‘Some things are better left buried’
The Oblong Box is a 1969 British horror film directed by Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again); Cry of the Banshee; KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park) from a screenplay by Lawrence Huntington (The Vulture), with additional dialogue by Christopher Wicking.
Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson, Alister Williamson, Peter Arne.
Like The Mummy (1959), The Reptile (1965) and The Ghoul (1974), the film’s story details guilt-ridden Britons paying a bitter price for their colonial crimes. Ostensibly part of the Edgar Allan Poe series of American International Pictures (AIP), this later film has nothing to do with Poe’s story of the same name, apart from the title.
England, 1865: Having been grotesquely disfigured in an African voodoo ceremony for a transgression against the native populace, Sir Edward Markham (Alister Williamson) is kept locked in his room by his guilt-ridden brother, Julian (Vincent Price). Tiring of his captivity, Sir Edward plots to escape by faking his death. With the help of the crooked family lawyer, Trench (Peter Arne), they hire witchdoctor N’Galo (Harry Baird) to concoct a drug to put Sir Edward into a death-like trance. Before Trench has time to act, Julian finds his ‘dead’ brother and puts him in the oblong box.
Embarrassed by his brother’s appearance, Julian asks Trench to find a proxy body for Sir Edward’s lying in state. Trench and N’Galo murder landlord Tom Hacket (Maxwell Shaw) and offer his corpse to Julian. After the wake, Trench and his young companion Norton (Carl Rigg), dispose of Hacket’s body in a nearby river, while Julian has Sir Edward buried. Now free of his brother, Julian marries his young fiance, Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer), while Trench, Norton and N’Galo go their separate ways.
Sir Edward is left buried alive until he is dug up by graverobbers and delivered to Doctor Neuhartt (Christopher Lee). Neuhartt opens the oblong box and is confronted by the resurrected Sir Edward. With his first-hand knowledge of his illegal activities, Sir Edward blackmails the doctor into sheltering him. Sir Edward then conceals his face behind a crimson hood and embarks on a vengeful killing spree…
The Oblong Box is a reasonably entertaining film if taken on face value. Hessler might not have been an imaginative filmmaker, but he was certainly an efficient one, and he keeps the pace fast and ensures that the film looks good, even if it lacks the style of its predecessors.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
‘ …really solid stuff. The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s far less one-note than many other films of this period (including theatre), with numerous agendas and several characters with an actual stake in the story. Everyone sort of has a reason to hate or at least wish ill will towards the majority of the other characters, which results in a lot of tension…’ Brian W. Collins, Horror Movie a Day
“The film ultimately lacks the psychological depth and visual style which marked the Corman/Poe cycle, and also lacks the wit to be found in the productions of Hammer. The result is a curiously lifeless and empty shell of a movie only occasionally alleviated by some fine acting and impressive sets.” The Celluloid Highway
“The film, which features the first co-starring appearance by Lee and Price, is surprisingly effective, though over-elaborate, and is excellently photographed by Coquillon.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
Cast and characters:
- Vincent Price – Julian
- Christopher Lee – Doctor Newhartt
- Rupert Davies – Kemp
- Uta Levka – Heidi
- Sally Geeson – Sally
- Alister Williamson – Edward
- Peter Arne – Trench
- Hilary Dwyer – Elizabeth
- Maxwell Shaw – Hackett
- Carl Rigg – Norton
- Harry Baird – N’Galo
- Godfrey James – Weller
- John Barrie – Franklin
- Ivor Dean – Hawthorne