JANUARY 27, 2011
Most haunted house movies are rated PG or PG-13 (hell The Haunting is G!), so I didn’t think much of it when I saw that The Legend Of Hell House was an all ages affair. HH movies tend to be less violent, and folks are usually too scared (or snooty) to get it on, so as long as they speak with civilized tongues, a non-R rating doesn’t really matter. However, Hell House’s evil is partially based around insane orgies and the sort of debauchery Alistair Crowley might blush at, so maybe they should have just gone in that direction.
I mean, it’s fine to just talk about such things in theory, but Hell House was in dire need of elements that could help distinguish itself from The Haunting. I mean, four folks, one of whom is an unbalanced woman, are staying in a legendarily haunted house trying to uncover its secrets and rid it of its power, and its signature scary action involves pounding on doors. And it’s British. Sound familiar? At least with a bunch of crazy orgies and rituals on display, you could easily tell them apart.
As a result, we’re constantly being told everything instead of being shown it. The “villain” is a guy named Emeric Belasco (played by Michael Gough in an unbilled role), and we’re not only told about his various “pleasures”, but also that he liked to appear imposing, and thus had his own legs amputated and replaced with longer prosthetic ones. Awesome, right? Wouldn’t it be a lot more exciting to watch scenes with HIM instead of ones with the investigators just talking about it in between getting spooked by doors that open by themselves and what not? I’m all for the “what we DON’T see is scarier” approach, but not when we already have a superior film doing the exact same thing. Hell, there’s even a subplot about the main researcher’s wife getting taken over by the house’s power and throwing herself at Roddy McDowall’s character – but sadly nothing comes of it (she even apologizes to her husband – I’m like FOR WHAT?).
However I must consider that I’m not a big haunted house movie fan, and so otherwise, I suppose it’s an entertaining film that HH devotees will probably really dig. The buildup to the house is done quite well – they don’t waste too much time getting there but they DO withhold the opening titles until we see the house – unusual for the period, which rarely had any sort of “prologue”. John Hough’s direction is also somewhat atypical, favoring unusual close-ups and low angled shots. The house’s interior isn’t anything special, looking like pretty much every other British horror movies of the 70s, but the direction makes up for it.
And you gotta love McDowall, who appears as a medium who doesn’t seem interested in doing any medium-ing, but is rather just there to collect the money. Seems he was the only survivor of a previous investigation and thus has a “psychic shield” of sorts keeping the evil of the house from getting to him. His big showdown with the “ghost” is amazing, with Roddy shouting rather weak insults at it and getting tossed around by occasionally visible wires. He’s also got these horrible/awesome fishbowl eyeglasses that just make him even more amusing to watch. Bless that dude.
In fact, aside from the possible backlash of recasting his role (for obvious reasons), I would welcome a prequel to the story that showed what happened to his character during that previous investigation, one that could theoretically showcase in detail the stuff that Belasco was up to back when he was alive. Guess it’s kind of late for that, but writer Richard Matheson is still alive/working, so if he was game I’m sure it would be an interesting endeavor. I’m also baffled why this hasn’t been remade when every other classic haunted house movie (House on Haunted Hill, The Haunting, etc) HAS. This is the one that’s flawed! Silly Hollywood.
Final note – if I ever write the HMAD movie, it will be a haunted house tale and be titled “The Haunting Legend of Hell House Of Wax On Haunted Hill”. So don’t steal it. PATENT PENDING.
What say you?