Friday, October 24, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Directed by John Hough, The Legend of Hell House is a British horror film based off the Richard Matheson novel. Physicist Lionel Barrett is enlisted by an eccentric billionaire to investigate the Belasco House, a location supposedly haunted by the spirit of a sadistic man, hoping to prove the existence of life after death. Barrett is accompanied by his wife Ann, mental medium Florence Tanner, and physical medium Benjamin Fischer (who is also the solve survivor of a previous visit to the house). The team must survive a full week in isolation, and solve the mysterious of the notorious "Hell House".

While watching certain films, you can automatically tell which decade they were made. When watching The Monster Squad, you know it was made in the 80s. Pick up Scream and you'll definitely know its a 90s slasher film. The Legend of Hell House screams 70s haunted house film, embodying the best and worst of that subgenre during that decade.

The Legend of Hell House, like many 70s haunted house films, prioritizes atmosphere and interesting visuals over cheap scares. The film's setting is simply gorgeous, looking like something from a gothic horror story. It also builds a creepy tension and remains visually interesting throughout the film, utilizing spinning shots and strange camera moves very well.

The acting's pretty solid as well. While some of the characters are better written than others, the actors and actresses do a good job with the parts given to them. Roddy McDowall easily gives the best performance, really bringing the character to life and making him endearing.

However, the film does have its weaknesses. At times, it feels like the movie thinks its more clever than it actually is. The characters sometimes act in strange ways, like Dr. Barrett refusing to accept the survival of personalities after death, even when the evidence proofs him wrong or Florence Tanner refusing to leave the house after being physically harmed. The ending is also pretty lackluster.

Although I'm somewhat biased towards 70s horror and haunted house films, The Legend of Hell House is definitely a classic that deserves to be seen at least once. While its not perfect, the atmosphere it creates, the performances, and the visuals are worth the ride.