Whilst in England to promote his latest work, successful American novelist Kenneth Magee enters a bet with his publisher, Sam Allyson, that he can compose a gothic novel within a 24 hour period. Sam arranges for him to use Baldpate Manor, an uninhabited house in the Welsh countryside that should provide Kenneth with the seclusion and atmosphere he requires. Although told he has the only key to the house, Kenneth soon discovers that he is not alone. He is startled by an old man and his daughter who claim they are Baldpate Manor's caretakers and soon another old woman unmasked as Mary Norton, Sam Allyson's secretary sent to distract Kenneth and keep him from winning the bet. Mary informs him that the manor has no caretakers and their lives may be in danger. Later that evening a gaunt faced man called Sebastian knocks on the door to say his car has broken down and he needs shelter. He is later followed by Lionel Grisbane who announces Baldpate Manor as his ancestral home. It is soon revealed that all the strange folk there are members of the Grisbane dynasty and they have gathered to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of a terrible family secret. It has haunted their lives all these years, and still lives, locked in the attic upstairs. To add to the confusion a property developer named Corrigan arrives and threatens the gathering with eviction. Soon, the assembled party members are murdered one by one as the curse of the Grisbanes takes its toll.
- The House of the Long Shadows review by NP
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Desi Arnaz Jr plays Kenneth MacGee, a bull-headed American writer who boasts to his agent Sam Allyson (Richard Todd) that he can write a novel in 24 hours isolated in a remote Welsh mansion. It is to Arnaz Jr’s credit that MacGee emerges as such a likeable character, so brash is his character written.
All the horror atmospherics are then applied - an endless storm, long shadows (naturally) and – in the film’s major selling point – four of the genre’s most celebrated actors. John Carradine is Elijah Grisbane, grouchy, irascible and ancient. Peter Cushing appears next as Sebastian Grisbane, lisping, tipsy and nervous. Out of the night then steps Vincent Price as Lionel Grisbane, suitably theatrical and soliloquizing. Finally, Corrigan emerges, played with typical fruity authority by Christopher Lee. Sheila Keith ably joins the ensemble as the frightening house-keeper, and Julie Peasgood, who seems to be utterly delightful in every acting job and personal appearance she has given, plays wide-eyed Mary Gorton.
Emerging as an enjoyable, but far inferior version of ‘The Old Dark House (1932)’, this proved the final filmic project of Director Pete Walker, who had helmed a string of 1970’s ‘exploitation’ horrors (‘House of Whipcord’ and ‘The Flesh and Blood Show’ amongst them). Never meeting with huge success, he retired from the profession after the release of this was also met with a muted response, despite being the only grouping of the four legendry thespians.
A fondness of Walker is to end his film with a twist. The twist here is not only as improbable as the others, but there are several of them, piled one after the other, which leaves the viewer a little shell-shocked. Here, the twists push the narrative further towards being almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, which is either detrimental or beneficial to the film, depending on your point of view.
Despite a bigger than usual budget, the director’s work is still a little murky, the murders awkwardly staged. The results prove enjoyable despite the flaws, mainly because of the tremendous cast enjoying themselves.