Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.
I honestly don’t know why I’ve had such a difficult time writing about this film. I’ve watched it twice within the last couple of weeks. I watched it once fully intending to write up a review and simply didn’t. I watched it again a couple of days before now, and still, I just haven’t gotten down to writing it up. The problem with The Legend of Hell House isn’t that it isn’t a good film. It really is. The problem is that I just don’t know what I have to say about it more than a sentence or two.
Honestly, The Legend of Hell House can be summed up in a sentence or two. Ready? Here goes: Imagine The Haunting with more bodies and more sex. That’s pretty much it. There’s a little more to it than that, but really, there isn’t much beyond it.
A physicist named Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) is hired by an old man named Deutsch (Roland Culver) to investigate whether or not life exists after death. The investigation is to take place at the notorious Belasco House, the one place where there appears to be evidence of what Deutsch calls “survival after death.” The Belasco House was the home of the infamous Emeric Belasco, a huge man known for a host of perversions and most noted for a massacre that occurred in the house shortly before his death. The house is reported haunted by the spirits of those who died in this final massacre, as well as by Belasco himself.
Accompanying Barrett will be his wife (Gayle Hunnicutt), spiritual medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and physical medium and only survivor of the massacre Benjamin Franklin Fischer (Roddy McDowall). And everything gets weird the moment the quartet shows up. It is Florence who discovers that there really is something going on, since she finds herself unwilling and unable to enter the chapel in the house. However, it is Barrett’s scientific belief that what is happening is nothing more than unfocused electromagnetism, and that both Florence and Ben are little more than unnecessary trappings to what will be his own grand triumph.
Oddly, it’s the one person without much at stake who gets much of the brunt of the haunted house—Barrett’s wife. (IMDB calls her Ann Barrett; Wikipedia calls her Edith Barrett. I’m tempted to call her Edith Ann, but I’m going to use Ann from this point forward). Ann, driven by what appears to be a physically unsatisfying marriage starts coming on to Ben Fischer, once while sleepwalking and once while fully awake, both times evidently under the influence of something in the house. Additionally, Florence starts manifesting physical signs of possession (remember, she’s a mental/spiritual medium), and Ben Fischer remains closed off.
The middle section of the film is dominated by Florence’s belief that much of the haunting is being caused by David, Belasco’s son. There are several incidents with the spirit of David, including a full-on poltergeist assault. Florence finds herself frequently on the business end of ghost attacks and possessions, ending up scratched and bloodied multiple times.
All of this is all well and good, and The Legend of Hell House brings the scare pretty well. Florence’s encounters become increasingly disturbing and violent. For all of this, though, I simply cannot get past the fact that, as I said a number of paragraphs ago. This film is essentially a sexier, bloodier version of The Haunting with more evident spooks and a few extra bodies at the end.
The biggest issue I have with this film is not the fact that it’s a moderately gorier and much sexier version of The Haunting. Actually, I’m fully in support of that idea. The Haunting is a great film, and bloodying it up a bit works pretty well, as does sexing it up. No, the biggest problem I have is the tacked-on ending. There’s a big reveal that happens here and that reveal comes about because of the deductive powers of one of the visitors of the house. All well and good. Sadly, the bulk of this conjecture is based completely on information we have never been given. Moreover, even with that information, it’s such a massive stretch that it feels like nothing more than a wild guess that proves right.
Regardless, The Legend of Hell House is pretty fun and worth seeing. It’s not great, but it is good and entertaining.
Why to watch The Legend of Hell House: A solid update of The Haunting.
Why not to watch: The ending feels like a stretch.