Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Legend of Hell House (Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 34)

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
Seen on: Netflix Streaming

Here is an outstanding haunted house film about what the characters call "the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses." It's not outstanding in context or for its time, but simply outstanding, and based on an outstanding book.

I hadn't seen Legend of Hell House since I was in college, where as an RA I showed it in a double feature with The Haunting at Halloween time. In the film, a quartet of people who truck in investigating the supernatural-- a stalwart scientist and his wife/assistant, a young, attractive spiritualist medium, and Roddy McDowall as a withdrawn psychic-- accept a one-week assignment to determine whether the haunting of Belasco Mansion, or Hell House, is actually haunted. Hint: yes.

I just read the source novel last week-- Richard Matheson's Hell House, and this is that rare case where the movie changes a little and produces some different feeling, but all in all creates a complementary set. The book takes place in Maine and the characters are all Americans, and the story is darker, more graphically violent and erotic. The movie, by contrast, owes even more to Robert Wise's The Haunting than the book owed to that movie's Shirley Jackson source: The Legend of Hell House is thick with fog and atmosphere, though when the action comes, it's plenty scary.

Here's a funny fact: I've read comments from people on the Internet who insist that they remember seeing what Pamela Franklin sees when she opens her eyes in the trailer. As far as I can tell from the research, this memory is false. This was always a movie that left the worst horrors to your imagination. But people's memories, like their angry spirits, can play tricks.

Check out the trailer.



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