Thursday, 8 September 2011


Michael Armstrong's disappointment at the cuts in the final cut of The House Of The long Shadows was matched by the reaction of the stars of the film. Vincent price, in particular, was so upset that his role had been reduced by the cuts- especially in the music room scene- that he denounced the film openly and refused to aid in it's promotion or have anything more to do with the film.

Michael Armstrong recalls: ' I got a call from Cannon just before the film was due to open in the UK, telling me about Vinnie's reaction and asking me if I could try and change his mind. Apparently, he had refused to speak to anyone at the Cannon offices. He was staying in London at the time, because his wife Coral Brown was at that time receiving specialist treatment for cancer here. I called him and tried to persuade him to talk to Cannon, but he was adamant. He was so angry and so very upset because he'd loved doing the film and thought it was some of his best comedy work and then to see so much of his performance cut...but what could I say? I was totally in agreement with him and, as I pointed out- the cuts to his dialogue were equally the cuts to my dialogue. We were on the phone over an hour and a half. By the end, we were commiserating with each other. He never did speak to anyone at Cannon, although he and I continued to stay in touch right up to his death.

Peter Cushing with director Pete Walker, co star Louise English and film critic Peter Noble at the
Uk premier of The House Of The Long Shadows at the Carlton Cinema, London

'The House Of The Long Shadows' opened in London in 1983 at the Carlton Cinema in the Haymarket to mixed reviews and a disastrous box office. Cannon's decision to sell the film as a straightforward horror film had only resulted in confusing both the critics and the audiences who, without having the benefit of knowing beforehand that it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek lampoon of Gothic melodrama, mistook all the wit and pastiche jokes as an attempt at the real thing. Those critics, however, who did realise the films intent, raved- in particular over the screenplay and the stars. Similarly the film went on to win prizes for best film, best screenplay and best actors (jointly for the four stars) at Avoriaz, Sitges, Paris and other genre festivals around the world.

Dismayed at the film's London box office results, Armstrong persuaded Cannon to let him experiment with a different approach for the regions in the UK and sell the film as the comedy it was, rather than the horror film that it wasn't.

To test this the East Anglia release was launched with a specially organised gala night audience in Stowmarket being issued with souvenir programmes quoting those reviews recognising the film as a comedy. The result was a packed house loving the film, laughing and applauding throughout. As Armstrong points out, 'It was exactly the same audience reaction we'd seen at Avoriaz and in Paris where it had won the audience prize for Best Film at the Paris Film Festival'.

Peter Cushing attends the gala evening for The House Of The Long Shadows  in Stowmarket

Michael Armstrong, scriptwriter for The House Of The Long Shadows and Peter Cushing
attend the gala evening at Stowmarket.

 Despite this evidence of the audience reaction, it was too late to change anything. Cannon's original marketing plan remained and the film continued to fail at the UK box office. With a far more tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign the film fared better upon it's American and international release, once more mainly garnering good reviews. It excellent entry into the video market, however, was cut short by the collapse of Cannon. as part of the company's product sell off, the film was included in a package required by MGM and along with so much of the Cannon product seems to have been lost in the archives.

Two of the brothers Grisbaine

'The problem with parody is that unless you know what is being parodied, you miss the joke and I think that's where certain people missed out on the film. It's a pity because The House Of The Long Shadows is so full of jokes for the movie buff- almost every single line of the dialogue has a reference point to some movie or another - I defy anyone to get them all in a single screening. Apart from the movie references, though, The House Of The Long Shadows exits on several levels, which is why it really needs more than one viewing to appreciate it fully. It was also made with a great love for the film it so affectionately lampoons and as a swan song to the horror careers of the four. Just take a look at their dialogue to see what I mean. I firmly believe when it does finally emerge on DVD, it will finally be recognised, not only as one of Pete Walker's best and most complex films, but as a fitting tribute and elegy to a bygone era'

'The House Of The Long Shadows' still awaits an official release on DVD. The film is available through a few dodgy enquiries at ebay and are more often than not, copies burnt onto disc from an ancient VHS tape. A few years ago, after Ted Turner at Turner Classic Movies had bought up the entire MGM library, then casually sold it back minus the classic marquee titles, it looked like the film was going to at last get a DVD release. It did. The film is available through MGM MOD but the copies are truly awful.....So, until it arrives, like Roderick, we sit ....and wait!  

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