The Oblong Box
the oblong box | gordon hessler | lawrence huntington | vincent price | alister williamson | christopher lee | based on | short story | edgar allan poe | ritual | curse | united kingdom | rupert davies | uta levka | sally geeson | peter arne | hilary heath | maxwell shaw
Film: The Oblong Box
Director: Gordon Hessler
Writer: Lawrence Huntington
Starring: Vincent Price, Alister Williamson and Christopher Lee
This was a film I actually never heard of. When I was loading it to watch for a horror movie challenge I’m doing, that’s when I realized this is based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. I’m not familiar with this one offhand, so I was coming in pretty blind here. I was sold though when I saw this starred Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. The synopsis is aristocrat Julian Markham (Price) keeps his disfigured brother, Sir Edward (Alister Williamson), locked in a room of the house. Once he is out, he causes mayhem as he looks for revenge.
Now I did have to doctor the synopsis, because it wasn’t technically what happens here. We start this though in Africa where a ritual is happening among the natives. We see a goat as well as a man that is strapped to an X. Julian appears from the woods to stop them, calling out to the man who we is his brother Edward. He is restrained and the witch doctor performs a ritual.
We then shift to England. Julian has not been back to Africa since what happened. He has become a recluse to hide his brother who seems to have a deformed face that has driven him mad. He also seems pretty guilty as well. This is putting a strain on his relationship with Elizabeth (Hilary Heath), his fiancée. The family lawyer, Trench (Peter Arne), shows up to the house relay how the plantation is doing and to check on Edward as well. When he does, it seems that a plan has been set up between him and Trench that will happen in two days.
The film then relays to us that grave robbing happens a lot in the area. Julian speaks with a local priest where they have conflicting ideologies on it. Elizabeth also informs Julian that her father wants her to go to Italy and break off their engagement. Julian realizes he has to do something or lose her. A local doctor, J. Neuhartt (Lee), asks an associate who robs graves for him, that he needs a fresh specimen soon.
We then see the plan. Trench arrives to the manor with N’Galo (Harry Baird), an African witchdoctor. A ball is shot into the room through the window and Edward takes it. It makes him appear dead. Julian decides that they cannot present Edward to the villagers. Trench is informed that he needs to steal a body that can be presented. He reaches out to Norton (Carl Rigg) along with N’Galo, informing them there’s a change of plan and that they’re going to get a body instead. The problem is that after the wake, they drop it in the river. The grave-robber Dr. Neuhartt hired digs up the body of Edward, who isn’t actually dead. When Dr. Neuhartt opens up the coffin, he is attacked.
A new plan is put into motion where Edward dons a crimson hood and blackmails Dr. Neuhartt to stay with him. He goes about getting revenge on all of those involved and to find out the truth of what happened to him as well.
As I kind of alluded to, I didn’t really know anything about this, but all of the things in the opening paragraph intrigued me to check this film out. For the year this came out, this is definitely has a pretty deep story and quite a bit to unfold here.
The first thing that really struck me is that almost every character is flawed and I dug that. Julian is harboring a dark secret that makes him despise Africa and he feels guilty about what happened to his brother. He also blackmails Trench to steal a body when he learns that he’s been stealing money from Julian from the plantation through embezzling and cleaver paperwork. Dr. Neuhartt is having bodies stolen in the name of science and he’s blackmailed into hiding Edward because of this knowledge. His maid Sally (Sally Geeson) also attempts to do something similar to him when threatened. There’s a scene where a prostitute Heidi (Uta Levka) and her husband tries to kidnap and rob Edward. Edward is driven mad by what happened to him and not knowing why it was done.
I’m really curious to as how much of this story is Poe’s and how much was made for this film. To be honest, this actually plays kind of like a proto-slasher. When Edward wakes up and starts to seek answers as well as revenge, he picks off those involved. There are some that he kills with a knife actually. I would say this is like a giallo, but we actually know who the killer is, so the mystery isn’t there.
That takes me to the pacing of this movie. I think that it utilizes its 96 minute runtime very well. We get introduced to the event that causes Edward to slip into madness. The only issue there is that we don’t get to see him before it happens so that isn’t established. We do get to learn all of the players and it jumps into the events as they unfold. There’s a lot of moving parts and I really dug that. It builds tension as things start to get more and more high risk, which includes Edward killing more and more people around him. I wasn’t a fan of the ending though. The reveal didn’t make a lot of sense as to what happens. It is fitting though as revenge on Julian.
Moving to the acting of this film, I thought it was good. We have heavy hitters that are legends. I like that Price, even as the lead, isn’t a good person. We get that as an aristocrat, he doesn’t play by the rules of the law. He just naturally plays this role and he fits perfect. The same could be said for Lee, who isn’t royalty, but as a doctor he is the upper part of society. He fits perfect as well. I might as well through in Arne here as a lawyer and even Williamson. The only thing with him is that we learn he has no idea why the Africans did this ritual to him until later and I kind of feel sorry for him. The problem is that he’s come too far to redeem himself and I dug that. This film has a bit of sleaze as we see some of these attractive actresses topless, which I didn’t mind. Levka, Geeson, Heath and the rest of the cast rounded out the movie for what is needed.
To the effects here, I thought for the most part they were good for the time. The blood is a bright orange, which I definitely have a soft spot for. The actual attacks don’t hold up though. We can see that they aren’t being cut and that there’s just blood being smeared there, but due to this coming out in the 60’s, they didn’t have the technology yet. I thought when we finally see Edward’s face was pretty good. It also felt pretty authentic to the time and I had to double check to make sure this wasn’t a Hammer film. It definitely has that feel. I do have to give credit to how this is shot, it looks good and what I thought was interesting was the angles used to avoid showing Edward’s face before it was ready for the reveal.
Now with that said, I really enjoyed this film and I’m glad that I came in pretty blind with it. I thought it has an interesting concept taken from the Poe short story, but I’d like to see where that ends and this takes its liberties. It actually has a pretty deep story and there’s some interesting concepts explored. I’d go as far to say that this actually feels like a proto-slasher with how this plays out. The acting is really good across the board and I’d say that the effects, although dated, are definitely good for what they had to work with. The score didn’t necessarily stand out, but it also didn’t take me out of the movie. It is also paced in a way where it builds tension, but I will admit I didn’t care for the reveal at the end of this one. I found this to be a good movie overall and definitely would recommend giving it a viewing if you’re a fan of Poe adaptations or the cast we have here.
My Rating: 8 out of 10