I think what makes this film so effective is it's claustrophobic atmosphere. Four psychic investigators spend a week in a Gothic house that not only appears to be permanently swathed in fog, but has had all it's windows bricked up (to stop outsiders looking in, or the inmates looking out, is entirely up to you to decide). From the moment they arrive there the film never leaves the confines of the house and the immediate fog-choked garden. We get the whole works: ghostly wails, chill breezes wafting through cobwebbed furniture, even a homicidal cat! The Atmosphere is helped no end by Delia Derbyshire's (she helped to create the famous Dr Who theme tune) electronic background music. The Belasco house is described as "the Mount
Everest of haunted houses", built as it was by a strange, reclusive tycoon, who had an Aleister Crowley-style obsession with exploring all the darker side of life, and manipulating his guests for his own amusement.
The four main players are Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin, and they are all first-rate, most particularly McDowell as the somewhat eerie Mr Fisher, and Pamela Franklin as the engagingly eccentric medium, Florence Tanner. I fully agree with another reviewer on these pages that she was a gifted and unique actress. Appearing in a brief role at the beginning is veteran t.v comedy actor, Peter Bowles.
on 27 March 2006
Three occult experts are hired by an aging millionaire to get proof that balasco house is haunted. The three are a physical medium, a psychic medium and a paranormal scientist. The house setting is eerie and ominus from the moment the experts arrive. No expensive special effects in this film, just genuine frights and some uncomfortable moments. (daniels ghost in the bedroom anyone?) I disagree with the last reviewers opinion on roddy mcdowell taking on the "roaring giant" I thought his performance was brilliant. All in all you get value for money with this dvd unlike some recent expensive dvds. Try session 9 as well for another cheap dvd gem.
on 17 March 2004
Taking into account the time this film was made, it makes excellent use of electronic tonalities to create and sustain a sinister atmosphere. One of the most engaging and intellegent horror films ever made.
The Legend of Hell House is directed by John Hough and adapted to screenplay by Richard Matheson from his own novel Hell House. It stars Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt. Music is by Electrophon Ltd and cinematography by Alan Hume.
The Belasco Mansion, the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses, a place where many have stayed and never made it out alive or escaped with sanity in tact. Now four more people are challenged to enter it and investigate if survival after death exists...
In many ways it is a film that has been unlucky over the years, for it has consistently been dogged with association with Robert Wise's similar themed, and excellent, The Haunting from 1963. Not only that but it was also released in the same year as The Exorcist, William Friedkin's behemoth that continues to cast a shadow over many a supernatural based horror movie. While the fact that it was "toned down sexually" from the book has proved to be irksome to some fans of Matheson's page turner. Oh definitely John Hough's film has a sturdy fan base and reputation, but it still comes under fire from first time viewers who will not judge it on its own terms. A shame because although it may indeed not be in the same league as The Haunting, or as sexually charged as the book, it does sit worthily in the top draw of haunted house pictures.
The back story to the house sets the scene. It was run as a place of complete debauchery, a sort of Buck Whaley and the Hellfire Club type of place, the master of ceremonies was the owner Emeric Balasco, a man with a fearsome reputation, that of a roaring giant. When one day the sins and violence overspill, all inside are finalised from the planet, only Belasco was never found, and ever since that day the house is believed to be haunted by numerous spirits. Enter our four protagonists (a physicist and his wife, a mental medium and a physical medium who was the sole survivor of the last Hell House carnage), who under a financially dangled carrot set about unearthing the truth. They are opposites in beliefs, and for the next 90 minutes they will be haunted whilst having their respective fears, desires and repressions born out.
What unfolds is a lesson in how to get the maximum scary atmosphere with so little to hand. Following the brilliant example set by Robert Wise back in 63, special effects are kept to an absolute minimum as Hough lets our minds eye fill in the blanks. We don't need to see the horror up front, it's better when we can just feel or hear it. Little incidents help fuel the fire, a mad cat, a séance, ectoplasm (put a specimen in the jar please, ooh Matron), suspicious noises, eroticism and a little possession. The mansion itself is suitably eerie (exteriors are the wonderfully Gothic designed Wykehurst Place in Bolney, West Sussex) and drifting in and out of the story is Electrophon Ltd's rumbling sinister score. The direction is tight, the cast work exceptionally well to bear out the interpersonal conflicts before the final battle against the paranormal kills or defines them?
