Spooky Season 2021: The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Originally published January 15th, 2012
I’ve read and enjoyed Richard Matheson’s novel The Legend of Hell House, although I don’t quite remember the story. It’s easy to confuse this movie with something else as there’s many films with “Legend” and “House” in the horror genre. I got this confused with House on Haunted Hill (1959) at several points at the beginning. Either way this is the 1973 film starring Roddy McDowall that is considered the quintessential British horror film. If you’ve seen the faux trailer for Don’t on the Grindhouse DVD you’ll see its inspiration.
A group of scientists, including a spiritual medium go to the haunted Hell House to debunk the theory that it’s haunted by an evil sadist named Belasco. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) is skeptical but when medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) starts to notice strange things, it tests the boundaries of what the group believes.
I’m a fan of horror that creeps up on you, that what you’re not seeing is scarier, and Hell House does that. Scenes with Pamela in her bedroom, seeing the sheets move is completely unsettling. The sexual element of this movie is also prominent, as it’s revealed Bellasco was into some kinky stuff. Characters, particularly the females, become possessed of their inhibitions while living in the house, especially the hot wife of Lionel’s, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt). Much of this is attributed to the cold nature of the men, an obvious commentary on the rise of feminism, especially in regards to the rigid patriarchy in Britain. Either way you see each character slowly start to lose their mind, whether mentally or physically.
I got all of that, but it just seemed like it took a long time to get things going. My copy was over an hour and a half and it seemed like a lot of time was spent with the group talking. I’m all for a slow burn of a film but the movie didn’t have any forward momentum (seen especially in how many sittings it took for me to get through it and the length of this review). When there was evidence of the haunting going on, and especially in the end I was riveted, any other time I was tuning out. I’m a fan of British horror but this was too slow and plodding for me.
Interested in purchasing today’s film? If you use the handy link below a small portion will be donated to this site! Thanks!
Buy It on DVD
Buy It on Blu-ray
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Mainly because of the movie poster and your comparison of the movie to the “Don’t” “trailer” in Grindhouse, I’m expecting it to be along the lines of any of the better horror B-movies that get lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. How off the mark would you say that is?
I would say it’s far above a MST3K film in terms of acting, it’s more in line with something like the Robert Wise film The Haunting
I have seen The Haunting. I only dabbled in the horror genre, but The Haunting is hands down the best one I’ve seen. Coming in tied at distant seconds are the Japanese horror films Dark Water and Audition.
I recently saw Audition last Halloween…definitely not for the faint of heart! Japanese horror film isn’t really my bag, I’m more a French horror fan although French horror is super disturbing!
Cannot dlscus wlthout mentlonlng Roddy at hls Roddiest. Hls castlng suggests, like Clalre Bloom in the Hauntlng, that those of an alternate sexualty are more attuned to the psychlc.
omg but i love this movie.
I wrote this review so long ago, I’m tempted to give this a rewatch and see if my opinion’s changed.