Release Date(s)1983 (December 12, 2023)
Studio(s)Cannon Films/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
Once again, we’re here talking about Cannon Films. Those folks just seemed to produce a high volume of titles loved by cult audiences. In 1983, they had the idea of capitalizing on horror fans by getting together four of the biggest names in the business: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine. The result was House of the Long Shadows which, by and large, isn’t quite the horror masterpiece you would hope for with this caliber of talent.
Like several films before it, House of the Long Shadows is based upon the novel Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers (though The Old Dark House adjacent). Its story is pretty straightforward: a pulp writer bets his publisher $20,000 that he can write a classic novel within 24 hours, provided that he’s given the proper environment in which to write in. He then goes away to stay at a seemingly unoccupied Welsh manor in the countryside, a family home wherein the family has a dark secret locked away that’s causing them to be bumped off one by one.
Besides what’s in front of the camera, Cannon also sought out the directing talents of Pete Walker, who had since retired after making several horror films like Frightmare, House of Whipcord, and The Flesh and Blood Show. Also in the cast is Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith, as well as Desi Arnaz, Jr. The latter choice probably had a lot to do with the film’s poor reception. His acting abilities are, well, questionable at best, and without a strong lead, the run-of-the-mill storyline, which includes not one, but two twist endings, feels a bit directionless at times.
However, House of the Long Shadows lives on because of the horror masters that were cast in it, none of whom were given anything of real substance to do in the film aside from a stray line here or there. Even their entrances into their first scenes are punctuated using shadowy reveals and over-the-top score. It’s completely exploitative, which again, was Cannon’s whole ballgame. Still, one can’t deny the charms of a film starring Price, Lee, Cushing, and Carradine not just in the same scenes together, but acting together, as well, which is perhaps enough to give the film’s more obvious flaws a pass.
House of the Long Shadows was shot by cinematographer Norman Landley on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time using the same master, but now presented on a BD-50 disc instead of a BD-25, with a higher, maxed-out bitrate that frequently sits near or above 40 Mbps. It’s an older master of a very dark film, but this presentation gets the most out of it. Grain is minimal and textures leave something to be desired, but there’s a mild boost in detail thanks to the extra disc space. The color palette offers some variety with good flesh tones, but mild crush when it comes to black levels. Contrast can be a bit flat, but there’s no evidence of noise removal or sharpening. It’s also a stable presentation with only mild scratches and speckling, but otherwise clean. While not necessarily a major step up in terms of quality as a fresh scan would yield far more detail in the image, especially in the shadows, it’s still the best presentation of the film available.
Audio is included in the same English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio track, now aided by subtitles in English SDH. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear while score and sound effects are given ample support with decent heft and nice atmospherics.
Kino’s re-issue of House on the Long Shadows on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with an insert that features the traditional theatrical artwork seen on previous releases, housed in a slipcover that offers the same. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Derek Pykett and Pete Walker
- Audio Commentary by David Del Valle, Moderated by Elijah Drenner
- House of the Long Shadows... Revisited (SD – 108:41)
- Pete Walker’s House of Horror (HD – 14:49)
- Trailer (HD – 2:28)
- Die Screaming, Marianne Trailer (SD – 3:12)
- House of Whipcord Trailer (HD – 2:37)
- The Abominable Dr. Phibes Trailer (SD – 2:35)
- Theater of Blood Trailer (SD – 2:31)
- The Whip and the Body Trailer (SD – 3:28)
- The Crimson Cult Trailer (HD – 2:04)
- Dr. Who and the Daleks Trailer (SD – 3:12)
- The Blood Beast Terror Trailer (HD – 2:26)
- The Black Sleep Trailer (SD – 1:36)
- The Astro-Zombies Trailer (HD – 2:17)
- Billy Two Hats Trailer (HD – 4:00)
First up are two great audio commentaries: one with director Pete Walker and documentarian Derek Pykett, and the other with film historian David Del Valle, moderated by Elijah Drenner. Between the commentaries and the rest of the extras, there’s definitely some information overlap, meaning that some of the same behind-the-scenes stories are told more than once, but the commentaries are entertaining and invaluable nonetheless. Newly to the US is Derek Pykett’s 2012 feature-length documentary House of the Long Shadows... Revisited. It’s a retrospective piece with plenty of those aforementioned behind-the-scenes stories and photos, featuring interviews with Pete Walker, co-writer Michael Armstrong, production designer Michael Pickwood, production manager Jeanne Ferber, cinematographer Norman Langley, camera operator John Simmons, costume designer Alan Flyng, composer Richard Harvey, actors Julie Peasgood, Richard Hunter, Louise English, Desi Arnaz Jr., and Sheila Keith, the latter from a very old interview via her living room. Meanwhile, Pete Walker’s House of Horror speaks to the director one on one about his experiences making the film. The rest of the extras consist of the film’s trailer, as well as trailers for other Kino Lorber releases featuring many of the film’s key players. Virtually everything available has been carried over from previous releases, though missing from the Fabulous Films UK Blu-ray release is a photo gallery, which isn’t that big of a deal.
House of the Long Shadows isn’t a top tier horror classic, that much is true, but one must appreciate the attempt at an homage to the haunted house movies of old. Kino’s revisit yields a more stable presentation of existing materials and a robust extras package, so if you’re a fan, this is an upgrade you won’t want to miss.
- Tim Salmons