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Armstrong looked around for something similar to employ the old pros of terror.


They found Cohan’s play and looked at the pre- vious versions for inspiration. Though the resulting HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS jettisons much of the Biggers-Cohan plot, it uses elements from all previous incarnations of SEVEN KEYS TO BALD- PATE, from the full ending last seen in 1929 to the hero’s name change to Kenneth Magee from the 1947 film. A product of Cannon’s 1980s spell as a mini-major, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is available as a Region 2 remastered widescreen edi- tion DVD from Final Cut with a superb array of extras, including a commentary track (in which Walker responds to my original review of the film with “Screw Kim Newman!”) and a feature-length (95m 59s) retrospective documentary (HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS—REVISITED) hosted and directed by the film’s biggest fan, Derek Pykett. The commentary track is held over for Kino Lorber’s splendid-looking Region A Blu-ray, but the docu- mentary is sadly missing. Exclusive extras run to an onscreen interview with Walker and a gossipy secondary commentary track with David del Valle (who takes advantage of the fact Christopher Lee died the week before he recorded it to blow the whistle on the star’s toupée) and Elijah Drenner. The major problem with HOUSE OF THE LONG


SHADOWS was underlined for me while looking at random frames of the film to find images to ac- company this article—and hit upon nine shots of Desi Arnaz, Jr. wandering in the dark for every one of the great cast of character actors, which extends beyond the star quartet to Richard Todd as the pub- lisher (now called Sam Allyson), Walker’s iconic harridan Sheila Keith, and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT’s Norman Rossington (as the Station Master). Peter Sykes’ comparable Old Dark House charade THE HOUSE IN NIGHTMARE PARK (1973, available on Region 2 DVD from Network) is a vehicle for a comic leading man (Frankie Howerd) but gives its strong supporting cast much more screen time and meaty comic-horrific business than LONG SHAD- OWS, which is expressly crafted to showcase its horror stars, does. In Walker’s previous horror film, THE COMEBACK (1978), an American recording star (Jack Jones) repairs to a British mansion to work on an album and finds himself dropped into a murderous family melodrama—a scenario echoed by his version of SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE. Here, jaded American best-seller Magee (Arnaz) makes his bet with a London publisher and is sent to Bllydwpaetr, a decrepit mansion in rainsoaked Wales (where Priestley’s Old Dark House was), to write his overnight book. This Magee is seemingly


a literary writer who bets that he can turn his hand to a thriller, rather than the other way round. Re- placing Biggers and Cohan’s caretakers are Lord Elijah Grisbane (Carradine) and his daughter Victoria (Keith); the other key-holders are brothers Sebastian (Cushing) and Lionel Grisbane (Price), quivering with guilt because they once walled-up their supposedly homicidal brother in a BEAST IN THE CELLAR sce- nario, and businessman Corrigan (Lee), a rough


equivalent of mayor-cum-gangster Cargan. Mary Norton (THE LAKE’s Julie Peasegood) is the same peppy, duplicitous female lead as always and the film ropes in a couple of stranded travellers (Richard Caulder, Louise English) as gruesome sacrifices. Walker’s major horror films have some grim humor but are mostly dead straight and set out to be upsetting; this would-be genial charade is lit- tered with folk washing in acid or getting bloodily axed in the chest, taking the edge off the farce. Armstrong diverges greatly from the Biggers-Cohan plot, but keeps the focus on the blandly acceptable Arnaz throughout and seldom lets the stars off the leash. Of the character cast, Cushing and Keith fare best, finding amusing and almost-sweet mo- ments in the dark; their characterizations owe a debt to Eva Moore and Ernest Thesiger as Rebecca and Horace Femm in Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE, though Cushing comes up with his own brand of timid trembling and a distinctive speech impediment. A theatrical Price (don’t interrupt me while I’m so- liloquizing) and a dour Lee seem to be (or wish to be) in different films—without a Tim Burton or Joe Dante to coax the old magic, they deliver the turn- up-and-imitate-themselves work seen in throwaways like BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH or ONCE UPON A SPY. Carradine, alarmingly frail, is the first to pop off, but most closely represents the tradition of SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE as a physi- cal reminder of imitations from WHISPERING GHOSTS (1942) to LEGACY OF BLOOD (1971). After killing off most of the cast, the film returns to the multiple endings which surprised in 1913 but just break the spell here: the spectacle of Price and Lee doing moth-eaten theatrical queen bitchiness when exposed as actors falls flat, though a tipsy Keith and a puckish Cushing again steal the scene. As a last hurrah for a brand of filmmaking em- bodied by its stars, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHAD- OWS is a film one always wishes were better than it is. Pykett’s documentary gives a sense of what, in brief flashes, it achieves, and the Blu-ray at least shows off the well-dressed location, with its shrouded statues and cavernous hallway, and captures every wrinkle, gnarl and eye-gleam of a cast who do indeed cast long shadows.


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