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September 06, 2006

"The Legend of Hell House"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The film I enjoyed most in the past few weeks was John Hough's 1973 "The Legend of Hell House." (Amazon, Netflix.) Despite a title that suggests scares for teens, it's a subtle and classy haunted-house movie for grown-ups -- something akin to "The Innocents," or to the recent Nicole Kidman-starring "The Others." Pamela Franklin -- self-possessed yet vulnerable as a dewy, straitlaced medium -- is the standout in a very good cast that also includes Roddy McDowall and Gayle Hunnicutt.


legendhellhouse016.jpg


The film is a reminder of how adult genre movies could once be: erotically aware (in a discreet yet intense way), psychologically shrewd, and put together with quiet flair and surprising sophistication. Is it really true that even trashy, commercial movies once took it for granted that the audience's antennae would be able to register undertones, hints, and major/minor shifts? I guess so. If the film's climax isn't much more than serviceable, well, the journey getting there provides a lot of chilly-spooky fun. Question for the day: What is it about '70s lighting and design that can be so hypnotic?

Here's a look at the films of John Hough, who also directed one of my favorite B road movies from the '70s, "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry." I notice that Pamela Franklin started off as a child actor, appeared in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brody," and quit show business in the early 1980s. Here's a small picture gallery of Pamela Franklin in "The Legend of Hell House." Ever-so-slightly NSFW, I guess -- but in 1973, this combo of nudity, intensity, and lusciousness was labeled PG, not NSFW. Different times ...

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at September 6, 2006




Comments

It's worth seeing the sequel: it is a perfect case study of how Hollywood's lack of subtlety and overuse of CGI can make a ham-handed mess.

Posted by: Paul Worthington on September 6, 2006 5:37 PM



I actually read the book the movie was based on. Seems like it was by Richard Matheson, and the movie was pretty faithful to it. I think. I could be mixing up "Hell"s and "House"s. I guess of the haunted house movies, it's one of the best, maybe up there with "The Haunting of Hill House." (The scene in that one where there's a closeup of nothing more than wallpaper with some weird mumblings going on in the background is a kind of creepy that's hard to shake. Late at night. In the dark. All by yourself.) I found "Hell House" spooky, as you say, but not particularly creepy. Big difference. Lotsa fun, though.

Posted by: Flutist on September 6, 2006 7:03 PM



According to the commentary on the Robert Wise production of 'the haunting' 1963, which was the first film to be made of Shirley Jacksons 1959 novel, the Haunting of Hill House, is the direct inspiration for this (HELL) film.

The Richard Matheson novel that Flutist mentions was written in 1971, with film 'Legend of Hell House' coming out in 73. The premise to the story is the same.

Just check out 'The Haunting' 63'.

http://www.amazon.com/Haunting-Robert-Wise/dp/B00009NHB6/sr=8-1/qid=1157611282/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-4387217-7730339?ie=UTF8&s=dvd

It's cheap and worth more than you pay. $9.99~


Bypass 'The Haunting' 99' ( no comparison )

Legend of Hell House is an unofficial remake, with the author of the book should be called out for plagiarism.

Posted by: Eric on September 7, 2006 2:27 AM



Funny, I just started reading Matheson's HELL HOUSE, which as Flutist mentioned was the source material for the movie. I was driven to it in a roundabout way from the recent entry on vampire novels in Bookgasm, as well as my memory of the movie.

I remember the movie as an orgy of outre camera effects -- distorted reflections, upside-down angles, Wellesian lighting, etc. Fun!

Posted by: Steve on September 7, 2006 11:30 AM



Eric, I'll let you know if your "plagiarism" charge holds up. But Matheson's book has a blurb from Stephen King hailing it as the scariest haunted house book ever, so I don't think it's simply a cheap knockoff.

Posted by: Steve on September 7, 2006 11:32 AM



And then there was "The Legend on the Hill of a Hell of a Haunting in the House."

It gets confusing. I believe as a kid I also read the Shirley Jackson novel and it gave me serious nightmares. I remember in the film they used a paragraph from the book, spoken by Julie Harris at the end, about how doors close, walls remain upright, "but whatever walks at Hill House, walks alone." Shiver. It worked for me.

Posted by: Flutist on September 7, 2006 12:09 PM



Steven,

I'm not saying it wasn't scary. I'm saying it was rehash.

Posted by: Eric on September 7, 2006 5:37 PM



Ok, everyone.
I just finished watching 'Hell House'. I may need to watch it again. I was a bit distracted by the dated aspects of the film.

First impressions:

Very stylish; A bit heavy handed. I felt the pacing/payoff ratio was sorley lacking.

Was the resolution of the film the same as the book? Bolasco's spirit was entrenched/protected by a room coated by lead? And calling him out for being short, ended his reign of terror?

Favorite parts:

The black cat attack scenes were comical.
The sitting scene with the formation of the ectoplasm was very well done.

Quote:

'A funny little dried up bastaaaaaaard!!!'

I'm going to have to read both the Matheson & Jackson novels.
The was definately heavy influence from 'The Haunting' here.

Posted by: Eric on September 10, 2006 11:52 PM






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