on November 16, 2001
This is a good movie, and a worthy heir to the true best haunted house movie ever made, Robert Wise's The Haunting. Borrowing heavily from that story, novel and screenplay author Richard Matheson similarly sends a scientist and a team of psychics into a haunted house. In the previous film, a wealthy matron was indulging the whim of a scientist, prior to passing a white elephant of a property onto an heir. In this one, a dying aristocrat longs for proof of life after death, caring little for the evil nature of the supernatural goings on in "Hell House."
Roddy MacDowall anchors this movie, the reluctant survivor of a previous mission to the home, too battle-scared to hope for more than collecting his money at the end of their one-week experiment. Pamela Franklin impresses as a gifted young mystic, reaching out to the house as it reaches out to her (again, an echo of Eleanor and Hill House from the Shirley Jackson novella). Clive Revill and Gayle Hunicutt keep things focused as the more conventional paranormal scientist and his wife. He, representing all English rationality while the others represent English superstition, is convinced the house possesses not entities, but merely energy, like some sort of time-charged battery.
The X-files would later borrow the technique of beginning each scene with a tension-inducing subtitle of date and time. The house is scary, with a truly spooky set shadowy enough to make Dark Shadows jealous. Tension does build, and rapidly, in the effective and memorable set-pieces. The eventual reveal, though well-performed, loses power in light of modern-day FX, and due to the convoluted explanation of the haunting. Not as resonant as the father figure/religion/gender relations axis of Jackson's more psychologically astute story, and more like a mystery than a horror story in form.
Worse, the script uses the haunting as an excuse to portray and tame the power of female sexuality through allusions to masochism and vampirism. Franklin (Miss Tanner) is brutalized physically by the ghost she tries to aid, and in Hunicutt the house seems to unleash a sexual perversity and desire that may or may not cast reflections on her marriage to the tightly wound scientist.
No real in-story explanation is given for brutalizing the women in this way; this is one of those British stories where ultimate sympathies lie with that quintessential figure of the isles, the schoolboy who's too repressed to grow up. Both Revell and MacDowall are different aspects of this sadly limited character.
on September 29, 2001
If you love movies like The Haunting(original), The Changeling, or The Innocents; then you'll love this movie. When I first saw it, I thought it was a continuation of the original Haunting. I was so glad to see that it came out on DVD. I've been looking for a copy of it for some time (and it's even hard to find to rent!). This movie is definitely one of the great Haunted House style movies. This movie gives my wife chills and we both need to watch something a little "fluffy" to get it out of our minds before bed. I can't wait till the Changeling and the original Haunting comes out on DVD. This is a must have movie in the collection of those that like movies in this vain. For me it's not so much the horror and scare (even though that's a thrill) it's the origins of why these things happen that intrigues me. Finding out why the hauntings go on, or what happened in the past to cause this.
Forget special-effects filled modern junk movies like The Haunting; The Legend of Hell House is horror the way it should be done: With mood and atmosphere, instead of FX and loud sound effects.
The story is simplicity itself: Four people are hired to find out if there is life after death by studying the mother of all haunted houses: The Belasco House, A.K.A. "Hell House". There's the Parapsychologist and his Wife/Partner, the Mental Medium, and the Physical Medium. The Physical Medium (Played by Roddy McDowell) also happens to be the last person to visit Hell House, the only survivor of an ill-fated investigation 20 Years ago. It's been locked up ever since, and it's ready for some new guests....
The film moves at a slow, deliberate pace, letting the atmosphere of the House work on the viewer, rather than going for hokey-looking monsters or cheap scares (Like the tired old "Cat-jumps-out-of-the-closet" gag; There IS a killer cat, though!). Considering that we are constantly watching the same four people, casting is very important, and Hell House has some good performances, especially Pamela Franklin as the tortured Miss Tanner, the Mental Medium, who is used by the House's evil presence. The ending is a little too pat, and the explanation for Belasco's evil is a bit offbeat, but overall, Hell House is a Helluva film. Highly recommended! The DVD Widescreen transfer is excellent, but as far as extras go, it's just a Hell House trailer, and a few other assorted trailers. The Adam West Batman trailer is a hoot, though...
on June 12, 2006
My intention for many years was to read Matheson's 'I Am Legend' and 'Hell House'. Since I have read none of them (as I can't find a copy anywhere), I decided to watch The Legend of Hell House before I do. To my surprise TLOHH is a really good haunted house film and an enjoyable horror flick. I found it to be an actually creepy film with a great use of audio, lighting, and camera work to create an uneasy atmosphere that gives Hell House a convincing evil. The acting is great in this film, with impressive perfomances from Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin. Impressive and effective scenes are also included. Scenes such as the 'seance' scene, the 'possession' scene, the 'cat attack' scene and many more.
