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The Legend of Hell House

Horror movie directed by John Hough

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When Richard Matheson adapts his own novel, there'll be hell to pay...

  • Oct 7, 2012
** out of ****

I am starting to get the feeling that Richard Matheson's novels and short stories don't make very good movies most of the time. The material either gets overly extended or feels too restrained, with few cinematic storytellers being able to distinguish a difference between the two. Matheson adapted his own material for "The Legend of Hell House", which should be an indicator that the film is better than most adaptations just for that, although I'm not too sure. Apparently it's faithful to the novel (titled "Hell House") in the sense that it is - if you share a similar viewpoint to mine - uneven, mostly unimpressive, and massively disappointing. Sadly, it just can't hold a candle to the other classics of its kind on a dark, stormy night.

However, it's not an excess of comparisons that makes the film as mediocre as it is. It's the fact that it's just boring and unimaginatively staged for all its visual panache. It's about a group of people - Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicut), and the duel psychic mediums Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell - who go to investigate the Belasco House; supposedly the Mount Everest of haunted houses. Fischer is a survivor of a previous investigation, as no one else has made it out alive prior to him, and is convinced that the estate itself is very much alive and will swallow them whole in both body and soul, one by one, piece by piece.

Barrett, a skeptic by nature, does not at first believe that Fischer's encounters were of a paranormal variety. With him he brings a machine that he has created which will drive out the bad spirits, if there are any. And believe me, there most certainly are; and they subject each of the houseguests to physical and psychological tortures that range from the erotic to the surreal to the animalistic (there's a mean black cat that attacks Florence and in turn gets thrown around the bedroom a few times; it's quite the sight to see). It seems that Fischer was right; and now history will repeat itself. They'll have to keep onto their limbs and heads in order to successfully survive this hellish night.

While I'm normally a sucker for these kinds of movies, "The Legend of Hell House" probably lost me after the thirty minute mark. Never mind that I didn't really care about its characters too much; its style just gets really repetitive really fast. Its intentions don't extend much further than throwing weird scene after weird scene at the audience; such a thing that admittedly gets the desired reaction but lacks a proper identity. Sometimes, decent but disappointing horror films such as this are the worst kind in the sense that some scenes are so good, but on a whole you find yourself drifting off from the world that the movie is trying so hard to create. I look at this movie and just don't see enough ambition to fill an hour and thirty five minutes.

I was a fan of the look of the film. It's a pretty nice-looking production that makes great - and I mean great - use of colorful lighting as well as distorting camera angles/effects. Sometimes, it's very psychologically demeaning and almost kind of creepy. But then it goes back to being slow, poorly-paced drivel; and you begin to forget why you're still in this house with these uninteresting people. You're better off watching something like "House on Haunted Hill" or "The Haunting", because both of them are at least directed with a sense of ambition, a concept that John Hough can't quite grasp. He's got everything assembled and there, as proven by the images that he puts on screen, but just doesn't know how to make anything genuinely interesting or tense with them. Horror movies are more than just pretty visuals. "The Legend of Hell House" almost succeeds in tricking us into thinking that it understands this, but alas, not quite.

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More The Legend of Hell House reviews
review by . September 06, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a genuinely-terrifying entry into the `haunted house' genre, based on the book "Hell House" by Richard Matheson. The shocks and surprises are brilliantly-executed and just as harrowing for the audience as they are for the on-screen victims.    Barrett (Clive Revill) leads an expedition into the infamous `Hell House', the mission being to complete a total spiritual cleansing of the area. He's joined by his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), young and idealistic …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
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It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Four people enter the Belasco Mansion, the so-called "Everest of haunted houses," hired by a dying millionaire to investigate the possibility of life after death. Physicist Clive Revill leads the quartet, which includes his wife Gayle Hunnicut and two mediums. Pamela Franklin, young and impulsive, immediately makes contact with what she perceives as a tortured spirit, while Roddy McDowall, the only survivor from the previous investigation 20 years ago, closes himself off completely, deathly afraid of the malevolent forces that crushed his former comrades in body and spirit. Science fiction and horror legend Richard Matheson, responsible for penning such horror classics asThe Devil Rides Outand Roger Corman'sThe Pit and the Pendulum, brings a literate sensibility and a refreshing seriousness to the haunted-house genre with this adaptation of his novelHell House. Director John Hough follows Matheson's lead with a moody but sober approach, balancing the physical threats of objects lethally leaping to life with the slow, subtle possession of the characters by a truly evil spirit. Parts of the script feel like so much scientific mumbo jumbo, with characters discussing the finer points of supernatural manifestation and ectoplasmic activity, but Hough's deliberate direction gives it the necessary solemnity to take it all seriously.--Sean Axmaker
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Director: John Hough
Genre: Horror
Screen Writer: Richard Matheson
DVD Release Date: September 4, 2001
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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