Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The House Of The Long Shadows (1983)

When it comes to British horror the two houses that will come to mind would ultimately be Hammer, and the slightly smaller Amicus, between this there was one other force frantically trying to put British horror back on the map during the 1970's. Pete Walker a man who has a love of both horror and the soft porn genre's tried to create a hybrid of the two and through the 70's turned out a heavy volume of strange horror offerings in a bid to compete with the far superior American and Italian influence flooding the market. With movies like The Comeback, Die Screaming Marianne, Schizo,Frightmare, and House Of The Whipcord; his movies were valued by fans but hated by the BBFC (British Board Of Film Classification), with every single one being subject to the harshest of censorship.

In 1983 Pete Walker sick of having his films butchered, made his final movie as a director The House Of The Long Shadows, a star studded traditional horror movie aimed not at the minority audience, but the whole family; in an unusual move the BBFC stamped it with a PG certificate in the UK passing it without cuts. Sadly however Cannon Pictures UK ran into financial trouble and the in the UK the movie had one of the shorted cinema runs for a movie in that time period. Lost in the ether the movie returned to haunt late night movie fans, and its video release in 1988 was the first movie to be released to the general public to buy in a clear video case, making it a success for VCI (Video Collection International) five years after it was released.

Moving on to the movie itself and it's a proper traditional horror, successful author Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz) makes a bet with his publisher that he can write a bestselling novel in just 24 hours, heading for the British countryside to get the right inspiration for a Wuthering Heights style novel. Arriving in a remote Welsh manor after a series of bizarre events, he is surprised to find the supposedly abandoned house still occupied by servants Victoria (Sheila Keith) and Lord Grisbane (John Carradine). After the initial upset having realised he is not alone, Magee becomes more and more distressed as well as more distracted from his work as the bad weather brings a flood of surprise visitors to the manor including Mary Norton (Julie Peasgood), Lionel (Vincent Price), Corrigan (Christopher Lee), and Sebastian (Peter Cushing) ; with such horror legends all present it would be rude to not have a killer too.

The House Of The Long Shadows really is nothing like Walkers traditional output, it is very much the sort of classic horror we are familiar with seeing, with the likes of Cushing, Lee, and Price; lots of loud banging music to create effect, thunderstorms, and horrific weather, and nowhere a nipple to be seen. Essentially despite its horror elements, House Of the Long Shadows is actually a very nice movie, no real horror, no real scares, just several of horrors best acting legends hamming it up in an almost homage to the Great British horror era where England ruled the world when it came to horror (1950's-1960's).

There is a considerable amount of humour in the movie, an early victim of the killer Victoria spends the first portion of the movie offering every guest hot punch, getting most annoyed at the colourful language (anyone who has seen Frightmare will find humour in this fact alone), and singing like a banshee; when she falls foul of the killer Sebastian simply states "Poor Victoria, he must have heard her singing!" a statement that made me laugh 25 years ago when I first saw the movie, and yesterday when I saw it again (again for the first time in 25 years). When not having a knock at Sheila Keith, there are some highly amusing disguises that raise a little giggle, and some incredibly over the top acting from Ex-Hollyoaks star Peasgood, who has now thankfully given up acting in favour of being a sex therapist, hopefully she is better at that career choice.

Arnaz is an unusual casting for movie, the actor literally lived his life getting work off the back of his successful father; Arnaz's only claim to fame (if you call it fame) is that he was a star in the ill fated 1983 TV show Automan. His lack of popularity is abundantly clear here, as he stumbles around his lines often illegible, and leaves you with a pretty bad taste in your mouth; thankfully the weight and experience of the cast veterans, and I should not forget Carradine that keep the movie going at a bustling speed.

Having taken its time telling the story, 50 minutes in the first death occurs and from this point you have 35 minutes and a pretty high body count to take you to the movies end. And the end for some will be an unexpected and enjoyable twist, having already weaved you in a number of directions with a highly contorting story.

30 years after the movie was made to be perfectly honest the cheese element stands out a mile, however it's still lovely to see. The charm of the movie is that it really was the last of the traditional British style of horror, and like its title it casts a long shadow across the movie industry. House Of The Shadows is an enjoyable movie, and a clear indication that despite its death the British horror industry still had something slightly unique to offer, the uniqueness being in its final twist.

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