Starring: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill
Written By: Richard Matheson (novel and screenplay)
Directed By: John Hough
Original Year of release: 1973
Run Time: 95 Minutes
With the release of Crimson Peak this weekend, I thought I would turn the focus our our “31 Days of Horror” to The Legend of Hell House (1973). It plays to many of the same strengths. You have a creepy house, ghosts and a mystery. What more could you want from a horror film?
Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) is hired to prove to a rich, dying old man that there is or isn’t life after death. He has less than a week to do so. The rich old man sends Lionel to the Belasco House, a house which is known to anyone in the field as the Mount Everest of haunted houses. His team is not of his choosing, but the rich man’s offer is too good to pass up.
Director John Hough (The Watcher In The Woods) takes us on a completely terrifying ride in Hell House. We arrive in broad daylight with mist swirling about, a black cat to cross our path, and three people who barely know each other. What transpires is a haunting tale told with camera tricks, brilliant acting, and practically no special effects to speak of. All in the realm of a PG movie.
By the time Lionel gets his team assembled, he is already under the gun to prove the existence of life after death. This is the only fault in the entire film. Hough places dates, times, and locations on the screen for the audience to feel as if we are, indeed, under pressure. There is nothing at jeopardy if they don’t meet their task by the given time. No one appears to need the money or is financially destitute. What is at stake are their lives and their very sanity of being in Hell House.
Lionel’s team consists of a Medium, Florence (Pamela Franklin), and the last known survivor of the team that tried to exorcise the house before, Benjamin (Roddy McDowall). Along with wife, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), they begin to experience the horrors that Hell House has to offer.
For those looking for rotting corpses, twisted ghosts, and ghouls popping up every so many minutes to give you a fright, you will be disappointed. This film relies heavily on mood and the performance of the actors to sell its scares. Pamela Franklin’s Florence establishes contact with the spirit in the house and her performance clearly inspired Sam Raimi while making Evil Dead. In fact, much of this film is crazy angles, fantastic camera work, and actors that keep you guessing as to who is really inside them. Any fan of Evil Dead will love this film.
There are numerous possessions in the film that lend contradictions to character traits established early on. This is evident at first when people are talking in strange tongues and asking for things out of character. It is these moments that lead you to not trust who and who isn’t part of the deadly game that Hell House is playing. There are also whispers and the spirits speak to our team. They are practically inaudible, but force the audience to pay closer attention in the hopes of finding some clue.
Genre fans will appreciate seeing Roddy McDowall shine as the lone survivor that has to battle his own demons to vanquish Hell House. Clive Revill, best known as the original Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, is the unbeliever- scientist who keeps finding a practical cause for the events. Can this man of science cleanse this house and save his team? Can his “contraption” save everyone and release the captured spirits?
If you appreciate a good story, incredible acting, and prefer your horror films smart over gory, The Legend of Hell House is perfect for October! So Much More with Less. Any fan of Evil Dead will love this film.
So Much More with Less.
Any fan of Evil Dead will love this film.