House of the Long Shadows Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
When a young novelist, Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) spends a night at Baldpate Manor to win a bet that he can turn a best-selling novel in 24 hours, he gets more than he bargained for. The grizzly Grisbane clan arrives to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a ghoulish family secret. And their dinner party has murder on the menu. (From Kino’s official synopsis)
Pete Walker was a unique talent in British exploitation and horror. He began pushing boundaries early as a director-for-hire on a popular sex comedy titled School for Sex (1969) and made a name for himself with enjoyable B-grade, thrillers, including the UK’s answer to Italy’s burgeoning giallo cycle, Die Screaming, Marianne (1971), and proto-slashers, like Schizo (1977) and The Comeback (1978). He was largely dismissed as a schlock-meister in his day, but his best films – House of Whipcord (1974), Fightmare (1974), and House of Mortal Sin (1976), for example – were pulpy, yet potent satirical indictments of upright British culture and religious fervor. His final film was House of Long Shadows, a send-up of Old Dark House and gothic melodrama clichés.
More mainstream fans tend to know House of the Long Shadows (1983) as the one and only collaboration between genre superstars Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and David Carradine – though the four men had worked together before in different combinations throughout their long careers (Cushing and Lee appeared in 24 films together and this was their last). The very idea of seeing these four sharing screen time is enough to justify the film’s existence, as does the thought of them interacting with then-modern, now foreign conventions of the mid-‘80s. A cultural satire of the money-obsessed era and its stalk & slash movie tropes would be right up Walker’s alley. Mark of the Devil writer/director Michael Armstrong’s script (based on the oft-adapted novel, Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers) occasionally plays with horror traditions from a yuppie point-of-view – a yuppie horror writer who is aware of the narrative traditions he is battling (when warned that Baldpate Manor is ‘cursed’ he sarcastically replies ‘I know, I’ve seen the movie.’) – but the film doesn’t really commit to the idea. Instead, we get a smidgen of post-modern shtick mixed with woefully conventional horror/thriller tropes. It’s sort of like an episode of Scooby Doo, if you squint and use your imagination.
Had House of the Long Shadows seen horror’s old guard battling the newer slasher movie motifs/tropes, it might have been great. Barring that, I also suspect that it would’ve been a near classic if it had been mad a decade earlier, when Walker was at the height of his strange brand of filmmaking and the four horror titans were still producing relevant work. In the end, it’s a sluggish and only occasionally charming (Desi Arnaz, Jr. deserves a lot of credit for his turn as straight man) gimmick movie. Still, those four guys working together – with Walker regular Sheila Keith to boot – is pretty exciting. I mean, where else are you going to see Christopher Lee kill Vincent Price with an axe?
House of the Long Shadows was released throughout Europe on anamorphic DVD and Koch Media in Germany even made a barebones Blu-ray, but stateside fans only had a limited edition (I believe it was an Amazon exclusive?), full-frame DVD from MGM. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer likely comes straight from the MGM vault and benefits from only minor disc compression. The image isn’t spectacular, but I get the feeling that Walker and cinematographer Norman G. Langley weren’t really aiming for ‘spectacular.’ Truthfully, I’ve never seen an attractive Pete Walker movie. The transfer suffers from some noise reduction that flattens out the film grain and causes some posterization artifacts. Overall detail is sharp, though limited by the darkness of some shots, which I believe is unavoidable. Black levels occasionally fluctuate and appear gray or blue, while the limited color quality – specifically flesh tones and the burgundy/browns of the manor – remains relatively consistent.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack gets the job done. The mix is pretty minimal, including a lot of obviously ‘canned’ sound effects taken from a generic spooky sounds generator (for example, you’ve heard this exact thunder crack at least 400 other times) and an underused musical score from award-winning composer Richard Harvey. The music gets the best of the track and features considerable dynamic depth, despite the single channel sound design. Vocals are sometimes muffled, specifically when characters speak over each other in group shots.
Commentary with director Pete Walker and filmmaker Derek Pykett – This commentary is recycled from UK company Final Cut Entertainment’s DVD release. The director discusses the film while interviewed/moderated by the writer/director of the 2012 retrospective documentary, House of the Long Shadows... Revisited, which is, unfortunately, not included here. A very worthwhile and packed track.
Commentary with Vincent Price historian David Del Valle and actor David Frankham -– This second commentary is a new run, recorded exclusively for this Blu-ray. It’s a bit overly embellished (Del Valle continues his habit of obnoxious name-dropping from the duo’s track for Kino’s Tales of Terror release) and under-critical, but has surprisingly little overlap with the previous track.
Interview with Pete Walker (14:50, HD) – A very pleasant discussion with the director, who recalls coming out of early retirement to make one last horror movie. Lots of overlap with the director’s commentary.
Trailer and trailers for Madhouse and The Oblong Box
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