House of the Long Shadows (1983)
While the end result might not be what the cast and crew had hoped for, this just might be the greatest idea that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had while they were cranking out features during their heyday under the Cannon Films banner. Why might this be the single most important idea they had? The reason is it’s the only legitimate teaming of the last great trio of horror film stars with another aging veteran tossed in for good measure.
Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine. That’s a one hell of a great idea. Plain and simple. Appearing in any film alone, these icons can make it a memorable experience but to see them all on camera in one haunted tale makes this a must see.
Using the often filmed Earl Derr Biggers tale, Seven Keys to Baldpate as a vehicle for our notorious foursome allows for each actor to claim some screen time with their counterparts. It’s an old dark house tale where a young author played by Desi Arnaz Jr. takes up a wager to spend a night in a deserted mansion known as Baldpate Manor. He has one night to come up with a novel in a bet he’s made with his publisher played by another actor of note, Richard Todd.
Sounds easy enough and off he goes expecting an abandoned estate only to find himself coming face to face with an aging couple passing themselves off as caretakers played by Carradine and Sheila Keith. Next up is blonde haired and pleasing to Desi’s eyes, Julia Peasgood drifting in to the estate attempting to distract the young author from winning his bet on the say so of her employer Todd.
Desi’s idea of a quiet secluded English estate is quickly taking a turn for some spooky goings on when in walks Peter Cushing claiming to be a lost traveller in a late night storm. I remember seeing this film back in 83 on VHS and being surprised at how gaunt the aging horror legend had become. At that time I was of course used to seeing the virile and energetic performer playing Van Helsing and the Baron Frankenstein. It’s a great reminder of how we see actors for years on TV and movies that were made in the past and the reality of seeing just how they look in the present.
“I have returned.”
Next up is Vincent Price who quickly launches into a Shakespearean styled monologue. Classic Vincent and when Desi attempts to step in, Price hilariously admonishes him, “Don’t interrupt me while I’m soliloquizing. “ Desi is beginning to think something is being kept from him and the walls have secrets. One more classic film star is about to enter the plot.
Arrogant, regal and commanding. Just the way we all grew to love and appreciate the screen presence of Christopher Lee. Lee strides in to the mansion demanding to know who is on the premises while claiming to be the new owner of the Manor. Secrets are revealed that Price and Cushing are brothers, Keith there sister and Carradine the father of the Grisbanes. Years ago they condemned a younger brother to an imprisonment after defiling a young girl in the town. He’s been walled up and his sentence is over. The family has reunited to release him. Murder and thrills lie ahead when the room is revealed to be empty.
Long Shadows was directed by Pete Walker. Perhaps best known for 70’s exploitation type films such as The Flesh and Blood Show or Die Screaming Marianne. Could that be the reason this Cannon production seems to have a hard time distinguishing itself as an outright horror title or perhaps an homage to simpler thrillers of time past? No matter in the end as the film plays reasonably well and it’s not the director that genre fans are concerned about in finding a copy of this film that was thankfully rescued and released on blu ray by Kino Lorber with plenty of extras.
Cushing and Lee are historically famous for their many duels and collaborations over the course of their careers, most notably in the many Hammer productions they teamed up for. I’d loved to have seen Dear Vincent join them in the fun but it wasn’t until 1969 that Lee appeared with Price in the Oblong Box in a rather minor role. The following year all three appeared in Scream and Scream Again. That made for great advertising but in truth, Cushing was in it for about 8 seconds and never appeared with the other two. A cameo by Peter in the second Price/Phibes film shouldn’t be counted but in Madhouse, Peter and Vincent finally costarred together though the film comes off as a minor entry in Price’s horror cycle. So with this Cannon film, the trio finally share billing and enough scenes to satisfy their fans. Click here for my views on the importance of actors appearing together even if the film’s turn out to be less than hoped for.
When it comes to Carradine, it’s a bit different. John’s career goes back further than any of the others. He’d been on screen with Vincent in various films over the years including The Ten Commandments and just two years prior to this film in The Monster Club. Though he never shared any scenes with Cushing, they both popped up in the creepy Shock Waves and he’d also appeared in the 1981 two parter for television, Goliath Awaits with Lee.
There’s so much history involved here when we discuss the careers of these four actors that spanned decades and continents. I don’t recall Long Shadows getting a theater release at the time in my area because if it had, I’d have been bugging Mom to take me to see it. The VHS tape solved that problem thanks to the home video market. Sure it’s not the best film any of these guys have to offer but it is the best one they can offer us where they shared the screen together. And on that note, it’s rather likable for us fans of these gentle men who instilled in us a fear of things that go bump in the night or may be lurking in the closet shadows while watching a late night thriller curled up beside Mom and Dad on the couch.