Saturday, August 23, 2014

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code; A

Rating: PG
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: John Hough
Cast: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicut

The Legend of Hell House (1973) is one  film I caught on TV during one of those chiller matinee double features that were so awesome.  Watching it when I was just a kid it put a serious fright into me and it's stuck with me for a while. In it we have the infamous Belasco House, a spooky Victorian era mansion originally owned by the very wealthy Emeric Belasco, whom as it turns out was notorious for his unsavory proclivities and depraved orgies. For decades the sprawling mansion has sat vacant - having been sealed up by the Belasco family - following the murder of twenty-seven people found massacred there after attending one of the wild parties. While suspected of the murders the reclusive millionaire mysteriously disappeared without a trace and is presumed dead.

At the story begins the mansion has been sold to an eccentric millionaire named Mr. Deutsch (Roland Culver) who recruits physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) to go the home and find proof of life after death - old man Deutsch looks like he;s on Death's doorstep so he probably wants to know what lies on the others side. The creepy mansion has garnered quite a reputation as "the Mount Everest of haunted houses" and is said to be inhabited by the tortured souls who fell prey to Belasco's demented desires. 


The arrogant Barret is a scientist and a skeptic, also assigned to the investigation are a physical medium named Ben Fischer (Rodddy McDowall, Fright Night) whom has the distinction of being the sole survivor or a previous investigation of the home which claimed eight lives. Fischer is only there for a paycheck - and refuses to open himself up to the influence of the home. The other investigator is the spiritualist Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) who is completely willing to open herself up to the spirits within - more so than you may think. Also along for the ride is Barrett's repressed wife Anne (Gayle Hunnicut).  Anne's only supernatural ability seems to be an unearthly beauty, Gayle Hunnicut is most certainly an attractive woman, no doubt about it. 



Barret being of the scientific persuasion and a skeptic does not believe in the supernatural and attributes the strange goings on at the house as merely unfocused electromagnetic energy which creates a but of believer vs skeptic tension in the group. Fischer having only having just survived his last encounter at the mansion warns bot Barret and Tanner that they are hopelessly outmatched by the evil in the home

Right from the start you get the standard haunted house tropes beginning with fog shrouded exteriors of the home and then straight into slamming doors, ghostly voices, creepy black cats, moving furniture and a fun scene of ectoplasm manifesting during one of the psychic's seances. As the investigations gets under way proper a malevolent supernatural attacks Barret during a great dinner scene complete with levitating tables and flying silverware.

There's no shortage of standard haunting elements but something new to the mix are the strange erotic scenes that pop-up from time to time. The repressed Anne is plagued by erotic visions and newly awakened sexual urges which awakens her from her nightly slumber in a horny trance, throwing herself at Fischer who shows an impossible amount of self control in refusing her disrobed charms , in fact he slaps her across the face to snap her out of it. A bit later we have Tanner who so desperately wants to free trapped spirits from the mansion that she has consensual sex with an apparition... now that's commitment!

Without spoiling a whole lot more eventually Barret brings in a super computer of his own design which he believes will drain the home of the violent energies, and with that the film kicks into gear building up to a not quite satisfying ending. 

Scripted by Richard Matheson and based on his own novel The Legend of Hell House is a fun supernatural chiller with plenty of atmosphere and tension - it's thick with both. Right from the very beginning we have some excellent exterior shots of the mansion shrouded in a deep layer of fog - it definitely sets the mood. The art direction and cinematography are top notch, the crushed red velvet walls and multi-colored lighting would not be out of place in one of Mario Bava's Gothic masterpieces. 

Not everything completely works, I found the rampant use of time stamping slightly ridiculous, appearing onscreen about every five minutes throughout the entire film, probably meant to create some form of tension but failing miserably. John Hough's direction is pretty tight and

The Legend of Hell House arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a very nice transfer and strong color reproduction and black levels - definitely an upgrade from the standard-def DVD from a few years ago but nowhere near the impressive level of clarity and fine detail you would expect from a new film. The grain structure appears intact without any excessive DNR having been applied to it, t
he fine detail is surprisingly strong in a few of the scenes. 


The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono does a decent job balancing the dialogue and effects, a very crisp presentation with optional English subtitles. The electronic music score by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson sounds great, makes me wish for an isolated misc score option. . 

Onto the extras we have a new audio commentary from actress Pamela Franklin which I must say was a bit of a chore to sit through with frequent pauses without commentary, there's an uncredited moderator who could have done more to keep the conversation flowing - a bit of a letdown. 


The interview with director John Hough was quite a treat and made-up for the lackluster commentary. Hough speaks about the mansion used in the film and the influence of Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963). He goes on to speak of his creative process and camera movement, and how certain technical shots and effects were achieved in the film.  The director also talks about working with John Cassavetes on The Incubus (1982) and his life long desire to work for Hammer Films and Disney - both of which he realized with Twins of Evil (1971) for Hammer and a string of Disney films including Escape from Witch Mountain (1975)  and it's sequel plus the eerie The Watcher in the Woods (1980). Hough has made quite a few great films including the wonderful Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), this is a great interview. 


Special Features:
- New Interview With Director John Hough
- New Audio Commentary With Actress Pamela Franklin
- Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes)

- Photo Gallery (3 minutes)
- Scream Factory Trailers (5 minutes) 
- Radio Spots ( 2 minutes) 

The Legend of Hell House is a fun ghost story with some keen cinematography and a great cast plus  plenty of things that go bump in the night, a damn good old fashioned chiller. Scream Factory have put together a nice package here with desirable picture quality and a handful of  quality extras that make this an easy upgrade from the standard-def DVD. 


No comments:

Post a Comment