The Oblong Box (1969) is a British horror film directed by Gordon Hessler, starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Alister Williamson. This was the first film to star both Price and Lee.
Like The Mummy (1959), The Reptile (1965) and The Ghoul (1975), 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, this later film (made after Roger Corman's Poe set) 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 natives, 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 feigning 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 of the title. 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.
The cataleptic Sir Edward is left buried alive until he is dug up by graverobbers and delivered to the unscrupulous Dr. 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, and concealing his face behind a crimson hood embarks on a vengeful killing spree. Norton is first on Sir Edward's list and has his throat slit. In between killing, Sir Edward finds time to romance Neuhartt's maid Sally (Sally Geeson), but when Neuhartt finds out about their affair he discharges Sally and she goes to work for Julian. While searching for Trench he is sidetracked by a couple of drunks who drag him into a nearby tavern. Here he ends up with prostitute Heidi (Uta Levka) who tries to roll him for his money, only to meet her end by Sir Edward's knife. The police get involved and the hunt is on for a killer in a crimson hood.
Meanwhile Julian has become suspicious about the body Trench supplied him with after his friend Kemp (Rupert Davies) finds it washed up on a riverbank. Julian confronts Trench, who tells him the truth about Sir Edward's 'death'. Soon after, Trench is dispatched by Sir Edward but not before he tells him the whereabouts of N'Galo. Hoping he will cure him of his disfigurement, Sir Edward asks N'Galo for his help. Here Sir Edward learns the truth about his time in Africa- in a case of mistaken identity he was punished for his brother's crime of killing an African child. N'Galo fails to cure Sir Edward and they fight, N'Galo stabbs Sir Edward and is rewarded with a face full of hot tar. Sir Edward returns to Neuhartt's home where Neuhartt tends to his wound. Mistrusting Neuhartt's medical treatment Sir Edward fatally wounds him and sets off to confront his brother. Back at the Markham ancestral home, Julian learns the whereabouts of his brother from Sally and leaves for Dr. Neuhartt's home, only to find him near death. Meanwhile Sir Edward arrives back home to find Sally, who is repulsed by her former lover's killing. Sir Edward drags her out into the grounds of the house pleading for her love. Julian arrives back home and gives chase with a shotgun. Out on the grounds Sally snatches Sir Edward's hood from him and his deformed face is revealed for the first time. Julian catches up and Sir Edward confronts him about his crime. As Sir Edward lurches forward, Julian shoots him. Cradling the dying Sir Edward in his arms, Julian is bitten by him. Once again in his oblong box, Sir Edward is resurrected by a vengeful N'Galo (who wanted to get back at him for attacking him and splashing hot tar on his face), but this time he is six feet under with no hope of escape. While back at the Markham mansion Julian is occupying his brother's old room, where he is beginning to show the first signs of the voodoo curse.
Price, Davies and Dwyer had recently appeared in Witchfinder General, under the direction of Michael Reeves, and on November 18, 1968, the four also began work on the Oblong Box. The original script had the Markham brothers as twins, both played by Vincent Price. However, Reeves died during pre-production, so Hessler stepped in and made a number of substantial changes. With the help of Christopher Wicking, he reworked the screenplay to incorporate the theme of imperial exploitation of native peoples in Africa. This theme gave the film a "pro-black" appearance that would later cause it to be banned in Texas. The leading role of the film was given to character actor Alister Williamson, his first. Although he has the largest amount of screen time, more than either Price or Lee, his real voice is never heard (it was redubbed by another actor) and his face is covered for the majority of the film. His makeup was done by Jimmy Evans, whose other credits include Hessler's Scream and Scream Again (1970) and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1972).
THE OBLONG BOX
GORDON HESSLER (1969)
AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES