#1  
Old 11-20-2011, 04:43 PM
House of the Long Shadows (1983)

This will be my last review for a while. I'm getting tired out. I plan on resuming early next year. With the next horror convention still months away, I'm going to try putting the remaining fourteen movies on hold. I want them to last. It was a fun fall season.

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

Vincent Price. Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing. John Carradine. All of you, most of you – or at some of you, hopefully - know who these guys are and sadly were, right? I can’t imagine too many fans who have invested their time in the horror genre to have not come across those names before. I will admit, I didn’t know who John Carradine was. It turns out that he has contributed in his share of horror and thriller films, which earned him the right be a special guest star in this film that acts as a showcase for him and three other icons from the past. I know Vincent Price well from “House of Wax” and “House on Haunted Hill” from the 1950’s, as well as “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” from the 1970’s. In the decade between, I remember him as Egghead from the campy “Batman” TV show. And how can anyone go wrong with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? They headlined the revived “Dracula” series from the 1950’s to the `70’s. I’ve seen a couple of them. They took the original series from the 1930’s and `40’s to another level. I have already said enough and don’t need to pad out this review with more of their rich history in the genre. I’ll leave it up to the rest of you to learn a thing or two about these amazing actors if none of the titles I spouted are familiar with your vocabulary. The interesting thing about this film is that it is the first and only time all four have appeared in the same movie together.

Here is another name. Desi Arnaz Jr. If he doesn’t ring a bell, that is perfectly forgivable. He is the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz from the famous sitcom “I Love Lucy” from the 1950’s (I will pretend to not notice that a few of you still appear clueless). Just like his parents, he is best known for his TV work. He climbed the ladder in TV shows and TV movies, and eventually landed roles in a handful of feature films. If you look up reviews of this film, you will be hard-pressed to not stumble on criticism toward his performance and overall presence. No matter how one approaches it, he is the weakest link in the film. Even if he gave a decent performance, and he does, the iconic stars surrounding him have the experience and wisdom to make him look like a fool. They effortlessly run, or walk, circles around him. However, I hardly found his presence to be such a distraction. More on that and the acting later.

Desi Arnaz Jr. plays the main character named Kenneth Magee. He is a writer known for thriller novels. They seem to reflect the increasingly violent thrillers and horror films of the late `70’s and early `80’s. His publisher, Sam, his proud of his accomplishments. However, having written the same type of novels for a while, he suggests writing something different. Perhaps a thriller of the past. Something more classic in the vein of “Wuthering Heights.” Kenneth laughs at such a request. Times have changed. Anyone could write that kind of story. He boasts that he could write one in twenty-four hours and bets $20,000. Sam accepts the bet and it is on. For inspiration, Kenneth will stay at a Welsh manor in the country. That is where he will write the proposed novel. It is exactly the type of location often seen in the old-fashioned thrillers Sam remembers fondly, and it couldn’t be a more perfect location for this particular film.

The movie wastes no time getting started. It establishes right away that Kenneth lacks respect for what is now old and retro, and he arrives to the manor within the first ten minutes. He looks around the large home and picks a bedroom to start writing in. However, he keeps getting disturbed by guests and is unable to get anywhere. First, it is two elderly caretakers, a man and woman, who were uninformed of his visit. The man is played by John Carradine, and both he and the woman are lying about who they really are. More people keep showing up with their own stories, and they are played by the three other iconic stars. Eventually, they are revealed to be the Grisbane family reuniting in the home after forty years.

I’m a little lost on who was who, but I am certain that John Carradine plays the father, Lord Elijah Grisbane. Vincent Price plays one of the sons named Lionel, Peter Cushing plays another sibling named Sebastian, and that leaves Victoria Grisbane played by Sheila Keith. When she and John Carradine both showed up together, I recall him being introduced as her father, so that makes her one more sibling. Left over is Christopher Lee as Mr. Corrigan. He is the last of the icons to arrive and his presence forces the others to tell the truth. Corrigan is purchasing their property. In return, the Grisbanes have one more truth to tell: there was another sibling, named Roderick, who committed a crime and has been locked in the manor for last forty years. They have returned now to finally deal with this family secret, a secret that still seems to be living inside the house. All this, plus other uninvited guests, as well as a little murder on the side, keep on preventing Kenneth from working on his novel. Will he finish it on time to win $20,000?

