While homeownership can be hellish, this particular property delivers in spades!
A haunted house film in the vein of other haunted house films from the 50s and 60s. They big difference with The Legend of Hell House, is this one delivers the frights!
An apparently typical haunted house movie, in the vein of House on Haunted Hill, but with more violence and “reality.” Ghostly apparitions throw cutlery and chandeliers around, a demonic cat attacks a woman, and spiritual possession makes Roddy McDowell squirm. This film seems to have many screams, as the two men and two women are tortured by these devilish happenings. Why are they in Hell House, and is it really haunted? Let’s find out!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
A old, eccentric millionaire asks Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), a physicist and parapsychologist, to prove that life exists after death. He is to team up with Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), a mental medium, and Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell), a physical medium, at the recently acquired Belasco House, also-known-as, Hell House. They have one week in which to provide the proof.
Lionel brings his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) to assist, and the four individuals enter the creepy, musty house on Sunday, December 20th. The gothic house provides eerie emanations that Florence immediately picks up on, believing them to be from Daniel, the son of Emeric Belasco, the original owner. Ben, who was part of a similar study 20 years prior, and the only living and sane survivor of that team, tells about the debauchery and sadism practiced by Belsaco.
Over the next four days, Florence continues to have deep contact with a spirit, manifesting ectoplasm and other strange readings. She is also attacked by a number of unseen forces, including a possessed black cat. Neither Lionel, a more scientific mind, nor Ben, a previous purveyor of the oddities in Belasco house, believe her stories about Daniel. One evening Ann sleepwalks after seeing erotic shadows on the ceiling and finding a cache of pornopgraphic literature. She makes an overt attempt to seduce Ben before waking up.
Lionel has a mysterious machine delivered that he thinks will be able to cleanse the house of its spirit or spirits. Ben attempts to let his mental guards down to see how dangerous the psychic vibrations are, and is immediately possessed, writhing in agony. Florence continues to appease Daniel’s spirit, hoping that if it leaves it will find peace. She allows it to seduce her in her bed, but is violently raped by it. It stays in her body without her knowledge, coming out to taunt Lionel and Ben.
Ben begs everyone to stop their study and leave. Lionel explains how his machine will stop the ghosts with an electromagnetic radiation pulse, that should negate any “residue” of manifestations. Florence attacks the machine, under the influence of Daniel, but causes no major damage. She then enters the chapel, and is killed by a strong spirit. Lionel activates the machine cleansing the house as he expected, but when he enters the chapel looking for Florence he too is killed.
Ben and Ann find their bodies and realize the house may be clean, but the chapel still holds strong emanations. Realizing that the ghost in the house has been Emeric Belasco the entire time, Ben lowers his defenses and taunts the spirit about his physical limitations in life. This abrupt confrontation is enough to drive the malevolent entity from the house for good.
“Welcome to my house. I’m delighted you could come. I’m certain you will find your stay here most illuminating. Think of me as your unseen host, and believe that during your stay here I shall be with you in spirit.” – recording of Emeric Belasco
The Legend of Hell House was written by Richard Mattheson based on his novel. It’s his only true horror film, as his other more popular work I Am Legend (filmed under titles including The Last Man on Earth, and The Omega Man), is more of a sci-fi film than strict horror. It’s also a film that doen’t pull any punches. Unlike House on Haunted Hill, which I looked at last year, this is truly a haunted house. It’s not some parlor tricks that the owner of the house is trying to pull on his guests, but actual hauntings.
Hell House uses the familiar tropes of the haunted house genre, such as a gothic mansion, dusty, cobwebbed interiors, strange breezes, and objects that move by themselves. For it’s release, the film is rather explicit in it’s frights. The soundtrack portrays the ghost as a strong, eerie harmonic. Frequent smash-zooms into characters faces are meant to unnerve the audiences, just as the characters are unnerved. The violence, mostly against Florence, is swift and vicious; unlike other films of the early seventies that chose to shy away from graphic depictions. Compared to Rosemary’s Baby or The Amityville Horror, Hell House might be a little more unsettling (though high marks go to Amityville for some of the subtle frights they concoct).
In the realm of ghost stories and haunted house movies, The Legend of Hell House is a solid scarer with a small cast. It may not reach some of the goosebumps that later films based on purported real events like Poltergeist or The Conjuring achieve, but for 1973 this film does a great job with an admirable cast.
- Not to be confused with The Haunting of Hill House, made into a film called The Haunting, and later into a TV series of the same name. Both stories conform to the same structure, with investigators entering a truly haunted house, but both have different outcomes.
- Also not to be confused with a recent found-footage horror franchise, called Hell House LLC.
- Roddy McDowell would return as mentor of sorts in the 1985 post-modern vampire film Fright Night.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.