The Legend of Hell House is a great haunted house film, with a creepy atmosphere and great performances, this has got to be one of my favourites. I will still intentivly read the book as soon as I find it. This is a horror film that I will add to my horror list and will treasure for a long time.
All roads lead to Rome--or in the case of haunted house stories to Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. Published in 1959 and then memorably filmed by Robert Wise with Julie Harris in 1963, both book and film have exerted a powerful influence over the years, and this was particularly true where author Richard Matheson was concerned: although he added a number of original ideas and created a memorable chiller, his popular novel HELL HOUSE was so similar to the Jackson blueprint that it is a wonder her estate did not contemplate legal action.
The novel's film version, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, inevitably suffers in the comparison to both Jackson's novel and its film version. But while it is not a great film, it is a very good one--and it has a number of assets that ghost story connoisseurs will relish. As in Jackson's story, the plot concerns four individuals sent to investigate a house of very unsavory reputation: two men and two women. Here the expedition is led by a skeptic, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill), who believes that "hauntings" are manifestations of residual energy rather than of surviving personalities--and who considers the Belasco house an ideal opportunity to put his theory to a practical test.
He is accompanied by his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) and two mediums: Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being one of the few individuals to have previously visited Belasco House and lived to tell about it, and Christian spiritualist Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), who soon clashes with Dr. Barrett over his skepticism. And although Dr. Barrett has meticulously planned this investigation into Belasco House, from the moment the party enters the doors nothing turns out the way any of them expect.
The great thing about the film is Pamela Franklin, who was one of the most interesting actresses of the 1960s and early 1970s, first making her mark as a child in the memorable thriller THE INNOCENTS and then giving a devastating turn as one of her teacher's pets in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. While THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is hardly on the same level as these other films, Franklin herself is--and she is quite extraordinary from start to finish. (It is a tremendous pity her career faltered not long after the release of this film.) McDowell also offers a memorable turn as Mr. Fischer, and Revill and Hunnicutt offer superior performances as well.
The fact that it was filmed on a low budget is actually an asset to the movie, for instead of elaborate set-ups the film emerges as visually lean and clean, relying on its performances to create a very effective mounting sense of unease. Where it falls down--and more than a little--is in the script, which was written by Matheson himself. There are too many loose ends here, and while in some hands this might result in a sense of mystery, here it gives the feeling of sloppiness. Perversely, it also suffers from a determination to explain away everything it can, and the result is often somewhat anti-climatic.
The DVD offers nothing in the way of extras beyond the original trailer, but for the most part the transfer is quite good. Some critics have noted that the soundtrack is slightly out of synch at points, but I myself did not particularly notice this to any great extent; others have commented that the version released to the home market has been slightly edited, but since I have never seen it except in this release I cannot comment. I will say, however, that edited or not, and largely due to Franklin's performance and McDowell's strong support, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE will likely satisfy viewers who prefer their ghost stories strong on atmosphere and psychology. For all its flaws it is a memorable film, and well worth having.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on April 6, 2004
Unfairly neglected by audiences in the wake of that same year's cultural juggernaut that was The Exorcist, The Legend of Hell House has since recovered a deserved place as one of the best entries in horror's "haunted house" sub-genre. Squarely in the tradition of The Haunting (which first proposed a pseudo-anthropological approach to the supernatural) scientist Clive Revill leads an investigation team into the dreaded Belasco mansion to establish whether life after death really exists or not. As things start to go bump in the night, the group slowly falls apart under the weight of its own tensions before finally uncovering the dreaded evil inside the heart of "Hell House". An effective old school horror entry at a time when horror was just about to pursue interesting new detours into violence, depravity and extremity courtesy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist and Black Christmas (the unacknowledged progenitor of Halloween). Featuring an effectively pompous turn by Revill as the cocksure project leader and a characteristically eccentric one by Roddy McDowell. Based on the novel by horror legend Richard Matheson.
on September 27, 2014
This movie dates from a time when atmosphere was created by good old fashioned story telling and acting unlike today's modern slashers that rely on buckets of blood and gore. There are no body parts being lopped off, no blood splattered walls and no brain dead characters doing stupid things. It's an intelligent old style horror picture. Many won't like its slow pace but for those that enjoy how horror movies used to be made should like this quality film.
on September 16, 2015
Released in 1973, “The Legend of Hell House” details the experiences of four investigators of a haunted mansion in England over the course of five days. It’s a risky endeavor because there was only one survivor of past investigators (20 years earlier), the character played by Roddy McDowall. In other words, the house killed ’em all! The other cast members are Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt.