This is a wonderful premise for the four iconic stars. It is based on a play called “Seven Keys to Baldplate,” and it may have inspired other film versions in the past. Within twenty minutes, John Carradine makes his appearance, and then another, and another. Christopher Lee shows up within fifty minutes, and there is enough material for all of them to chew the scenery on in the remaining forty-five minutes. Some of the icons had worked together in the past. That goes for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who played Dracula and Professor Van Helsing in the Hammer film series. I think Vincent Price acted outside of the Hammer studio films, and I am unaware if he worked with any of them before.

Well, in this movie, all four amazing actors have the opportunity to play off each other and the result is splendid. Vincent Price slightly overplays his part with perfection. Give him big words and occasional little monologues, and you will be floored. Christopher Lee plays it cold and delivers a commanding performance. I am less familiar with the acting styles of Peter Cushing and John Carradine. What they give the viewers are understated but powerful performances. They do make their presences’ known. All together, the four iconic stars provide charming personalities, something that was not passed on to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and most of the other killers that followed. The only exceptions might be Pinhead and Candyman, two horror icons created by Clive Barker. At times, they both spoke passionately about their own evil ways.

In turn, I felt that Desi Arnaz Jr. gave a natural and relaxed performance. It wasn’t a particularly outstanding performance and he certainly is not a seasoned actor. But he put in a fair effort and didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe it was the way his part was written, the way he was directed, and the way his comedic part contrasted the bigger stars. And perhaps, after getting Price, Lee, Cushing and Carradine on board, there was not enough money left to hire an actor of higher stature than Arnaz Jr. We will never know how much better the movie would of or could have been with a more experienced actor to unite the four heavyweights. To be fair, he was a little bit annoying at times. He was going to stick out from the classy actors no matter what.

“House of The Long Shadows” was made as one more “old dark house” movie to celebrate the aging stars of a previous generation. It was made in the early 1980’s, a time when horror movies were no longer as classy and had become more violent. In turn, there is a bodycount in the third act and it gets a little bloody. But hardly as bloody as the modern day slasher films. And it works just as well without the excessive gore. Perhaps the most shocking and unexpectedly effective death scene is the ax murder that cuts away. Good use of shadows and participation from the actors helps. There is also death by heart attack, piano wire, acid, poison and impalement. I used to be that guy who first went to see the big franchises from the 1980’s, and then all their rip-offs. And now, I find myself more drawn to older horror films that came before them. Perhaps Kenneth will learn the same lesson as well.

On the movie itself, it has a premise full of possibilities with four notable actors that carry it above average. But they only carry it so far. They have wonderful moments, but they only have so many to distract the viewers from the weaker moments. And it does have its weaker moments. No matter how one approaches the film, it is another “empty/haunted/mysterious house” movie and the novelty of seeing one with these four iconic stars wears off after a while. There are some missed opportunities. However, it avoids the eye-rolling clichés, such as two human eyes in a painting spying on someone in a hallway. I hardly blame Desi Arnaz Jr. for its shortcomings, but his presence does become a little annoying at times. One can’t help but picture any other up-and-coming star with better credentials filling in for his part. This movie is really a dream vehicle with four big stars that was made very late in the game, and long after their own horror film phenomenon had faded. And it could have been worse. It is a more-than-watchable film that allows them to work together with a decent script that provides good dialogue for them. This movie was made for them and an older generation that might have felt alienated by the increasingly violent movies featuring faceless and voiceless killers. And seeing all four of them together was a pleasure.

**1/2 out of 4

Last edited by Duke Nukem; 11-20-2011 at 04:59 PM..
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