Sunday, July 25, 2010

September 22, 2009: Psychobabble recommends ‘The Legend of Hell House’

In 1953, a squad of mentalists was slaughtered while investigating the haunted mansion known as Hell House, the former home of a fellow who allegedly dabbled in “drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophilia, cannibalism, not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies.” Twenty years later, a deathbed-bound millionaire commissions another group to convene at Hell House to prove the existence of an afterlife.

Based on a book by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the script, The Legend of Hell House (1973) is a lot less schlocky than its title suggests. The film owes much to that greatest of haunted house pictures, The Haunting, both in its premise and the way director John Hough’s active, disorienting camerawork makes Hell House into a character with as much personality as any of the mentalists. The house is a meaner entity than the ones in The Haunting or The Shining, at times physically attacking its inhabitants. This may sound silly, but Hough executes it cleverly. The small ensemble cast is very good, too, with Roddy McDowell as the sole survivor of the 1953 excursion, but Pamela Franklin heists the picture as the most prodigious mentalist in the gang.

There are a few dopey moments—a goofy cat attack will probably make modern audiences giggle and the ending is disappointingly trivial—but for the most part, The Legend of Hell House is a corker of a haunted house flick.

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