I saw 1959’s “House on Haunted Hill” earlier this summer and was struck by its lameness. “The Legend of Hell House” came out a mere 14 years later and it’s a significant improvement, as far as creepy ambiance and realism go. If you appreciate movies with spooky atmospherics you’ll want to check it out. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Richard Matheson (from his book), turns the story into a series of disjointed vignettes over the course of five days in the mysterious house, which prevents the movie from creating momentum. You might be wondering how this is a flaw because, after all, how else would you chronicle such a story? But there’s a way to do it where there’s a sense of cohesion, like 1971’s “The Devil Walks at Midnight” (aka “The Devil’s Nightmare”). Nevertheless, the movie has undeniable positive elements and is worth checking out if you like haunted house movies or the cast.
The movie runs 95 minutes and was shot in England.
on July 8, 2015
Personally, I consider this to be one of the best "haunted house" movies made. There is no CGI crap to make it look fake. All effects are practical and although dated from 1973, it still works. Don't go into this movie thinking it will scare the pants off of you. It's more of a team that goes into a huge mansion in England at the request of a rich man that wants to know if there is life after death and any facts that the team finds, they are to report it back to him. The music, atmosphere and characters in the team are pretty decent, to me anyway. I go into this movie with a paranormal investigative mind. The team has about 5 days to come up with an answer to give to the man that hired them.
The Belasco House is the place where before, several people have died trying to investigate it. It was boarded up and then sold as the family needed money. A younger audience that loves blood and gore every 5 minutes probably won't like this movie as it is dramatic, creepy and plays on your mind. Several "ghosts" haunt it as the team tried to communicate with them.
Very good movie in my opinion and I loved it. ~
Pamela Franklin plays the psychic medium, Roddy McDowall plays the physical medium, Clive Revill plays the Investigative leader and doctor on site, his wife is there for moral support for him and the team.
Widescreen, 1973, 4.0 English Stereo, 2.0 Mono or French Mono
on June 28, 2009
Richard Matheson's 1971 novel HELL HOUSE was not one of the great fantasy novelist's most original endeavors, basically standing as a souping-up (via sex and violence) of Shirley Jackson's much more beautifully suggestive 1959 THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE with the Aleister Crowley legend transposed onto it. When Matheson turned his novel into a screenplay for British film producers the setting was wisely transposed from Maine (THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE was also set in New England) to England. The set-up is the same as for the Jackson novel: a team of odd individuals prominently featuring parapsychologists and psychics are sent to a haunted mansion, said to be the locus for great evil in the past, on a scientific mission to see if ghostly phenomena can be proven, since the house acts as a sort of dry battery for the supernatural; it will be no great spoiler to point out that fewer leave the house than enter it.
Despite its inarguable derivativeness, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is much better than it might have been. Indeed, it set something of a standard for early 70s British horror (its famous trailer was parodied in part for the ersatz Edgar Wright trailer for a British horror film called DON'T in the 2007 GRINDHOUSE). Pamela Franklin, looking like Winona Ryder, seems to fare best of the actors who are set upon by the shaking tables and falling crucifixes; indeed, she even manages to be fairly convincing in what was at the time considered a horrific (if now somewhat silly) sequence where a cat attacks her face (she wrestles fairly convincingly with a taxidermical specimen). Roddy McDowell, in one of the few adult movies that allowed him real elbow room, is fairly embarrassing as another of the psychics in the entourage, and has a real howler of a sequence when he opens his mind to the evil spirits and crosses his eyes and convulses. The scariest part of the movie (one that stayed with me as a child for years afterwards) is actually in the film's resolution, when we discover what really happened to the house's evil owner: the stillness of this scene even now seems more effectively preternatural than all the exploding fireplaces and shattering teacups earlier.