Shot on Location in England in 1982, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS was the last film by British cult director Pete Walker (before turning his attentions on property investments) and it’s the only one he didn’t produce himself. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (otherwise known as Cannon Films) desired a scare film using the genre’s remaining superstars, and that’s certainly what they got. With a screenplay by Michael Armstrong (director of HORROR HOUSE and MARK OF THE DEVIL), the film was based or rather suggested by the novel Seven Keys to Baldpate, which had actually been filmed five times before, most recently in 1947. Kino Lorber at last gives this, the final cinematic gathering of the masters of menace, the home video release it deserves!
Young American writer Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr., BILLY TWO HATS), who is living in England, makes a bet with his publisher (Richard Todd, ASYLUM) for $20,000 that he could churn out a novel in 24 hours. It’s set up so that Kenneth can stay in an empty, dilapidated manor house in Wales to bang away at his typewriter in uninterrupted seclusion. But peace and quiet is not in the cards, as Kenneth unexpectedly stumbles upon an elderly man (John Carradine, HOUSE OF DRACULA) and his daughter (Sheila Keith, THE COMEBACK) purporting to be the caretakers of the manor. Another unexpected visitor, Mary Norton (Julie Peasgood), is introduced wearing an old lady mask, but actually turns out to be his publisher’s secretary, sent to the place to keep an eye on him (and naturally, he can’t keep his eyes off of her).
During that stormy (and exceedingly long night), two older distinguished-looking gentlemen (Vincent Price and Peter Cushing) make their entrance, and it is soon revealed that they, along with the elderly fellow and his daughter, are part of the peculiar Grisbane family. The Grisbanes are reuniting for the first time since the late 1930s, and they are hiding a dark secret about their youngest sibling. After seeing lights on from outside, a cantankerous property manager named Corrigan (Christopher Lee) storms in, threatening to toss the whole lot of them out, but he ultimately agrees to stay on as a dinner guest, just in time for a series of grisly murders that will ensue before the night is over. Has the Grisbane clan’s sorted past come back to finish them off for good?
As produced with very little outside interruption by Golan and Globus, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is more or less a traditional “Old Dark House” type yarn that mixes horror and black comedy elements and never attempts to break any new ground (even with its multiple twist endings). What it does do is provide a respectable, pleasurable vehicle for the aged genre legends to appear in, all who have memorable parts and a good amount of screen time (with Carradine and his painfully arthritic hands having the least to do). Director Walker, probably England’s most recognized exploitation filmmaker, delivers his most toned-down picture in terms of pure sensationalism and onscreen gore (though the film does deliver several gruesome – albeit PG level – moments) but his style properly fits the ghastly candlelit uncoverings of decades-old betrayal, homicide and perversion within the shadowy walls of Bllydpaetwr Manor. Walker attempted (and mostly succeeded) to reinvent the British horror film in the 1970s with such intense works as HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, FRIGHTMARE and THE HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN, so it’s ironic and at the same time fitting that he would conclude his impressive career with this retro style chiller, made at a time when English gothic had been obsolete for nearly a decade.
Although Price, Lee, Cushing and Carradine had all been paired off with each other in various past projects together, this film marked the first and last time the quartet appeared together on screen, and it’s also the final union of Horror’s dynamic duo of Lee and Cushing (which is a shame since Cushing still had a few more good years left in him). Sheila Keith, the unsettling villainous from Walker’s best films, is fittingly matched up with the four gentlemen, as she is pretty much the female equivalent of a Peter Cushing (and well cast as his sister when you see the two in frame together). The role was originally intended for Elsa Lanchester, who was too ill to make the trip to England. Desi Arnaz Jr. has gotten some criticism in the past for his performance here, but he actually does a decent job as the likable lead, and his character serves as an amicable mediator amongst a sea of eccentrics. In smaller roles are Norm Rossington (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, RAW MEAT) who is almost unrecognizable as a train station manager, and Louise English (one of Benny Hill’s sexiest “Hills Angels” in the latter years of his TV series) as an inebriated, loud-mouthed manor guest.
Given a shoddy U.S. theatrical release by Cannon, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS quickly made its way to VHS in 1984 via MGM/UA, and was later given an MOD DVD-R release by MGM in a full frame transfer which actually looked worse than the VHS. Kino Lorber has now licensed the film from MGM and have newly remastered in HD for a Blu-ray that’s a sight to behold. For the first time on home video in the U.S., the film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and in 1080p. For a film that has always been very dark to look out (with some bits being very hard to decipher), the Blu-ray is more than a revelation, and this perfect transfer is not only a pleasure to watch, but it actually makes the film as whole more entertaining. The presentation looks flawless, as the original elements used show no defects and minimal grain. The well-defined image is very sharp, fleshtones are very natural and facial detail (especially the close-ups of the cracks and crevices on those thespians we know and love) are highly impressive. Colors are nicely saturated throughout, black levels are deep and the film’s numerous darkly-lit scenes look terrific; presented clearly like never before (and this can be applied to several shock gore bits which previously weren't presented very clearly). The English DTS-HD Master Audio mono track sounds fantastic, with dialog being crisp and clean, and there's no noticeable hiss or distortions to be found. No subtitle options are on the disc.
Director Walker is interviewed for the featurette “Pete Walker’s House of Horror” (14:48) as he discusses the period where he had retired from filmmaking (as he had started a chain of independent theaters) when he got the call from Golan and Globus, who were looking to make a throwback horror movie. Getting Armstrong to write the script and casting all the living horror stars, Walker sold the idea to Cannon as “loving tribute” but knew he wouldn’t be doing anything innovative. He describes the shoot as being like a party and that he didn’t have any financial problems since he was the director for hire. Walker also discusses the cast, the locations, his notorious producers, and the reason why he finally retired from filmmaking for good. Walker is also on hand for an audio commentary moderated by British author Derek Pykett (originally recorded for the 2012 Final Cut Entertainment British DVD release). He had a project he was developing (written by Armstrong as “Deliver Us From Evil”) which was rejected by Golan and Globus, and that lead to him directing this back-to-basics “Old Dark House” type horror film. Walker covers everything from his relationship with Armstrong and the screenwriting process, his casting of the film (first securing Price and Lee who were both living in California) and what they were like on the set (adding that Cushing himself decided to add a lisp to his character), his crew, the budget, the shooting schedule, its theatrical release and frequent HBO airings, and more. Pykett seems really passionate about British horror (calling this film a “something of a little gem”) and proves a terrific, well-informed moderator, and the commentary on the whole is very entertaining. A second commentary, recorded exclusively for this Blu-ray, features Elijah Drenner and David Del Valle, both who have an affection for the film and feel it needs re-evaluation. Del Valle makes a great point that AIP could never do an-all star horror outing with a combination of the same three leads that had them doing much interaction (with the exception of MADHOUSE), and this film more or less succeeds to unite them together properly. Del Valle is friends with screenwriter Armstrong, and he knew most of the horror legends, including Lee (who just passed away a week before this commentary was recorded), so the conversation here humbly pays tribute to him (with Del Valle sharing an extended, appropriate quote from the late actor). Also included is the original trailer (narrated by Price himself), as well as trailers for THE OBLONG BOX and MADHOUSE. (George R. Reis)
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