Working well as a haunted house spooker of some considerable substance, and intelligent and interesting with its themes of paranormal psychology and investigation of such, The Legend of Hell House is a classical supernatural thriller. 8/10
on 27 March 2012
Mr. Deutsch hires physicist Lionel Barrett to go and spend a week in the Belasco house, he's to study survival after death as it's been long reported to be haunted by the spirits of its dead owner, Emeric Belasco, and his supposed victims. Emeric was a millionaire who had a penchant for the depraved, he disappeared after a massacre took place in the house. Barrett is accompanied to the house by his wife, Ann, and two mediums, Florence Tanner who is a mental medium and Ben Fischer who is a physical medium. They're also joined by the only survivor of a previous investigation in the house. Barrett seems very suspicious of Florence and Ben, especially when mental medium Florence starts showing signs of physical manifestations, he believes that Tanner is using the energy in the house against him after he's attacked by invisible forces. Soon after this attack, Ann begins to suffer from erotic visions and Florence is attacked by what she believes to be Belasco's son, Daniel. Meanwhile, Barrett is getting more frustrated with Fischer, believing him to be closing his mind to the house and is just after his share of the money. As the attacks become more frightening, the group are going to have to rid the house of Emeric Belasco before they all end up dead.
Pamela Franklin is good as Florence Tanner, my only other experience of her is from her small role a decade earlier in The Innocents. I'm very surprised she seemed to slip into TV mediocrity soon after this film, she was certainly a good enough lead to have landed some decent film roles after this. Roddy McDowall was the only actor that I was really familiar with, he was a little over-the-top in a few scenes but generally gives a solid performance. Like myself, most people probably know him best as Cornelius in Planet Of The Apes and Peter Vincent in Fright Night. Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt are absolutely fine as Dr. Barrett and his wife, Ann. Michael Gough has an extremely small part, it's almost a blink and you'll miss him role. It's very competently directed by John Hough, he earlier directed Twins of Evil and later went on to direct Escape to and Return from Witch Mountain. It isn't all that highly rated, but he also directed one of my favourite '80s horror films called The Incubus. Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend and A Stir Of Echoes wrote the screenplay from his own novel, Hell House.
The Legend of Hell House almost feels like The Haunting's little brother, it desperately wants to be like the much loved older brother but doesn't quite live up to it and is destined to live in its shadow. It has a similar story, and much like The Haunting, it doesn't rely on gore or violence. The film is genuinely creepy in parts, but doesn't match the sense of foreboding that The Haunting creates. Most haunted house films really don't work at all, in my opinion The Haunting and The Changeling are by far the stand out films of the genre, but after those I can't think of one that has worked as well as The Legend of Hell House. I'm just thinking about the traditional big creepy haunted house films with that statement, of course films like Poltergeist, The Shining and The Amityville Horror are classics but I wouldn't really group them together with films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House. Compared to recent efforts like the 13 Ghosts, The Haunting and The House on Haunted Hill remakes, this is a bit of a classic and well worth checking out if you prefer your scares to be well thought out and slowly built. If you prefer blood and awful CGI then I'd suggest watching those remakes instead. The Belasco House is a big, dark, creepy place, it's called the mount everest of haunted houses in the film and lives up to its name. I loved the ending and the explanation of how the house has remained haunted for all these years, and the sexual undertones and Belasco's seedy past was dealt with well. I've never read the Matheson novel, but I believe the film dropped a lot of the sexual aspects and to some, this meant the film lost the power that the book had. Regardless of whether you've read the book, surely the film is well worth watching if you like '60s and '70s haunting movies. Clocking in at just ninety minutes, the film takes a little while to get going, but once it does it doesn't let up from the impressive atmosphere it creates. The picture quality is okay for a film of its age and budget, but sadly the disc lacks any extras. There's English, Danish, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian subtitles. A very good film, but it can't quite match the suspense and atmosphere of The Haunting.
When it comes to horror movies, less is more -- the less you show, the more scares you have. And "The Legend of Hell House" is an excellent example of that, with the scares being filtered through eerie acting, weird poultergeisty occurrences, and horrible tales of the past. The downside: it all falls apart (literally) at the ending.
A weird old millionaire hires physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) to prove the existence of life after death, by sending him to "the one place where it has yet to be refuted" (which doesn't make logical sense since you cannot confirm or deny that, but who watches horror for logic?).
