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House of the Long Shadows
Director Pete Walker's horror comedy The House Of The Long Shadows never got a domestic DVD release outside of an MOD/DVD-R release from MGM (which featured a shoddy fullframe tape sourced transfer), which is surprising when you consider the pedigree of talent involved in the picture. Proving that all good things do come to those who wait, however, Kino, as part of their ongoing Studio Classics Line, have rolled out the red carpet and given the film a Blu-ray special edition release. The movie isn't as good as it could or should have been, but fans of classic horror in particular should get a rise out of it.
The movie tells the story of Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr.), an American writer living in England who accepts a friendly wager from his publisher Sam Allyson (Richard Todd) for twenty grand that he can't write an entire novel in twenty-four hours. In order to make this happen, Kenneth needs a place where he can hide away from the rest of the world and so it's agreed that he'll stay in a rundown old mansion in Wales, away from it all and in the middle of nowhere. Things are almost immediately not what he expected, however, because when he arrives at the old house he meets Lord Elijah Grisbane (John Carradine) and his daughter Victoria (Sheila Keith), who claim to be the caretakers of the old place. From there, an older woman shows up who is actually Allyson's secretary Mary Norton (Julie Peasgood) in disguise and there to Magee keeps things on the up and up. The solitude he wanted would seem to be out of reach.
As night sets in and the skies open up, two more visitors arrive in the form of Lionel Grisbane (Vincent Price) and Sebastian Grisbane (Peter Cushing) and not surprisingly, it turns out that they're related to the previously introduced caretakers. As luck would have it, Kenneth has arrived on the night of the first family reunion that the Grisbane's have had in decades, much to the dismay of the home's property manager, Corrigan (Christopher Lee). Of course, with all of the characters introduced, it is then time for murder most foul… and as the story plays out we, along with Magee, try to figure out who the killer is and how/why the deaths tie into the Grisbane family's past.
Produced for Cannon Films and released in 1983, The House Of The Long Shadows would unfortunately be the last film that Walker would direct and it's also the only picture he was involved in that he didn't also produce. Compared to Walker's other films this one is pretty tame (it plays things safe with a PG rating) but what it lacks in sex and violence it makes up for in star power. And that's important, because the script is a fairly traditional horror movie with ‘whodunnit' elements told in a fairly traditional horror movie environment, that being the creepy old house. Conceptually and thematically we're not breaking any new ground here at all, so how do you make something old hat like this interesting? Bring a few genuine legends of the genre out in front of the camera and let them do their thing! When dealing with the likes of Lee, Cushing, Price and Carradine, that really is enough. It doesn't mean the movie couldn't and shouldn't have been more unique than it is, but getting the chance to see these guys all act alongside one another is a lot of fun.
Lee and Price do most of the heavy lifting here, Cushing and Carradine don't get quite as much to do but all involved handle both the comedic sides and the more serious sides of their respective roles with as much panache and charm as you would expect. Arnaz is also a lot of fun here, he and Price have a great scene where they argue over the merits of horror and its place are quite amusing to watch and the dialogue for these encounters is sharp and well-written.
Walker directs with enough style to ensure that the movie looks good. Most of the film takes place inside the dark interiors of the home, so there's lots of shadowy atmosphere and some great scenes lit by candlelight for extras spookiness. Richard Harvey's score complements all of this quite nicely. If, in a lot of ways, this film is a throwback to the type of pictures that the leading men made in their prime, then so be it. It's a lot of fun and absolutely worth a watch for fans of classic horror.The Blu-ray:
The House Of The Long Shadows is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks quite good here, particularly when compared to the aforementioned MOD/DVD-R release which was way too dark. You can actually see what's going on inside the shadowy interiors now and detail and texture are strong across the board. There's a bit of minor print damage in some spots but nothing too serious and for the most part the source used here is quite clean. Colors reproduced very nicely while black levels stay solid. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and there are no obvious issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD Mono Master Audio track is fine. The banjo-heavy score sounds pretty good while the dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to understand even if it is occasionally a little on the thin side. There are a few spots where you might notice a bit of hiss or crackle but odds are pretty good that if you're not specifically listening for them you probably won't notice them. This isn't a fancy mix by any stretch but it suits the movie just fine and it gets the job done without any issues.Extras:
The main extras on the disc are a pair of audio commentary tracks. The first track features director Pete Walker moderated by Derrick Pykett, the author of British Horror Film Locations (a book that Walker wrote the intro for). Here the director speaks about working for Cannon for the first time, working with the different cast and crew members and how they went about getting everyone on board for this film (once he had Price the rest came easily). Walker talks about how professional all of the main cast members were on the shoot, though he notes that Carradine had some difficulty with his lines at times. He also talks about the locations used in the shoot, the different character actors that appear in the background throughout the movie, who did what behind the camera and more. It's a briskly paced and informative track and as such, it's worth listening to.
The second track features film historian David Del Valle and moderator Elijah Drenner. Del Valle knows his stuff and is an authority not only on Price but on classic horror as well so he's definitely the right guy to talk about this movie. He also talks about his own experiences working with Golan, the differences between a typical Pete Walker movie and a typical Cannon Films production, what this movie offers horror fans outside of the fantastic casting, how the film compares to Amicus and Hammer Pictures, Pete Walker's directing style, and of course, the different contributions of the cast and crew members involved with the picture. This is a nice companion piece to Walker's commentary as it offers a different perspective than Walker's and it does a fine job of filling in all of the blanks as to the movie's history and cultural importance.
Walker also shows up for an on-camera interview and while this piece understandably covers some of the same ground as the commentary, Walker is always an interesting guy to listen to. Running just under fifteen minutes in length, it starts with Walker talking about how this movie basically got him out of retirement, working with Golan and Globus, how the film was basically a nostalgia piece and how everyone in the world absolutely loved Peter Cushing.
Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, trailers for a couple of other Kino horror titles (Madhouse and The Oblong Box), static menus and chapter selection. We also get some neat reversible cover art.Final Thoughts:
The House Of The Long Shadows maybe could and should have been more than it is but as it stands, it's a blast watching four screen legends unite (in the only film the four of them would appear together in) for a genuinely enjoyable mix of humor, horror and mystery. Kino's Blu-ray release offers a massive upgrade over the previous release and it throws in some quality supplements as well, giving this amusing and charming picture the special edition it deserves. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.