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Friday, March 9, 2018

The Legend of Hell House (1973)




This is one of the best haunted house movies you will ever see. It is based on a book by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay, and stars Roddy McDowall along with Clive Revill. One is a traditional medium who has a horrible history with the house and the other is a scientist that thinks he has it all figured out. 

Things start off with an elderly man giving Dr. Lionel Barrett, Revill’s character, a week to investigate the most haunted house in the country. He is willing to reward them with a nice stack of cash if they can either prove or disprove the existence of life after death. Along with Barrett he is sending a pair of mediums to investigate as well. One is a young woman named Florence and the other is the only survivor of the last attempt to investigate the house Fischer, McDowall’s character. Together they head off to the Belasco House to do battle with the ghosts that reside there. Or in the case of Revill dispel the energy with his fancy machine.

This is an amazing movie that proves you don’t need a lot of CGI special effects to make a good haunted house movie. The best ones, like the Legend of Hell House, were made long before that was an option. The house or rather what exists inside it is a very important character that is brought to life thru the use of some classic movie making magic. There are strange knocks and sounds that seem to be the house speaking to those who dare to attack it with their investigation. Doors open and close by themselves. Sheets move as if invisible figures are slithering underneath them. The house is warning them to leave, while also daring them to stay. Bad things do and continue to happen. Furniture and tableware fly around the room, many of them aimed directly at Dr. Barrett!

Seriously Roddy McDowall is so good in this movie!
The force in the house also comes after the other investigators. Not only does Barrett get targeted but his wife also begins sleepwalking and trying to seduce Fischer while asleep. Fischer keeps his mind closed off to the house, but when he finally opens up it leaves him screaming on the floor. But the worst is saved for Florence. She is an innocent, religious, and it is hinted at virginal young woman. The evil really wants her badly! From the beginning, it plays on her sympathies as well as naivety. It fools her into doing the unthinkable (at least to her) and then immediately afterwards reveals itself! This sort of breaks the character, but that isn’t enough. It wants her dead and finally kills her in a twisted way that ties into her religious beliefs.

All of this leads up to a finale that I say is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a haunted house movie. The medium Florence and the scientist Barrett both had part of the solution to the Belasco house. But it isn’t until Fischer puts them together with an epiphany of his own that the big showdown happens. No spoilers as to the surprising reveal, but McDowall does an amazing job playing against nothing. The man was a damn fine actor.

The Legend of Hell House is awesome. It is that simple. This is also my second favorite Roddy McDowell genre flick. You can find copies all over the place, both on DVD and online. Go track one down and add it to your collection.


© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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