Originally published January 15th, 2012
I’ve read and enjoyed Richard Matheson’s novel The Legend of Hell House, although I don’t quite remember the story. It’s easy to confuse this movie with something else as there’s many films with “Legend” and “House” in the horror genre. I got this confused with House on Haunted Hill (1959) at several points at the beginning. Either way this is the 1973 film starring Roddy McDowall that is considered the quintessential British horror film. If you’ve seen the faux trailer for Don’t on the Grindhouse DVD you’ll see its inspiration.
A group of scientists, including a spiritual medium go to the haunted Hell House to debunk the theory that it’s haunted by an evil sadist named Belasco. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) is skeptical but when medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) starts to notice strange things, it tests the boundaries of what the group believes.
I’m a fan of horror that creeps up on you, that what you’re not seeing is scarier, and Hell House does that. Scenes with Pamela in her bedroom, seeing the sheets move is completely unsettling. The sexual element of this movie is also prominent, as it’s revealed Bellasco was into some kinky stuff. Characters, particularly the females, become possessed of their inhibitions while living in the house, especially the hot wife of Lionel’s, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt). Much of this is attributed to the cold nature of the men, an obvious commentary on the rise of feminism, especially in regards to the rigid patriarchy in Britain. Either way you see each character slowly start to lose their mind, whether mentally or physically.
I got all of that, but it just seemed like it took a long time to get things going. My copy was over an hour and a half and it seemed like a lot of time was spent with the group talking. I’m all for a slow burn of a film but the movie didn’t have any forward momentum (seen especially in how many sittings it took for me to get through it and the length of this review). When there was evidence of the haunting going on, and especially in the end I was riveted, any other time I was tuning out. I’m a fan of British horror but this was too slow and plodding for me.
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I'm a college student getting my Master's in English, but dreams of getting an additional degree in Film. I'm a movie reviewer for several sites, but I also write classic film reviews for several other sites. I stretch myself pretty thin these days. You can usually find me at a bookstore, or a movie theater. I dream of the day when the two are combined. I base a lot of my friendships on favorite movies.