Vincent Price lords it suavely around a gloomy 19th-century manor. And in typical gothic cinema style, there’s a room at the top of the house imprisoning a miserable creature that the outside world must never see.
Price plays Sir Julian Markham, one of two brothers whose wealth stems from plantations in Africa, and the poor wretch he keeps under lock and key is his brother, Sir Edward (Alister Williamson).
Julian tells outsiders that his brother is isolated because of a tropical disease contracted abroad but the truth is that he was hideously disfigured by African sorcery.
Sir Edward enlists the aid of family solicitor Trench (Peter Arne) in a bid to escape. Their scheme is for a capsule to be smuggled to Sir Edward that will render him unconscious, assumed dead and secretly taken into Trench’s care.
But the plan goes awry when Julian, believing his brother dead, quickly nails him into his coffin before mourners can see his frightful face. Edward is thus buried alive, and Trench is inclined to let matters rest.
This is where Christopher Lee comes into the proceedings. He plays Dr J. Neuhartt, a surgeon who pays grave-robbers to deliver fresh corpses on which he can carry out medical research – and when they deliver a certain oblong box, he has the surprise of his life on finding its contents still alive and breathing.
Meanwhile, over at Markham Mansion, Julian is telling his newly betrothed (Hilary Dwyer) that she can look forward to nothing but happiness and contentment.
But a crimson-hooded figure at the window is the first sign that Sir Julian doesn’t know what he’s talking about, for his brother is alive and, even if not particularly well, living in hopes of revenging himself on all who have plotted against him.
While Price and Lee go about their roles with all the assurance of people in familiar territory, special mention must be made of Alister Williamson who, partly on the strength of an attractively cultured voice, rises above the handicap of never showing the audience his true countenance.
For the most part, he wears a hood, and the face under it which is finally revealed is the nightmare work of the makeup department.
Among faces that are fair to gaze on is that of supporting actress Sally Geeson, who plays the surgeon’s buxom serving wench.
The Oblong Box was Vincent Price’s sixth film based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe made by American International.
Sir Julian Markham
Dr J. Neuhartt
Sir Edward Markham