Hired by a millionaire, four people (one scientist, his sexy wife and two mediums) have five days inside the haunted Belasco Mansion to figure out if there is life after death. They get their answers pretty damn quickly! Spook on!
In light of legendary horror author Richard Matheson's
passing, I decided to re-visit one of his oldies; THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
. Matheson wrote the screenplay, which was based on his disturbing novel HELL HOUSE (1971)
. I had seen the picture once as a brat and it scared the ever living and dead crap out of me back then. I am happy to spew out that it still gave me the uber willies today.
Now for anybody that's read the book (which I must re-visit soon, it's been a while)
, yes, compared to it, the film was mucho watered down in terms of sexual shenanigans and graphic violence. The movie was actually Rated PG when released (it would be an R today methinks). With that, what was overt in the book, was suggested strongly enough here to have an impact, and coupled with the potent frights, my ride wasn't hindered. Basically, the book was the book and I took the film as the film. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE didn't muck around! Its set up was established, the characters entered the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses
(as one character appropriately called it) and BOOM, off to the creepy races we went! I can't remember the last time that I saw a haunted house party that was so energetic when it came to its pacing, camera movements and abundance of paranormal activity. Subtlety was out the window on this one, no half hour set up and long build up to then see a door creek open by itself here. The ghostly manifestations came in fast and hard. I esteemed that!
The film's sexually charged nature appealed to me as well (specially when having to do with hottie Gayle Hunnicutt's character... damn that girl was fine!). In a parallel universe this could have been called THE LEGEND OF HORNY HOUSE! Chick banged by ghost, repressed dame turned into a nympho, sounds of ghostly love making filling the air... yup, the kinky switch was turned to ON and ideally accompanied the scares and the somber atmosphere at hand. Talk about a full meal! Kudos to director John Hough and cinematographer Alan Hume! They went buck nuts on the film, made the most of their low budget and vast yet enclosed setting and gave me an eye full. The camera was often on the move (loved the slow push-ins backed up by unsettling moans) and the use of shadows was brilliant. Character wise, although they were of the “type” variety, the characterization was more layered than the norm and the bang on casting contributed in making the folks here feel well rounded i.e. human.
Everybody was on top of their game! Dead pan Lionel Barrett was perfect as the no non-sense and too stubborn for his own good scientist, the camera loved Gayle Hunnicutt and she sold her role of a sweet yet repressed gal. On her end, Pamela Franklin was affable as the medium with too much of a heart while Roddy McDowell stole pretty much every scene he was in as the physical medium who had dealt with the house before. Add to all that Arrow loving; a distinctive and fairly trippy electronic score by Delia Derbyshire & Brian Hodgson (who were also behind the eerie sound design), an endearing dead serious tone (no joking around here), a strong axis on dread filled mood that greased me right (that smoke machine was well oiled and in full effect), striking Gothic set designs and a 70's charm in its CGI free visual effects which gave the whole a rawness that is not found in today's horror films and you get a lean, mean and sexy fear machine! One that got the job motherf*cking done and then some!
Any drawbacks? One. The ending. Taking into account what preceded it, it kind of fell short (pun intended, you'll get it when you see the movie). Although when looking back, the finale did mesh with the themes that the story brought up, it still didn't fully do it for me. Something was off. The idea was there, but it needed more fleshing out in my useless opinion. That's it! My sole complaint. Today's horror filmmakers should go back to THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, to see how to do a haunted house flick right! It's all there boys and girls! Watch and learn! I know I did! So are you gonna get down in the Belasco Mansion or what?! Come on in and die the night away!
We get blood, bites, scratches and a ghastly cadaver. This movie was about scares not chunks.
Although in the dark, we get a side boob and a butt shot from Pamela Franklin. Also the film as a whole oozed or hornyness. Nothing wrong with that!
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was the real deal! It still held up like a horror champ today and put most modern spook house movies to shame! Clipped paced, sexy, with solid acting all around, true scares, bleak and moody cinematography and stand-out camera work, score and sound design! What else do you want!? A hand/palm-job?! Yes the finale didn't fully satisfy me, a polish on it would have been swell, but with that aside, all GREAT! See this baby if you dig films like THE CHANGELING (1980) or THE HAUNTING (1963). Do so before the imminent remake kicks in. I am surprised it hasn't happened yet!
HELL HOUSE was adapted as a comic book mini-series in 2004 via IDW Publishing. It was written by Ian Edginton and had art by Simon Fraser.
The Marvel Werewolf by Night comic also ripped off the story.
Look out for the cameo by Michael Gough aka Alfred in Tim Burton's Batman movies.