Author Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnaz Jr) has met his publisher Sam Allyson (Richard Todd) today to be greeted with the unwelcome news that his latest book hasn't been selling as well as his previous work. This means his next tome will have to be given a big publicity push, not something Kenneth is looking forward to until Sam begins to reminisce about the sort of novels regarded as classics and laments nothing like that is written these days. Kenneth retorts that he could pen one in a night which would slot in with those efforts - and Sam takes him up on that offer, with a twenty thousand pound bet.
As you may have inferred from that beginning, there was a "Fings ain't wot they used to be" tone to House of the Long Shadows, guiding the viewer to recall what horror movies used to be like before the seventies and eighties, so who better to escort us through that golden age than four of the actors who had been there? In this case the unique selling point was to see Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine all assembled in the same film, and for many fans no matter what the quality of the work simply watching these greats playing off each other was enough to make it worthwhile. It had to be said, however, that this was written in a rush and looked it.
Our director was Pete Walker, a man who had made shockers before but in a more modern vein (for the seventies, that was), so his style was a particular kind of grim British chiller which had actually come along after the movies his stars here had made their names with, making him an odd choice. However, when you knew that he had come to Cannon with a far more lurid idea for a horror movie which they had turned down, it began to make sense: the producers were not well known for such material, apparently because their idea of a spooky flick starred Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. Now you see why House of the Long Shadows began to take shape the way it did, and why so many accused it of being out of step with the times.
That was back then, but watching it now you appreciate what Walker was doing in this, his final film before other business interests proved more lucrative. By assembling this cast and getting his writer Michael Armstrong (himself no stranger to trashy movies) to come up with a screenplay adapting the old theatrical warhorse Seven Keys to Baldpate, based on a novel by Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers, then it was a very backward-looking effort presented for your delectation. Some found the presence of Arnaz among these fan favourites jarring, but he operated as a modern face to contrast with, and make observations on, the old dark house plot as it unfolded, creaky as it was. And if you thought it was creaky at the start, just wait to see how it was resolved.
Kenneth winds up at an isolated country mansion to write his book over the course of that evening, though not before he has to deal with the requisite stormy night and hackneyed unfriendly locals who warn him away. Even then, getting to his destination he finds two housekeepers (or are they?) in the shape of Carradine and his daughter Sheila Keith - and how nice was it to see Walker's own horror star taking her place in the credits alongside the old men of the genre? They tell him to leave, but more visitors show up, one after the other: Cushing with a "welease Woger" speech impediment, Price looking very dramatic, and Lee as apparently the most reasonable of the lot; later mystery woman Julie Peasgood and two hitchhikers appear and just as you're losing interest as Walker has found nothing to do with that once in a lifetime cast other than seat them about chatting ominously, the slasher murders commence to wake you up. Even then, this was far from the best movie they made, but you could tell they were enjoying their company, and for some that was enough. Music by Richard Harvey.