Country: UNITED KINGDOM
Edgar Allan Poe's The Oblong Box
This troubled production from American International Pictures initially began life as the next project for young British filmmaker Michael Reeves. He had clearly impressed his backers with the strength of his third film Witchfinder General (1968). The death of Reeves during the pre-production of The Oblong Box was a major blow, not only to the film, but to British filmmaking in general. With the death of Reeves any ambition the film might have had began to dwindle and this was signposted by the arrival of the undistinguished Gordon Hessler as his directorial replacement. Hessler was a capable director, but one who rarely achieved any kind of inspiration - and this derivative and clichéd piece of gothic horror was badly in need of inspiration.
The gothic period setting is the films saving grace - it is particularly well rendered and one of the better examples. British gothic horrors excel in the areas of art direction and production design, often achieving magnificent results on miniscule budgets. Markham’s ancient mansion is suitably creepy, with atmospheric shadowy interiors and a large winding staircase. Hessler makes use of some redolent outdoor locations which includes an eerie lane and sinister woodlands. Another impressive set is Dr. Neuhart’s (Christopher Lee) home and laboratory - a place that conceals both the crimson hooded killer and the good doctor’s nefarious experiments. Lee’s silly grey wig is an unintentional highlight, and despite labouring under this he still invests the character with his usual gravitas and pathos. The only character with any depth, we witness Neuhart struggling with a number of moral dilemmas - these include the morality of bodysnatching in service of scientific discovery, and his reaction to blackmail. The anticipated clash between the horror icons Price and Lee never really materialises, which is something of a surprising let down considering this was the first time they had appeared in a film together. This remains a missed opportunity and one of the major faults of the film.
© Shaun Anderson - 2010