For Reel

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
October 29, 2016, 12:15 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Hough
3.5 Stars
the-legend-of-hell-houseRichard Matheson scripted this film from his original 1971 novel Hell House, which dramatically sought to provide a logical explanation for supernatural phenomena—rather than involving hapless victims in an old haunted house, Matheson’s characters not only know what to expect, but it is their task to understand the apparitions. The matter-of-fact presentation of the manifestations makes them horrific in their own unique way in that they are not dependent on cheap shocks. When the believed ghost of the son of mass murderer begins tormenting the researchers, the psychic played by Pamela Franklin is hardly phased. This is key to the film’s horror—if the victims in a haunted house movie often don’t know exactly why they’re upsetting the spirits, in The Legend of Hell House the audience witnesses the characters willingly placing themselves in harm’s way, with the ghostly apparitions ultimately serving as a catalyst to let sexual frustrations and rivalries come to the fore. The film has much in common with Robert Wise’s masterpiece The Haunting, similarly utilizing an impressively detailed set and reveling in the atmosphere—a barely clothed bust in the main hall both foreshadows the sexual furies to come and ominously stands as a symbol of the house’s ghostly occupancy. A disappointing climax all but removes the tension from the film—the final twist adds more information to the notorious killer Emeric Belasco, which is just about the least interesting element in the narrative (the film’s biggest pleasures come in the conflicts of the living, particularly the sex-crazed, possessed Gayle Hunnicutt). Regardless, the superior production design and the chilling cinematography by Alan Hume makes it a worthy successor to Wise’s classic.

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