Blu-ray Review: The Legend Of Hell House (1973).

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Directed by John Hough
Executive Producer: James H. Nicholson
Screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his novel Hell House
Music and Electronic Score by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire of Electrophon Ltd.
Director of Photography: Alan Hume
Editor: Geoffrey Foot

Cast: Pamela Franklin (Florence Tanner), Roddy McDowall (Benjamin Franklin Fischer), Clive Revill (Dr. Lionel Barrett), Gayle Hunnicutt (Ann Barrett), Roland Culver (Mr. Deutsch), Peter Bowles (Hanley), Michael Gough

Horror movies are a personal matter. What you like in a horror film is largely dependent on what scares you, personally—if you even like to be scared in the first place. Legend Of Hell House (1973) doesn’t show us much at all, but it certainly suggests that all sorts of nasty, unseen things are swirling around, and they don’t like us very much.

That, to me, is scary. And the fact that this film’s been lovingly brought to Blu-ray by Scream Factory, that’s something to celebrate.

A dying millionaire hires a physicist (Clive Revill) to assemble a team—including a couple of mediums, spend some time in the “Mount Everest of haunted houses,” and determine if there is life after death. And do it quickly. The team quickly discovers that this Mount Everest is a very difficult climb.

The house had once been the abode of the Crowley-esque Daniel Belasco.

Ann Barrett: (Gayle Hunnicutt): What did he do to make this house so evil, Mr. Fischer?
Benjamin Fischer: (Roddy McDowall): Drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophilia, cannibalism, not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies. Shall I go on?
Ann Barrett: How did it end?
Benjamin Fischer: If it had ended, we would not be here.

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There are plenty of things that make The Legend Of Hell House work as well as it does. For starters, there’s the script by Richard Matheson, based on his book Hell House, with enough new ideas in it to make you forget you’ve already seen 463 haunted house movies. There’s a cast dedicated to, and entirely capable of, putting the whole thing over. And there’s solid direction from John Hough to keep everything plenty spooky and briskly paced. But it’s got a couple of real aces up its sleeve: the cinematography of Alan Hume and an electronic score by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson—both of which are served well by this new Blu-ray.

Cinematographer Alan Hume’s career went from the Carry On films to a few Bonds (including 1981’s For Your Eyes Only) to The Return Of The Jedi (1983). Scattered in between were horror films such as Hammer’s gorgeous Kiss Of The Vampire (1963) and At The Earth’s Core (1976). Hume and John Hough had worked together on TV’s The Avengers before tackling The Legend Of Hell House.

Alan Hume: “Shock value played a significant element, and I think we achieved it wonderfully with good camera movement, lighting and some good editing by Geoffrey Foot.”

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Hume and Hough’s odd camera angles and lens selection create a real sense of unease that runs through the film, helped along by the electronic score from Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson (a soundtrack CD would sure be a great thing) and top-notch sound design. The tone is set within the first few minutes and never lets up.

The Legend Of Hell House. l-r Roddy McDowell and Clive Revill.

The way I see it, the best thing you can say about a video transfer is that it doesn’t look like a video transfer at all. It should look like the film it came from, with real grain and blacks that are indeed black. Of course, you can spiff things up a bit, but the film itself is the yardstick you measure these things with. Now I’ll get off my celluloid soapbox and say that Scream Factory has made sure The Legend Of Hell House looks like film. Seventies movies have a look and texture all their own, and they’re perfectly represented here. Highly, highly recommended.

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A brief aside: Our daughter had been home just a day or two when I found myself laying on the couch, with her laying on me. My wife was in bed, exhausted. I was a brand-new dad, but knew enough to avoid waking up an infant that had finally gone to sleep. So digging around for a DVD was out of the question. The TV and satellite remotes were handy and I was lucky to come across The Legend Of Hell House (1973). It was like an old friend had dropped by, and I was delighted to see it again. And share it with our three-day-old (who wasn’t scared a bit).

Source: A Life Through The Lens: Memoirs Of A Film Cameraman by Alan Hume and Gareth Owen.

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2 Comments

Filed under 1973, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Roddy McDowall, Shout/Scream Factory

2 responses to “Blu-ray Review: The Legend Of Hell House (1973).

  1. This is another favorite, really creepy in its quiet, “implied horror” way, and I enjoy its “English-ness,” despite being written by Yank Matheson.. Films like this, THE INNOCENTS, the original THE HAUNTING, THE CHANGELING, etc., really click for me. Cute story about catching this with your infant daughter asleep on your chest, too.

    Like

    • Every time I see this one, something new impresses me. With the Blu-ray, it’s the camerawork.

      The Innocents is terrific and I’m a big fan of The Changeling, too. That latter one is a real overlooked classic. Guess is was released at the wrong time.

      Like

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