The Legend of Hell House

Ok folks here we go,

It’s our very first movie review and it took me some time to decide what would be most appropriate. As you can tell propriety is a big part of what I do.

I'm not licking the screen right now...see I'm totally classy.

So after some careful consideration I chose The Legend of Hell House, one of my favorite ghost stories. Partially because I wanted to lead off with what I knew would be a positive review and partially because as much as I love it, this thing is messed up in the head and not always in a horrific way.


The Legend of Hell House was made in 1973 for 20th Century Fox. It was directed by John Hough and scripted by Richard Matheson from the novel written by Richard Matheson. This last part is important because there is nothing better than a writer transferring their own story to film. I mean if you’re going to ask someone to disassemble a car do you want the original engineer or your local mechanic?


This movie has a skeleton crew before shooting even begins there are a grand total of 8 actors in the film 4 of which are on screen longer than 3 minutes combined. This is pretty par for the course in your average haunted house movie. The more people there are the more deaths you can expect but these movies are never really about the body count.

Oh yeah they'll be fine

Roddy McDowell- Seriously once you read his name do I need to convince you to watch this thing? Not just because he may or may not have played for the men’s team in my softball league so to speak. He’s also Cornelius from Planet of the Apes. He plays Benjamin Fisher a physical medium that has survived Hell House once before.

Pamela Franklin- in what might be one of my favorite performances ever she portrays Florence Tanner a mental medium and a bit of a Jesus nut.

Gayle Hunnicut- Apart from having an awesome last name gives a pretty good turn as Ann Barrett the wife of the physicist leading the group.

Clive Revill- Plays Lionel Barrett the leader of the group with a major agenda. Does a pretty good job of it but may as well be named Stuffy British Actor # 3.

Wall Cat- the only other player of true significance in a role he was clearly born to play.

His face is so expressive

WARNING: I’m giving you the full rundown here. Which means there will be spoilers from here on out. I’ve tried to leave out as much plot as I can; just some fave scares and such but if you haven’t seen the film I would recommend watching it first.

I love a good spook flick and that’s exactly what this movie is. It’s got all the staples of the genre, the banging doors, flickering lights, and creepy sound effects, but they’re used effectively to create tension. Given this film is nearly 40 years old so some of this was sort of innovative or at least not cliché enough yet to be unintentionally meta.

As far as setting is concerned we are informed right off the bat that this is no ordinary haunted house. Given Hollywood doesn’t seem to believe in ‘ordinary’ haunted houses. The Belasco house we are told is the ‘Mount Everest’ of haunted houses so violently disturbed that no one has ever conquered it. Except of course for Ben Fisher but even then he is more than a little worse for wear. All told (and the numbers are a tad confusing) we’ve got 8 people dead and 27 either insane or physically maimed by this charming piece of real estate.

Like the shark in Jaws- what you don't see will kill ya.

Our four little explorers have been hired by a wealthy man to ascertain whether there is life after death. Presumably he is dying though this can only be inferred from the fact that he’s in a wheelchair; apparently that gets you to the front of the line in the great beyond too.

When they get to the house it is completely cloaked in fog and before they even enter Tanner expresses she doesn’t like the look of the place. Not that that stops them of course. The interior is standard haunted house with some nice satanesque statuary and A LOT of naked women in every artistic medium. This is about the time you suspect things aren’t going to go well.

What follows after is a truly exceptional movie. Even with what are dated tricks by today’s standards it still manages to make you shift uncomfortably in your seat. The special effects are 70’s practical effects and the best part is not even my CGI warped little head really registered that while watching it. One particularly good scene involving Barrett and a homicidal dining set is done so well with practical effects James Cameron would probably want the film destroyed.

A few notable scares include the first ‘sitting’ Tanner does in which she channels a spirit in the house and spews death threats at the group. It’s very visceral and exceptionally well acted by Franklin whose expressions and twitches through the ordeal are really what sells it. This of course sets off Stuffy British Actor #3’s character who is of course a scientist. Much of the film will consist of Barrett, Fisher and Tanner shouting “You’re wrong!” at each other. The spiritual vs. scientific debate is a little heavy handed at times making me wonder whether it’s true purpose is just to allow Barrett to be a royal asshat to everyone.

'Look at me I'm a scientist'.......asshat

Even his exceedingly well meaning wife is not immune from his asshattery, at one point the spirits in the house force her to throw herself at Roddy McDowell, which asshat observes. Now rather than being rational and noting that everyone in this house is acting just a little left of normal; he gets pissed. Even after admitting things will get better when they leave he’s still pissed at her as she lies groveling at his asshattish feet. Anyone who was with him on the science thing up to this point is now trying to unlearn the periodic table. Luckily we don’t rely on the happily married Mr. and Mrs. Asshat to carry the show.

Frankly most of the best moments in the film depend on Pamela Franklin she is genuine and likeable even when her character is being so goddamn dumb you want to pelt a psychotic cat at her. She falls for obvious tricks, goes running around by herself and ignores everyone when they repeatedly tell her to leave every time the house PHYSICALLY harms her. All of this is in addition to the single most inexplicable decision I have ever seen anyone make in a horror movie.

She let’s the ghost have sex with her.

Wall Cat-paralyzed by the dumb

Fisher is the only one in the house taking the seriously messed up evil thing seriously. Which is a little frustrating at times not only because everyone else is dumb (see ectoslut and asshat) but also because he delivers incredibly important lines of dialogue, some of the most emotionally riveting in the entire film…sounding like this guy:

If you need an explanation for this I fear for your immortal soul

It is worth noting that despite it’s PG rating and the documented efforts of Matheson to ‘tone down’ the sexual aspects of the novel; Hell House’s plot and imagery are persistently sexual. Even disregarding the single dumbest dumb thing that has ever been dumbly done; there’s erotic artwork everywhere, sex manuals in the rooms (not kidding), possessed women throwing themselves at Roddy McDowell and the entire backstory of the house itself which is apparently only slightly less debauched than the Bunny Ranch on free roofie night.

If there’s anything wrong with this movie it would have to be that the ending is a little detached from the overall quality of the rest of the film. The actual cllimax was fine, the resolution fine. It’s the one detail Matheson chose to fixate on that just gets my head stuck in a place where it can’t hear what’s going on in the movie. The key to this whole shebang has to do with someone being short… that is, I kid you not the thread upon this all hangs. An hour and a half of really superior  craft and this is what I’m supposed to care about? You’ve played with my emotions and preyed upon my fears and you expect me to write the whole thing off as a viable symptom of a Napoleon Complex?

Yeah Wall Cat can't believe it either

So to sum up: science vs religion, awesome practical effects, excellent acting, asshat, absorbing plot, Roddy McDowell, Wall Cat and the dumbest thing to ever have been dumbly done. Oh and lots of marble boobs.

All in all I give it a 7 out of 10

Your dumbfounded Screamstress,

-Fright Dyke


One Response to “The Legend of Hell House”

  1. nanci cope Says:

    my life is complete!

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