Release Date: June 11th, 1969 (USA)
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Lawrence Huntington, Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Oblong Box by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Harry Robinson
Cast: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson, Alister Williamson, Peter Arne, Hilary Dwyer
American International Pictures, 96 Minutes (USA), 91 Minutes (UK)
Horror legends Vincent Price and Christopher Lee worked together several times. But there is always a first time for everything and The Oblong Box is the first time that they got to be in the same picture.
The credits state that this is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name but it really isn’t. The only thing similar between the two is the title and the fact that it refers to a coffin.
The Oblong Box starts with a man being tortured in an African village. Vincent Price’s Sir Julian Markham walks in to discover this. The man being tortured and disfigured by the villagers is his brother Sir Edward. As the plot progresses, the brothers return to England where Julian has Edward locked up in the attic due to his disfigurement and change in temperament. Edward with help from a shady lawyer, fakes his own death, in an effort to be free of his chains. Mistakes happen and Julian accidentally has his brother buried alive. Edward is then unearthed by grave robbers and finds himself in the home of Dr. Newhartt, played by Christopher Lee. Edward blackmails Newhartt into letting him live in his house, as he goes out at night to seek justice for how he was wronged. There are twists and turns and overall, the plot is interesting and engaging.
While fitting the mold of Price’s other Poe-inspired horror films of the 1960s, The Oblong Box is also a slasher film before slasher films were even a thing. Edward covers his face with a crimson mask and uses his knife to slash his way to the justice he seeks.
Both Vincent Price and Christopher Lee are top notch in this movie. Unfortunately, Price and Lee barely share any screen time. This would be rectified in later films, however. Lee does well in the role as the morally questionable Dr. Newhartt, while Price’s Julian is a character you grow to care about. A favorite actor of mine, Rupert Davies was enjoyable as Kemp. I also really loved Harry Baird’s performance as the witch doctor N’Galo.
The theme of the film was controversial, at the time, and it led to it being banned in Texas. It explored the relationship between Europeans and native Africans. More accurately, it showed the exploitation of the African people by white men. All the horror that befalls the European characters in the film is really just the consequences of their mistreatment of the African villagers.
The Oblong Box isn’t as well-known as other Price and Lee films but it is certainly one of the better ones. It feels real and isn’t as over-the-top as some of the other Poe films of the day.
The only negative about the picture is some of the special effects. The reveal of Sir Edward’s face at the end is pretty disappointing. Also, his throat slashing was pretty awful. When he cut people’s necks, it looked like he was just drawing a line with lipstick. Also, the scene where a man gets bashed over the head had some of the worst blood I’ve seen. It literally had the color and consistency of ketchup.
The bad effects don’t really distract from the picture, however. It is a pretty solid film and maybe deserves a bit more recognition than it has.