The Oblong Box (1969)


(director: Gordan Hessler; screenwriters: Lawrence Huntington/Christopher Wicking/from an Edgar Allan Poe story “The Premature Burial”; cinematographer: John Coquillon; editor: Max Benedict; music: Harry Robinson; cast: Vincent Price (Sir Julian Markham), Christopher Lee (Dr. J. Neuhartt), Sally Geeson (Sally Baxter, Dr. Neuhart’s Maid/Sir Julian Markham’s Maid), Alister Williamson (Edward Markham), Hilary (Dwyer) Heath (Elizabeth Markham), Peter Arne (Samuel Trench), Maxwell Shaw (Tom Hackett), Godfrey James (Weller, Grave Robber), Michael Balfour (Ruddock, Markham’s Butler), Rupert Davies (Joshua Kemp), Carl Rigg (Mark Norton), Danny Daiels (The Witch Doctor), Uta Levka (Heidi, prostitute); Runtime: 91; AIP; 1969-UK)

“The Oblong Box is a satisfying occult thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Oblong Box is a satisfying occult thriller that is loosely based on Poe’s story “The Premature Burial,” and it’s the 13th Poe story that Vincent Price has been in. It is set in 19th century England. The aristocratic Markham brothers, the younger Sir Julian (Price) and Sir Edward (Alister Williamson), have returned to their English country manor from their African plantation, where Edward was mysteriously mutilated in his face and driven mad by revengeful African attackers who used sorcery on him to cast a spell. Julian keeps him chained in his locked room as a precaution against anyone viewing him and because of his violent outbursts. No chance of sending him off to the loony bin, it wouldn’t look good on the family resume.

Because of Julian’s strange behavior on his return from Africa, Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer) informs him that her father refuses to give his permission for their wedding and she breaks off their betrothal.

Edward’s only visitor is their crooked family lawyer Trench (Arne), who strikes a secret deal to free him for a gold payment. He delivers Edward to a witchdoctor (Daniels) who can cure him. When the butler Ruddock notices that Edward’s room is empty, Julian tells the locals his brother died from a tropical illness. Julian needs a body to bury, so he has Trench steal one. For a body, Trench has the witchdoctor blow a poison dart into the neck of potential body-snatcher Hackett (Shaw). In the meantime, Trench buried Edward alive in an oblong box.

Dr. J. Neuhartt (Christopher Lee) is a surgeon in the next village doing illegal experiments by hiring grave-robbers to bring him dead bodies. His vulgar man in charge of that detail, Weller, informs him that it’s a dangerous profession and he must take every precaution because if caught he faces the death penalty. When Weller goes to get a body, he finds someone poking around the cemetery and kills him rather than risk being recognized. He therefore brings Doc two bodies for the usual price he receives for each body, which appalls Doc that a man was murdered in the name of science. Neuhartt tries to keep up the pretense that he’s respectable doctor, and therefore goes along with the bonus body even though it’s against his wishes. But when he opens the coffin of the other, he finds that the disfigured man is still alive and it’s Sir Edward.

The doctor and Edward form a secret alliance since they both have something to hide, and Edward is passed off to the servants and visitors as a relative who is a houseguest and must wear a crimson hood because he was badly disfigured in an accident. From here on Edward plans to see the witchdoctor and get his revenge against Trench and his accomplice who helped bury him, Mark Norton. But must of all he sets his sights on Julian, who is now married to Elizabeth since Edward’s funeral made him act normal again. But before he can exact his revenge on Julian he goes astray in a pub bordello. He’s looking for the doctor’s former housekeeper he has a crush on, but when he can’t find her he instead gets invited into the prostitute Heidi’s room for some rough sex. When her pimp husband tries to shake him down for his gold, blood starts to pour in that room like wine during an orgy.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Gordon Hessler took over the directing reins after Michael Reeves, who started the film, had died. The second-half results are of the slash and gore nature, as lots of bodies appear with slit throats. By the time we learn that the wealthy Markham brothers had slaves on their plantation and were white exploiters of the innocent black natives and that the natives really wanted to get the evil Julian but by mistake got Edward, the story lost its mysterious edge.

The effective acting by Price, Lee, and Williamson is what gives this film its edge.


REVIEWED ON 7/21/2002 GRADE: B –    https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/