Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie Review - The Legend of Hell House (1973)

I have always loved a good haunted house movie. Ever since "Poltergeist" made me squirt in my fruit of the looms at the local twin cinema...I was hooked. These days I can't think of a recent ghost film that requires me to launder my shorts afterwards...with extra bleach. In a day and age when terrible CG seems to dominate over story or character..(did you see Jan De Bont's gaaawwd awwful Haunting re-make?...ugh) it's nice to know that we can still make the hairs tingle on the backs of our necks with a spookfest like 1973's "The Legend of Hell House" starring Roddy McDowall.

British director John Hough had to have been one of the most versatile directors working in the 70's and 80's. He worked with Disney making such child friendly fare as "Escape to Witch Mountain"...and "Watcher in the Woods", but he could also rev up a high octane car chase movie like 1974's "Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry" arguably the best in the car chase genre. Sadly his career hasn't really panned out over the years...he ventured into sci-fi with the 1986 "Biggles: Adventures in Time" and direct to video crap like 1988's "Howling IV." Then he fell completely off the map. Maybe he's retired and living a happy life somewhere..and that's fine because I'll always know he was the man responsible for films that I hold near and dear to my heart and "The Legend of Hell House" is certainly one of those films.

Roddy McDowall plays a psychic sent with a team of paranormal investigators to the Belasco Mansion which as they say in the film is "the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses." Roddy's character was the sole survivor of the last team sent to investigate the ghostly shenanigans of former owner Emeric Belasco whose evil spirit wreaks havoc upon all who dare cross the threshold of his estate. I guess the opportunity for a huge payday is too tempting..and Roddy is back at the house for his second round with the sinister spectre.

Character wise you have the scientist who thinks that there simply must be a logical explanation for the unusual happenings at the mansion. There's a spiritualist who thinks she can help restless ghosts finally cross over into eternal slumber. Finally, the scientist's wife is tagging along just for shits and giggles...and you know nothing good will happen to her! Roddy is THE star of the show. He's the one who knows that the bodies AND souls of his teamates are in serious peril unless he can unlock the mysteries of Hell House and vanquish Belasco.

Earlier I spoke of fancy special effects. Here you will find that the filmakers have a few tricks up their sleeves (like a dinner scene rudely interrupted by an unwelcome spirit), but for the most part...it's a pretty conservative effort. They wisely chose to let the actors carry the story and the viewer's imagination can fill in the blanks. I always found that not knowing exactly what was under my bed at night as a child...was scarier than actually taking a look!
In the end, "Hell House" is a great little flick that is deserving of your time on a dark and stormy night. They don't make em like this anymore...2002's "Darkness" comes close....but that's a tale of fright for another day....enjoy!

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