Legend of Hell House, The (1973)

“This house… It knows we’re here.”

Legend of Hell House Poster

Synopsis:
A physicist (Clive Revill), his wife (Gayle Hunnicutt), and two mediums (Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall) are solicited by a wealthy older man (Roland Culver) to visit an infamous haunted house and investigate the secrets it may possess about life after death.

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Review:
Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, this highly atmospheric “old dark house” flick — a mash-up of The Haunting (1963) with The Exorcist (1973) — delivers plenty of bang for its buck. It’s creatively directed (by John Hughes and DP Alan Hume), finely acted, and genuinely suspenseful. Franklin is particularly effective in a challenging role: her self-possessed demeanor contrasts nicely with her youthful appearance, and her character transformations are both believable and shocking. The film’s main’s disappointment is its climactic “reveal”, which viewers have apparently been debating for years (see IMDB’s message boards); but it’s easy enough to forgive in light of the satisfying tale we’ve witnessed until then. The score is exceptional, too.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Pamela Franklin as Florence Tanner
    Legend Hell House Franklin
  • Alan Hume’s cinematography
    Legend of Hell House Cinematography2
    Legend Hell House Cinematography
  • Fine direction
    Legend Hell House Direction1
  • An effectively spooky electronic score by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

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One Response to “Legend of Hell House, The (1973)”

  1. A once-must (perhaps) for those with a particular interest in the genre. Otherwise…..

    It’s true that this is a mix of ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Exorcist’ (released the same year). Overall, it’s more effective than the former (not a particular favorite of mine, outside of a few scenes; give me ‘The Innocents’ any day) and less effective than the latter. ~mainly because, unlike ‘The Exorcist’ – which doesn’t get bogged down in *why* horrible things are happening (it’s the ‘power’ of Satan; that’s all we need to know) – ‘Legend’ is obsessed with systematically getting to the root of the ‘evil’. Not only does that become less interesting (ultimately) but it makes the film progressively preposterous in an unsatisfying way.

    In a film like ‘Legend’, mysterious events take place to unnerve us but they are random shocks allowed on the story’s ‘terms’ – though the terms are never particularly set but that’s supposed to be ok because they don’t have to be (supposedly). Although some of these shocks are somewhat effective (esp. the possessions), the through-line that connects them (the mentioned ‘reveal’) comes off as something of a head-scratcher.

    I must say that, to me, McDowall’s final speech to the ‘entity’ near the end comes off a bit unintentionally funny, with the way it’s written and the conviction he throws behind it. I did giggle.

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