The Legend of Hell House
the legend of hell house | john hough | richard matheson | roddy mcdowall | gayle hunnicutt | pamela franklin | based on | novel | united kingdom | haunted | haunted house | ghost | ghosts | clive revill | roland culver | peter bowles
Film: The Legend of Hell House
Director: John Hough
Writer: Richard Matheson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt and Pamela Franklin
This film starts with a doctor being called into a room with a dying man. The dying man is played by Roland Culver and the man he calls in is played by Clive Revill. He offers him money to prove that there is life after death by conducting an experiment at the Belasco House, which is supposed to be the Mount Everest of haunted houses. It is commonly known as Hell House. Revill agrees, meeting with Culver’s helper, who is played by Peter Bowles about the equipment he needs.
The team that will be going is Revill, his wife played by Gayle Hunnicutt. Also going is a powerful young female psychic played by Pamela Franklin and the survivor of the last time a team went into the house. This man is played by Roddy McDowall.
Upon arriving at the house, they find a place that has a brooding atmosphere, but nothing happens at first. They go about getting settled and tour the house. They find there is a chapel, which seems odd for this house. They all go inside, except for Franklin. Something prevents her from going in.
Over their first meal, McDowall recounts the history of the house. He tells of when it was built, by whom and the depraved things that happened here. There was debauchery of all kinds including sexual depravity, drug use, bestiality and even necrophilia. It is after he tells what he knows that Franklin states that night she wants to sitting and tries to contact the spirits. Revill thinks this a good idea and will observe.
Franklin talks in a different voice than her normal one. No one really understands the things she is saying as they don’t make a lot of sense. She does have a phenomena happen that she produces plasma from her. Some of this is connected, but what shocks everyone is that she is not this type of medium.
It is from here that she starts to believe there is a spirit of the son of Emeric Belasco, the man that built the house. She does what she can to try to prove it to everyone there and that he needs to be set free. McDowall doesn’t believe her and is concern that she is too open to the house, that is going to kill her. Revill doesn’t believe there are any ghosts; just that Franklin is projecting these ideas and the energy trapped in the house is manifesting it. They do end up finding a body where she said they would and bury it.
Franklin tries to make him see that Daniel Belasco does exist and there is an event that happens in the dining room. The table shakes, food is tossed around and it is focused at Revill. This reaffirms his belief that Franklin is behind all of this.
Who is correct here? Can Franklin prove her point before it is too late? She is attacked by something in her room later that night as well by a cat later on. Or is Revill correct about the house and what is behind it? Can his machine fix the problem? Will they survive their time here and collect their reward?
This was the first time I had seen this film. I do believe that I caught part of it on one of the movie channels back when I was in junior high before going to school, but that would have been the extent of what I had seen. Prior to viewing the film, I actually had read the novel this is based on. What is interesting as well is the writer, Richard Matheson, is also the man that wrote this screenplay.
With that out of the way, the first thing I noticed from the novel to the film is that the sexuality and violence was toned down for a more brooding atmosphere. The house they used for the film definitely does embody that. To go along with it as well, they moved it from the United States to the United Kingdom. I didn’t mind this at all. This film does seem to move much faster than the novel and I think the film loses a bit by doing this. McDowall does seem to discover a lot of things without much backing of it and I think that hurts the film a bit. I will give the film credit, much like the novel the ending is a whirlwind and I liked it. I personally would like to see another adaptation of the novel that actually puts in more of the elements of the novel, than just hinting at them. I also really like the concept that we have supernatural vs. science. The film makes you question if it is haunted or if this is Franklin projecting and causing everything we see.
The acting in this film was really good. McDowall is really the star of the film and his acting is great. He is tame to start the film and I think the regret we start to see on his face as everything goes down is great. He is reserved to just surviving, but as bad things happen; he knows that he could have done more. Franklin is solid as the young psychic that is being played by the ghost. Revill comes off a little flat to me unfortunately. I also don’t see him as the doctor the novel puts out there. Hunnicutt was pretty good, but she doesn’t look as repressed as the character in the novel.
I really need to talk about the score here. I thought the choices for the music in the film were excellent. Coupled with the setting, it really helps to give the film that brooding feeling it needs. You feel that the house is oppressive and the soundtrack goes with it perfectly. I was a big fan. The editing of the film feels a little bit too fast for me. It moves through a lot of the story very quickly and I just wanted more. I feel this film could have been expanded to two hours and fleshed things out more while still building the tension that it did. Finally I come to effects. There wasn’t a lot that was done in the film. It all looked to be practical which helps the realism of the film.
Now with that said, I feel that for me reading the novel first hurt my impression of seeing this film for the first time. I loved the novel. I still enjoyed the film, but it was too tame for what I was hoping to see. I still really enjoy the story and glad that Matheson wrote both the novel and the film. I liked the ending of both. The acting was really good. The score of the film was amazing. The editing could have moved a little slower through the story and still built the tension that it needed, but it does at least build to the climax. There wasn’t a lot in the way of effects. The ones in the film helped build the realism. I think this film is an above average haunted house film that makes you wonder if it is really haunted or a medium projecting what is happening. I will warn you that this is from the early 1970s, so if you don’t like films from that era, I would avoid this one. If not, it is a pretty solid film to check out.
My Rating: 7 out of 10