"Don't interrupt me while I'm soliloquizing." – Laurence Grisbane
Here’s a real slice of horror history that sadly, is overlooked more often than not. It’s a once in a lifetime event, that would never be repeated. Believe it or not, this is the first and only time that the titans of terror, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would be together in a film.
Cushing and Lee had regularly teamed previously, from the late fifties to the late seventies, this would be their last team up. Cushing had co-starred with Price in Madhouse in 1974, Price had co-starred with Lee in The Oblong Box in 1969. All three had appeared in the confusing as hell Scream and Scream Again in 1970, BUT……the three hadn’t shared a scene. Here, all three get to chew the scenery and have a great time doing it. Add to the mix, John Carradine, Universal’s third Dracula following Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jnr. (To make things even cooler, The Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester was originally cast as well, but her health failed and she wasn’t able to make the filming.)
In a way, it’s not unlike The Old Dark House. Set in Wales, it’s a dark comedy horror, featuring unfriendly locals, a bunch of related oddballs in a forbidding mansion in the middle of nowhere, and it rains. So – seemingly pretty routine fodder then? Except it rises above its clichéd ingredients.
Dezi Arnaz Jnr (just before he starred in the short lived superhero TV series Automan) plays Kenneth Magee, a best selling author, who makes a bet with his publisher. Magee reckons he can knock out a Wuthering Heights type of novel in 24 hours. His publisher takes the bet and there’s $20,000 at stake. Magee will travel to a lonely old mansion house in Wales, to do the writing in a suitably atmospheric surrounding where he won’t be interrupted.
Yeah. He wishes.
It turns out that the previous owners of the house are having something of a family reunion there. And the Grisbanes have a dark secret. (Okay – at this point, any sane member of the audience would be surprised if they didn’t – but after a second quarter that becomes a bit tedious with a lot of creeping about in the dark, the film really matches its potential and kicks into another gear.)
Lord Grisbane(John Carradine) has gathered together his sons Lionel (Vincent Price) and Sebastian (Peter Cushing, playing his role with a speech impediment). They have a family duty to uphold. But after dinner, of course. But before dinner is served, in comes Corrigan (Christopher Lee) – who is a prospective buyer of the run down stately home and demands to know why this bunch of misfits are trespassing.
They’re there to finally release the other son…. Roderick. Forty years earlier, Roderick had seduced a village girl when he was fourteen and had murdered her in cold blood when he discovered she was pregnant. The family took care of their own and imprisoned Roderick in his room for four decades of solitary confinement. This is the night he will be set free.
But it’s not that simple. Roderick is already free and is in the mood to kill, again and again….. but the twists in the story don’t end there and become, frankly ingenious.
If the old guard of horror HAD to have a last stand, then this is definitely a fitting final curtain for them. All four stars have some great lines and it’s plain to see they’re having a great time one last time. The times had changed, it was the eighties, Hammer was dead, Amicus was extinct, slasher horror was the new vogue and quaint British creepy houses with eccentric and homicidal residents had given way to rednecks with machetes and would soon embrace dream demons with knife fingered gloves as their new poster boys.
But it’s good to see the masters of menace gather together and show them how it’s REALLY done with class and finesse.
You can check it out for yourselves right here.
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