Legend Of Hell House

Legend Of Hell House (1973)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Honeycutt
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

At first glance, 1973’s ’The Legend of Hell House’ may look like a rip-off of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, ’The Haunting of Hill House’ and the subsequent 1963 film based on the book. (We won’t discuss the 1999 re-make here.) A physicist, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill), is recruited by a millionaire to spend a week in the Belasco House (otherwise known as ’Hell House’, ’the Mount Everest of haunted houses), to prove that there is life after death. Barrett is accompanied by his wife (Gayle Honeycutt) and two mediums, Florence and Benjamin (Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall). As soon as the group arrives, odd occurrences begin to take place. Florence insists that she is in contact with one of the ghosts, and Mrs. Barrett begins to act very strangely. Benjamin, the only sane survivor from a previous visit to the house, refuses to get involved in the investigation. Throughout all of this, Dr. Barrett refuses to believe in ghosts and insists that science will rid the house of his power. This attitude only makes the ghosts angrier and the bloodshed has only just begun.

While it is true that ’The Legend of Hell House’ (based on a novel by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay) shares some common threads with Jackson’s classic book and Robert Wise’s film, ’Hell House’ ups the action considerably. In ’Hill House’, we mostly got the suggestion that the ghosts were there. In ’Hell House’, the ghosts interact with the visitors and they aren’t afraid to get nasty. ’The Legend of Hell House’ delivers on the red herrings offered by many other haunted house films. The mixture of science and the supernatural works rather well, and the last reel was obviously influential on ’Poltergeist’. (Matheson wrote the Spielberg film ’Duel’.) My only complaint about ’The Legend of Hell House’ is that it’s a bit slow at the beginning and that one of the deaths in the book was much better than its film counterpart. Other than that, ’The Legend of Hell House’ is an excellent haunted house film, which somehow manages to be classy and very nasty at the same time.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings ’The Legend of Hell House’ to DVD. The film is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1, but is not enhanced for 16×9 TVs. Still, one should be glad for the widescreen presentation, as director John Hough (’Escape to Witch Mountain’) likes to place things at each side of the frame. The image is very clear and sharp, but a bit dark. Also, this transfer has revealed some minute defects in the source print, such as white spots and scratches. The colors are realistic, with nice fleshtones, but they are also quite muted at times. The Dolby Surround 4.0 soundtrack is problematic as well. On the plus side, he dialogue and primary sound effects are clear and audible and the film’s eerie score sounds fine. However, this film contains many off-screen voices and noises, and these are often nearly inaudible. There were several occasions where I had to rewind and turn up the volume to discover what a character was reacting to. The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer for the film, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1.