Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on June 15, 1973
Directed by John Hough
Written by Richard Matheson, based on his novel
Cast: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver, Peter Bowles, Michael Gough, a black cat, and Hell House
A moody, atmospheric haunted house tale whose preview trailer sent chills up my spine as a kid, but today seemed more a tame mystery thriller than a horror scarefest, with a few good frights here and there to offset a rather pedestrian story by the usually-dependable Richard Matheson; his already toned-down screenplay was hampered even more by the film’s keep-it-cool PG rating.
For the most part, the film followed the source novel, also written by Matheson: a physicist is hired by an aged millionaire to prove the existence of ‘life after death’ at a reputed haunted house in England, and takes his wife and two mediums with him to assist, where they’ll spend five days in the dark and musty Belasco House…also known, with more than a hint of foreboding, as Hell House. There, it was not only a battle of investigators versus unknown entities, and of believers versus non-believers, but of the scientific mind of physicist Clive Revill against the spiritual mindsets of Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall, a theme that kept popping up throughout the course of the film.
Director John Hough, who bounced back and forth between horror flicks and Disney movies over the course of his career, here did a wonderful job delivering a sense of gloom and doom, and did some simple yet interesting things with camera set-ups, such as deep focus, ominous low-angle shots, and extreme close-ups, all of which tended to keep you off-balance and a little uneasy. Which was fine, except events kept hinting to bigger and more terrifying things to come, but in the end the payoff just wasn’t there, and after all was said and done there just wasn’t enough oomph to justify such a portentous title as The Legend of Hell House.
In the acting department, Franklin and Revill came off best, packing some punch into their roles, while Gayle Hunnicutt, playing the repressed wife with nothing much to do, at least offered a bit of window dressing…but McDowall was a weak link, and his typically exaggerated, over-dramatic acting choices came close to caricature at times. If anything, the film was well-made, and had its moments, but sadly it worked best as a blueprint for someone interested in filming a more active and frightening remake. (6/10)