Friday, March 25, 2011

#231. The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Directed By: John Hough

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt, Pamela Franklin

Tag line: "For the sake of your sanity, pray it isn't true!"

Trivia:  Writer Richard Matheson toned down the graphic violence and more intense sexual scenes of his novel to give the screenplay for the film a more brooding atmosphere

"It's the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses” 

These are the words spoken by Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) when describing the infamous Belasco House, also known as Hell House, to his wife, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt). Barrett, a physicist, has just been hired by aging millionaire Rudolph Deutsch (Roland Culver) to investigate the paranormal activities that, for many years, have been associated with the Balasco residence. Hoping to uncover proof of life after death, Deutsch has recently purchased the house, and wants the stories surrounding it either verified or dispelled. Ann has always accompanied her husband on such investigations in the past, but Barrett believes it would be best if she didn't go along this time. You see, two previous probes into the Belasco's activities ended tragically, costing eight researchers their lives and several others their sanity. 

Hey, they don't call it Hell House for nothing! 

Joining the Barretts during their stay in Hell House are Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), a mental medium, and Benjamin Franklin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), a physical medium and the only survivor of the first investigation into Hell House twenty years earlier. Due of his previous experience, Fischer is the only one familiar with its history. Owned by Emeric Belasco, known at the time as the “Roaring Giant” due to his impressive stature, the house was allegedly the site of many barbarous and perverted acts, all carried out for the pleasure of its owner. Shortly after a massacre there in 1919, Belasco disappeared, never to be heard from again. But the spirits of those who suffered still linger, challenging anyone brave enough to walk through the front door. Now, with each hoping for a huge payday, the house's most recent visitors must get down to business, and try to solve the riddle of Hell House, a riddle that has baffled countless others for decades. 

The Legend of Hell House is a remarkably entertaining film, and keeps the screams coming in rapid-fire fashion from start to finish. The four protagonists are all strong characters in their own right, and the actors do a wonderful job bringing them to life. As Ann, the dutiful wife, Gayle Hunnicutt remains in the background most of the time, that is until the house starts toying with her. There's also an effective battle of wills between Barrett, a man of science, and Florence Tanner, who believes strongly in the spiritual world. Often bickering, but always professional, Revill and Franklin play off one another nicely, and bring an added level of tension to an already tense situation. Then there's Fischer, the only person who knows what truly lurks in this house. Roddy McDowall's Fischer is a defeated man, whose only wish is to collect his money and escape Hell House alive. He doesn't feel the need to prove anything, because for him no proof is needed; Hell House is pure evil, and he has shut himself off from it. 

The Legend of Hell House does have its share of typical “haunted house” tricks, such as chandeliers falling from the ceiling, doors opening and closing by themselves, and objects thrown around the room by an unknown force. Yet even though it occasionally falls back on the familiar, the way it's all presented comes across as completely fresh, and believe me when I say there's also plenty here I've never seen before.

1 comment:

ClassicBecky said...

I quite agree about Legend of Hell House -- a good scary movie! I saw your link on Twitter, and didn't it say that Burton and Taylor were the writer's inspiration for the scientist and wife? That would certainly have made this movie a big blockbuster!

I have a very short list of what I think are good quality movies that scare you to death. It includes Legendof Hell house, along with what I think is the Mount Everest of scary movies: Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963). Also well-loved are George C. Scott's The Changeling, and Deborah Kerr's The Innocents.

Guess you can tell I love a GOOD scary movie! I enjoyed your article very much!