The place in question is the Belasco House, once owned by a vast sadistic pervert who had orgies and massacres and so on at the house. Along with his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), Barrett brings mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and physical medium Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall), but he's convinced that he can use a machine to flush the negative electromagnetic energy out of the house.
Of course, it's not that easy -- Florence becomes close to the erratic ghost of the owner's dead son, while Fischer is struggling with memories of a ghastly expedition to the same house that he barely survived. Possessions, attacks and sinister secrets all come to the surface, and not all of them will come out alive.
"The Legend of Hell House" is creepy. Very creepy. Lots of slow-moving, eerie scenes that are propelled mainly by atmosphere and the actors, and punctuated with shrieks and the occasional spurt of violence (Florence gets attacked by a possessed cat). It unwinds slowly with hints and clues about what's going on, and slowly building up to some shocking twists.
Additionally, the actors are magnificent. Revill is excellent as a stuffy, rather rude guy who thinks that the mediums are superstitious losers, and Hunnicutt has a few good scenes as a "wanton sleepwalker." But the best performances are by Franklin as a naive, religious young girl, and McDowell as a man tortured by the past.
So what goes wrong with this movie? Well, it comes unraveled in the last few scenes. Suddenly Roddy McDowall is yelling and posing and getting blown around. And of course, the Big Revelation is... less than bone-chilling. You're more likely to just go, "What, that was the twist?"
"The Legend of Hell House" is a haunting, eerie movie that centers on four excellent actors, but the tension and creepiness basically disintegrate at the end. However, it's still a horror classic worth scaring yourself with.
on 2 June 2010
I cannot emphasise how good this film is. It's not just a great film, it's probably the greatest ghost film ever made which is a strong term when classed alongside The Innocents and the Haunting: This for me is the finest of them all.
A simple yet effective plot which is solid as it is obvious. A team of ghost hunters spend some time in a huge haunted house in order to gain evidence of supernatural activity. So we've heard this plot before? Yes, but this film is a whole new ball game to what we've seen prior. This is 1973. The film is groundbreaking, beautiful and engrossing. Mesmerising in fact.
From the opening scene, we are straight into the plot. No slow build up to this one, so room for lengthy character generation and tension and history. This is right in there. Within the first few scenes we are in the house with a séance taking place, a few scenes later and we have stuff flying around rooms, possessions and apparitions. The character generation is applied through the events which happen within the house and although the film has a real dream like quality, the film rockets along at such an aerie pace, it injects pure creepiness into the mind of the viewer, a terrifying experience which clings and leaves you wanting more. There are absolutely no laughs here, this is as close to experiencing a true supernatural experience as you will ever get.
The film itself looks absolutely glorious, one of the finest looking films I have ever seen. Comparitable to Suspiria: huge praise I know, but this has got to be one of the greatest films of its genre and probably one of the most underrated. My only reason for its underratedness has to be the dreadful video/DVD box cover, and the title is slightly questionable.
The cast are stunning. Pam Franklin is obviously the highlight here. Amazing performance, and last seen on these pages in The Innocents, but she's all grown up now and what presence she has. Clive Revill, Gail Hunnicutt and Roddy McDowall all offer brilliant performances here too. Probably McDowall's best role outside Planet of the Apes.
Based on a Rich Matheson novel with accompanying screenplay, John Hough (Twins of Evil & Incubus) Directs his cast into outstanding performances which is gripping to watch. Cinematographer, Alan Hume (Lifeforce) here creates some legendary shots with plenty of green and red lighting, each frame is perfectly balanced making plenty of use of the screen, from obscure angles and close-ups to swirling spinning scenes of madness.
I can't speak more highly of this film. I encourage you all to buy and view this movie, and promise you will not be disappointed.
on 23 September 2011
First saw this film as a boy in the 70's and it frightened the life out of me, nearly 40 years later I came across the DVD on Amazon and decided it needed another viewing.
Thinking that it would be dated I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still was a scary film, well worth watching.
on 21 March 2004
Totally agree with Sarah16907! This film scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it in 1980....Still miles better than most of the drab Hammer tosh that was around at the time.....A minor classic
on 18 May 2011
The Legend of Hell House is a spooky film that should be watched in the dark. If you're a 'Most haunted' fan, watch this film. This is one of the best haunted house movies there is, far superior to all modern attempts at such stories. The eeriness of this film is on the same level as 'The Innocents'(1961), genuinely chilling. It has a small but very good cast, Roddy Mcdowell really giving it his all.