Director: John Hough
Starring: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt and Roland Culver
Legend of Hell House, The (1973)
An elderly English millionaire assembles a team of preposterously polite investigators to find out whether there is such a thing as life after death. The only place, the old codger feels, that this could be achieved is at the Belasco house, also fondly nicknamed Hell House. A house with a history of killing people. A rude house where high tea isn’t welcome. A house named after a book by the same name.
The crack team of investigators includes a physicist by the name of Lionel Barret, his wife and two mediums; one a pretty lady (Pamela Franklin) who we are told is not a physical medium, which is a shame as I’m sure many people would like to get physical with her, and an ugly man who is a physical medium but who you’d rather have sleeping on the couch. They pack their tea and crumpets, their dinner jackets and their hilarious machines and set off to give those spirits a stern talking to. We learn later that when it comes to mediums being “physical” simply means that cups rattle around you and white goop floats from your finger tips instead of onto it. A pity.
We learn that Fischer, the physical medium, was part of the last attempt to investigate the house. He supposedly crawled out a mental wreck… yet is super keen to get back in there due to his apparent hate for mental well-being. Soon events spin out of control and they find themselves circling a plot hole while uttering bad dialog in their best British accents. Just when their situation seemingly can’t get any worse, they are attacked by terrible special effects. So terrible are these effects that several investigators die in horror, while others run around aimlessly accompanied by a cheesy 70’s horror soundtrack, breathing noises and the occasional puff of scary smoke drifting across a cobweb.
The Legend of Hell House has not stood up well to the test of time. It’s simply too old to be scary and too British not to be hilarious. The dialogue does not help, with one of my favorite bits being where the female medium is in a trance and ectoplasm starts forming at her fingertips. Mr Barret, the physicist politely asks “leave a sample in the jar, please” several times. When the ectoplasm suddenly retracts, and the medium screams, he promptly looks into her eyes declaring that she is fine, as if a physicist should know anyway, before commenting to his recording device “premature retraction of ectoplasm causing brief systemic shock”. That’s what she said, right?
Although The Legend of Hell House is not scary, it has a certain b-grade appeal to it, and certainly presents plenty of opportunities for laughter. If you’re keen on a fun night with friends, who like ripping movies to shreds, then this old classic is a must. If you actually want to jump a bit, more recent offerings like Insidious or Home Movie is probably a better bet. If, however, you insist on something old, give The Changeling, Lady in White or Suspiria a try instead. When watching this movie remember that it was released the same year as The Exorcist, which is infinitely more scary and much better done.
I give The Legend of Hell House 6 bad lines of dialogue out of 10… and a prematurely retraculation in this review.