Tuesday, September 29, 2015

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS On Blu-ray





This year Kino Lorber has released a couple of films on Blu-ray featuring great horror star team-ups (THE CRIMSON CULT, MADHOUSE). Now the company has brought out another release with a Master of Menace-filled lineup--HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS.

English director Pete Walker made his reputation in the mid-1970s with a series of brutal contemporary horror films. As Walker tells it on an audio commentary for this Blu-ray, he was all but retired when producers Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus of Cannon Films asked him to make an "old-fashioned" horror movie. Why Golan & Globus approached Walker for the project is unclear--Walker's work was about as far away from old-fashioned horror as you could get--but the director took on the job. Walker and screenwriter Michael Armstrong decided to remake the mystery novel Seven Keys To Baldpate, and they also decided to cast as many classic horror film stars as they could.

The cast Walker gathered was indeed impressive--Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine. (Walker also tried to get Elsa Lanchester, but her health problems prevented her from taking part.) Like most monster mash-ups, however, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS just doesn't live up to the pedigrees of the legends starring in it.

The real star of the film is Desi Arnaz Jr. as a young American novelist on a book tour in England. Desi and his publisher make a bet on whether the writer can complete an entire new novel in 24 hours. The publisher sends the writer to a deserted large house in Wales called Baldpate Manor. Desi thinks he will have plenty of peace and privacy to write, but strange people keep turning up, and soon the novel gets forgotten as the bizarre Grisbane clan hold a weird family reunion. (A real British manor house, Rotherfield Park, was used for Baldpate Manor, and this is a major highlight of the production.)

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is very much a "old dark house" type of story, with all the requisite cliches present. If Cannon wanted an "old-fashioned" type of horror picture, they certainly got one. The movie is rated PG, and not only does it look tepid compared to all the other horror product of the early 1980s, it appears weak alongside most of the horror outings of the 1960s. It is a treat to see the Fearsome Foursome--but the reality is they don't have a lot to do here (Desi Arnaz and Julie Peasgood, who plays the leading lady role, get the majority of the screen time). Price is his typical grandiloquent self, and Lee plays another of his uptight upper-class Englishmen. Peter Cushing gets a chance to do something different with his role of the cowardly (and tipsy) Grisbane brother--Cushing even uses a Elmer Fudd-type accent! Poor John Carradine's acting was obviously limited due to his health. Shelia Keith, a veteran of many Pete Walker films, actually just about steals the film playing the role of the Grisbane sister.

Almost everyone who has commented on HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS goes out of their way to disparage Desi Arnaz Jr. I'm no fan of him myself, but to be fair, he's stuck with the "David Manners" role here, and that is one of the worst roles any actor can be saddled with. Desi's part is also not written very well--he's a cocky American writer, and it is insinuated that he's not even a very good writer. But it has to be said that Arnaz doesn't do much to make his character interesting, or likable to the audience.

If one has to discuss HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, one has to mention the movie's double-twist ending. I'm not going to tell you exactly how the movie ends--I've probably given away too much by even mentioning that there is a double-twist ending--but suffice to say that some viewers may by annoyed by it (even Pete Walker admits in the commentary that the climax disappointed several people). Looked at today by those familiar with it, I guess you could say that in a way it's kind of cute--but I know that when I first saw HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS on home video in the mid-1980s, I was rather ticked off by it.

This movie was released on DVD-R by MGM a couple years ago, and the reviews on the disc's picture quality were so uniformly terrible, I didn't even bother to get it. This Kino Blu-ray makes the film look as good as a low-budget production from the 1980s can. As already mentioned, Pete Walker takes part in an audio commentary moderated by British horror film expert Derek Pykett. This is definitely worthy of a listen, as Walker (unlike some filmmakers I could name) has a total recall of all the events surrounding the production, and he shares some fine anecdotes about the members of the cast. There's also another commentary from David Del Valle, who has contributed talks on just about every Blu-ray I have bought this summer. There's also a short on-camera interview with Pete Walker.

For a long time I had a lot of bad feelings about HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS--Desi Arnaz Jr. hogging all the screen time, the trick ending, etc. Looking at it now, I can't say I've totally changed my mind about it, but I would say I respect it a bit more. It takes a long time to get going, and at 100 minutes the movie is too long for its type of material--but it is a nice little film, and seeing Price, Lee, Cushing, and Carradine together on screen at the same time is a true cinema history moment. It should have been more than what it turned out to be, but let's give Pete Walker and Cannon credit for giving these four gentlemen this opportunity. And let's remember this fact--HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is the very last official Peter Cushing--Christopher Lee film.



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