of the hat to those films of the past. 

House of the Long Shadows is truly a tribute to movies like The Old Dark House (1932), London After Midnight (1927), and Mark of the Vampire (1935). The movie is also an obvious nod to those Universal pictures that would gather up all the “monsters” on one set. Very much like those classics, the movie is filled with gaping plot holes that cause head scratching but that one sets aside in order to enjoy the actors as they indulge themselves and spoof the serious frights of the past. Plus, there’s a great score by Richard Harvey that thrills us as we watch Christopher Lee bare his teeth, Peter Cushing speak like a meek Elmer Fudd, and delight when Vincent Price casually calls Lee a “bitch.” Good stuff. 

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray release is loaded with great special features that include two audio commentaries and a full-length documentary. The first audio commentary track features author Derek Pykett and director Pete Walker as they talk about what it was like working with Arnaz Jr. and the four horror icons on a project that was very much a throwback to films done 30 years prior to 1982. They discuss how the cast interacted with each other while filming, how some knew each other from years past, and how they went about playing their parts with little actual direction. Walker does a good job in relating how the movie came to be and how the “Go Go Boys” Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus of the Cannon Group envisioned the horror movie they wanted Walker to make. Walker wanted a contemporary shocker while the Go Go Boys wanted Karloff and Lugosi, when informed they were dead by Walker he was told to “get them anyway.” So with no budget concerns, Walker set about contacting the remaining Big Four, he even tried to get Elsa Lanchester but she was too ill to participate. A fascinating rewatch of the movie.  

The second audio commentary is with film historian David Del Valle, who is always fun to listen to as he comes prepared with many personal stories, fun facts, and anecdotes that relate to the movie he’s watching. Fun fact: you can see Carradine dozing off on screen as the others recite their parts. Del Valle discusses how the movie was conceived, produced, and received upon release, which wasn’t so good, as most people expected to see a real horror movie; it did much better on home video and cable. Del Valle does a great job in relating how characters and actors were chosen and how they were viewed by the press upon the film’s opening. Arnaz seems to have gotten the brunt of the hate for his role which isn’t bad. I think he does well, embracing his part as a cynical, 1930s type wise ass (usually a reporter in those old pictures) who’s seen it all and believes none of it until the end. Perhaps those critiques of his acting are why he chose to stay away from major parts going forward? 

The documentary House of the Long Shadows…Revisited (2012) by director Dereck Pykett is 108 minutes that features the remaining cast and crew as they reminisce about the movie’s filming. While Pykett, Walker and Peasgood walk the grounds of the old manor location (Rotherfield Park in England), the rest of the cast including Arnaz and Louise English (a former Benny Hill angel) and all kinds of crew from the screenwriter and composer to various members of production are interviewed about what they recall about those days. Pykett and Walker go over many technical aspects such as where lights were placed on set to get the full shadow effect and how certain scenes materialized in each room and corridor. Along with the rest of the film crew, we get a very detailed look behind the scenes at the making of the movie. 

Special Features listed are 

  • Audio Commentary by Author Derel Pykett and Director Pete Walker
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian David Del Valle 
  • House of the Long Shadows…Revisited: Documentary with Cast and Crew
  • Pete Walker’s House of Horror: Interview with Director Pete Walker 
  • Theatrical Trailers

House of the Long Shadows would truly be the last of its kind in a few different ways; the last film directed by Walker, the last major role for Desi Arnaz Jr. as well as the last time horror icons Price, Lee, Cushing, and Carradine would be filmed on screen together. What a treat to watch them all interact in a movie that’s fun, witty, and suits them well. Lastly…never interrupt Vincent Price while he’s soliloquising. 

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Joe Garcia III

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