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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Legend Of Hell House

     I first caught "The Legend Of Hell House" on cable sometime around 1990 or so and absolutely loved it.  It's a perverse, weirdly chilling haunted house movie that left a lasting impression on me.  Sometimes unfairly compared to "The Haunting", "The Legend Of Hell House" is a perfect example of how a haunted house movie should be made.  There's an amazingly dark tone struck in the opening scene, and it continues throughout.  It's almost menacing.  This is truly the darkest haunted house movie I've ever seen. The strange score, the wonderfully scary setting, and the overall weirdness...  and that movie poster!  I would definitely go see this if it were released today.

     Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, "The Legend of Hell House" tells the story of four psychic investigators (Roddy McDowell, Gayle Hunnicutt,  Pamela Franklin, and Clive Revill),  sent to Hell House to spend one week in it.  Seems a dying multi-millionaire has enlisted them for proof of an afterlife.  They soon discover the strange evil that's possessing Hell House...

      This is a severely underrated  haunted house movie from the 70's- and it should most definitely be seen!  It's a very intelligent shocker, one that does not pander to the teenage crowd.  There's no bits of humor sprinkled throughout.  Hell House is seriously out to scare, and for the most part it succeeds. On top of that, it throws in a good, healthy dose of camp just to make things fun.  The house used in the film is one of the darkest and scariest locations in any movie I've ever seen-the exteriors are actually Wykehurst Park House in East Sussex, and it really does have an effect on the viewer.  The house is super scary.  The early 70's vibe is perfect for this movie- I don't think it would've worked quite as well if it were filmed any more recent than it was.  And something about that music... it really gets under your skin.  From the opening scene, it sets a foreboding tone and is quite effective.  Sadly, this is almost a lost movie.  I ask people all the time about it and many have never experienced "The Legend Of Hell House".  I've turned quite a few people on to this unnerving and brilliant bit of British cinema.  True, there are some moments that border on camp (Roddy McDowall in particular- he hams it WAY up, and the scene with the black cat attack, for one), but overall, it's a very well-made supernatural shocker that is just as scary today.

     You just gotta love those  wild, weird 70's- so many awesome scary movies came from that decade. In my opinion this is actually better than "The Amityville Horror", and is probably the greatest haunted house chiller to come out of the 70's, period.  "The Legend Of Hell House" is like a Hammer movie on acid, and makes a great double feature with 1963's "The Haunting" or "The Innocents", which by the way also features a very young Pamela Franklin.  And one of the most chilling scenes in the movie?  When the four investigators first arrive at the house and Roddy McDowell softly informs them that the windows are "bricked up, so that no one can see in"...  I live for that shit.

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