Director – John Hough
Cast – Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver, Peter Bowles
Release Year – 1973
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is one flick that always grabbed my attention due to its insanely awesome and creepy title alone. Anyone with an appreciation for haunted house flicks knows of this film, and after finally seeing this one I can see why. The Legend of Hell House gives us genuine haunted house chills years before such popular similar films like The Amityville Horror and The Changeling, and is a worthy contender against 1963’s classic The Haunting. For fans of haunted house films and atmospheric 70s horror this flick is a must watch.
Adapted from writer Richard Matheson’s novel “Hell House”, in this film we follow physicist Mr. Lionel Barret(Clive Revill) who is given the task of running an experiment inside the infamous Hell House in an attempt to prove or disprove life after death. Accompanying him is his wife Ann(Gayle Hunnicut), a young female psychic named Florence(Pamela Franklin), and the only survivor of the previous experiment run in Hell House…Benjamin Fischer(Roddy McDowall). The group takes on the task at hand, which leads them down a path of the true evils Hell House has waiting for them.
From the looks of the plot The Legend of Hell House shows some resemblance to The Haunting, which led me to make this a bit more fun and compare the two throughout the film. In my personal preference, I prefer this film over The Haunting simply because the scares were a bit more hands on, and the color aspect of this film beats The Haunting’s black and white aspect in the realm of atmosphere, which I know is an unfair advantage but nonetheless…an advantage.
Right from the get-go the production value reigns high with the awesome and captivating sets and atmosphere of the film, thanks much to director John Hough. The rest of his direction is highly positive and executed properly to provide some genuine chills and thrills in all of the right places. His pacing is on the positive side, although there are some areas of the film that slow down a bit here and there, but thankfully his unique sets help get through those scenes without inducing snoring. We get a lot of house/spirit interaction in this film than in most other haunted house flicks, and Mr. Hough made the most out of these scares and gave me some memorable ones that may tarnish my perception of black cats for the rest of my life.
Story-wise Richard Matheson hit the spot. Adapting his own novel for the silver screen proved to be the best writing idea for this film as it allowed Matheson to craft an intense story with many twists, thrills, and some nice chills as well. A lot more elements go on in this flick than in other such films as well, because in this one we not only get the house toying with the investigators but the spirit(s) within it also manage to possess them at times as well. These additional elements really helped the story stick out and move in more direction than had it stuck to the usual formula of the house simply playing tricks on the protagonists. Possibly the biggest success regarding Matheson’s screenplay is his dialogue, which came great for all of the characters but really stood out regarding the character of Benjamin Fischer, who was expertly portrayed by horror veteran Roddy McDowall. Watching Roddy ever-so-convincingly do what he does was a fantastic treat and really helped sell this film to me as not just another good horror film, but a film that comes with additional pleasures that I did not need to have, but would (and will) gladly accept every chance I get.
Overall, this is an awesome haunted house film that come with a unique story, excellent acting, and positive direction. All of these elements due justice to this flick’s ever-awesome title that remains one of the coolest in horror history, as does the film itself.