The forgotten 1983 effort of Pete Walker (director of “Frightmare” and “House of Whipcord,” among others) promises horrific treasures with its tagline: “Room for every nightmare…A nightmare in every room.” The gorgeous poster art is equally promising, giving us great hope for a long overdue horror ensemble cast of film legends John Carradine, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price – with iconic acting firepower like that, the film is positively dripping with potential. Lee, Cushing, and Price together on screen together – how could anyone possibly take these exquisite ingredients, and manage to over bake our delectable horror cake? Well, it’s actually very easy: just add Desi Arnaz Junior to the recipe as the film’s lead. Good grief, true believers.
Our picture opens with author Kenneth Magee (the awful Arnaz Junior) complaining to his literary agent in Great Britain about the state of the world of writing. He feels that any author could easily turn out a quick thriller over a weekend that would sit as equal to any best seller list tripe. Of course, our lead considers himself to be a serious writer and only has interest in creating the next “great novel.” Consequently, his agent offers him the seemingly absurd challenge of writing a novel in 24 hours. If he can pull it off, a reward of $20,000 awaits him. It’s an offer our author can’t refuse. At the direction of his agent, he is quickly whisked off to an ancient and seemingly abandoned English manor house to begin his writing. With his typewriter and a conveniently delivered blonde love interest in hand, Arnaz quickly finds out that the manor is hardly abandoned. Enter two of the home’s original inhabitants: Victoria and Elijah Grisbane played by Sheila Keith and John Carradine. As the mystery starts to heat up and Arnaz tries to type, additional members of the Grisbane clan arrive one after the other, including Lionel played by Vincent Price, and Sebastian played by Peter Cushing. After some cocktails and prodding by Arnaz, an old family secret is discovered revealing that everything is not what it seems, and that perhaps danger lurks in the “House of the Long Shadows.” It isn’t long before Christopher Lee shows up, and one by one the members of the Grisbane family are killed off in creative, vengeful fashion. Who could be behind such treachery? It’s up to Arnaz Junior to solve the mystery before he too falls victim.
By any conceivable metric, “House of Long Shadows” is a bad film. The plot is utterly trite and was recycled from a 100 plus year old English stage production. Walker never manages to get his picture in stride and as a result the tone is constantly changing from a mystery or thriller to some sort of half-assed tongue in cheek comedy. The ending is a dreadful cop-out that leaves the viewer looking at the end credits in utter despair. The icing on the cake really is Arnaz Junior and his performance. Ricky Ricardo’s son is so ridiculously bad he almost manages to reach “Mystery Science 3000” levels. It’s really a shame, considering what trailblazing geniuses his parents were. It probably didn’t help his performance that he must have felt completely outclassed and dwarfed by the giants he was sharing the screen with. To illustrate how successful his acting career was, Arnaz Junior’s last acting credit was in 1992 when he played…wait for it…his father. Oh, and if you’re wondering who his parents are, please do a quick internet search and then slap yourself for me.
Its many flaws aside – and make no mistake, they are many – “House of Long Shadows” still has a warm place in my heart. Maybe it’s because as a child of the 80’s it was one of those films that I watched alone in the dark on HBO that I wasn’t supposed to. Maybe it’s because this was Lee and Cushing’s final film together, something obviously significant to fans of the genre. Perhaps it is because John Carradine looks like he is easily about 117 years old and yet still manages to churn out a quality performance. Or maybe it’s simply because I got a lot of satisfaction from watching Christopher Lee trying to kill Desi Arnaz Junior with a double-bladed executioner’s axe. That alone makes “House” a worthwhile viewing in this writer’s mind. And let’s also be honest with one another: the fact that Lee, Cushing, and Price all share plenty of screen time together is downright historic. An interesting side note: Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein, Mary Poppins) was also slated to appear in the Sheila Keith role but had to withdraw due to health reasons.
But I digress – f you’re looking for a quality thriller from the 80s with a great plot and plenty of chills and horror…well…this just isn’t it. However, if you’re a huge genre fan, and love the idea of film legends Carradine, Lee, Cushing, and Price chewing up scenes together in spite of the film itself, get on eBay and buy yourself a nice big box VHS copy of “House of the Long Shadows”. You can thank me later.
About the Author:
Christopher Challis is an Army Veteran of seven years who is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, as well as the Combat Action Badge, and has served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Prior to his military service, Christopher owned the largest independently owned video rental and sales store in western Pennsylvania that specialized in rare horror and science fiction films. In addition, he is a collector and expert in the field of horror and sci-fi pop culture collectibles to include autographs, posters, action figures, and much more. Christopher currently resides in Texas with his wife and daughter, where they wish the temperature would occasionally drop below the boiling point in the summer. You can follow Christopher at @TheChrisChallis on Twitter.