Movie Review – House of the Long Shadows (1983)
English filmmaker Pete Walker, known for his tasteless horror and sexploitation movies during the late 1960s and 1970s, which purposefully pushed the nerves of Tory conservatives, took as his last feature film project a rather tame but historically notable affair. 1983’s House of the Long Shadows, based on the 1913 novel Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers and adapted as a screenplay by Michael Armstrong, is an Old Dark House tale that would be conventionally boring if not for the presence of three horror titans – Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee – along with genre veteran John Carradine, in the only film in which all men share the screen. The pedigrees of these actors are legendary, with Price having formed the centerpiece of William Castle’s movies, Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, and many of AIP’s most successful outings, and Cushing and Lee being the consummate faces of Britain’s Hammer and Amicus films. Indeed, these three men were the very faces of horror during the 1960s until the genre took a different turn in the early 1970s.
House of the Long Shadows fits well in the traditions of both Hammer and Amicus, and thus feels like a loving, intentional throwback to earlier times, forsaking the teen-centered slashers that were then in their heyday. The actors are terrific in their roles, each getting to play a character that fits well with their acting styles and on-screen personas. Price especially chews the scenery with his loquacious dialogue while Cushing is sympathetic as a nervous, guilt-ridden drunkard. Lee, of course, is at turns perfectly regal and sinister. Carradine is also fine, though he is given less to do. Also present is one of Walker’s favorites in their last film together, Sheila Keith.
These are reasons alone to see this film, however, they’re also the only thing likely to keep one’s attention. The build-up to the story is languorous, bordering on tedious, and the lead performance by Dezi Arnaz, Jr. leaves a lot to be desired (and makes me imagine what a young Tom Hanks might have done with the role). His co-star, Julie Peasgood, fairs only slightly better. When all four veteran actors are finally on screen the movie begins to move along smoothly, but the ending – and some plot elements – becomes needlessly convoluted. Despite Walker’s reputation, the filming here is fairly chaste, yet several times the screen was so dark I couldn’t make out what was happening.
This is far from the best film any of these men have been in, but it’s a workable sendoff to bookend their long, storied careers as the biggest names in horror – this is also the last film that Cushing and Lee would appear in together. For those who truly appreciate what seeing these men together means, I must recommend this film; for those who could care less, there’s not much here to see. However, I for one thought that hearing Price cattily call Lee a “bitch” near the end was worth the long slog to get there.