The Mount Everest of Ghost Films
Charles J. Garard Jr. PhD | Liaocheng University, China | 07/09/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Mount Everest of haunted houses written by the Mount Everest of contemporary writers of the supernatural, Richard Matheson, is one of the best of the haunted house or mansion movies brought to the screen. At times, it seems so similar to the original THE HAUNTING, directed by Robert Wise from the novel by Shirley Jackson, that it seems almost like a kissing cousin: mysterious mansion enshrouded by mist and fog that seems to have a life of its own, troubled characters visiting the house who spend as much time quarreling among themselves as they do struggling with the presence (or presences within), and ghosts that are not seen but whose presence is certainly, and dramatically, felt.
The casting of this film is perfection itself: Pamela Franklin as the very sensitive and spiritual Florence Tanner who senses the evil presence within well before the others; Roddy McDowall as the physical medium, Ben Fischer, who is the sole survivor from a terrifying encounter with the house twenty years before; Clive Revill as the Scottish/Brit stuffy, no-nonsense physicist, Lionel Barrett, who believes that everything can be explained and overcome with scientific equipment, and Gayle Hunnicutt with her lovely ski-nose profile who is merely along for the ride as the physicist's dutiful wife. Although the doctor's wife lays no claims to possessing any psychic gifts, she quickly succumbs to the influence of the atmosphere and begins to behave in an erotic manner while in a trance.
What steals the show, so to speak, is the non-anamorphic cinematography -- from the close-ups of Franklin's lips to the dramatic two-shot of Revill and McDowall when the physicist tells the physical medium that he is blocking himself from the influences of the evil mansion and therefore useless as a member of the team. . . to the wide-angle deep-focus shot which includes McDowall's screaming face upside-down in the camera before he falls to the floor in front of the fireplace after a vicious psychic assault on his senses. (Read this aloud and you will get an unintended example of consonance that almost feels like alliteration.) At times, the camera peeks at characters through or around objects in the foreground, or it whirls around to show the mental confusion of Franklin who is carrying on an affair of her own (she believes) with the son of Emric Belasco, the Charles Foster Kane of the spirit world. Unlike the original THE HAUNTING (forget the awful and non-frightening remake with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones) which was filmed in black-and-white, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a color film. However, the color photography does not detract from the mystical goings-on with glitzy filter effects, such as we find in Roger Corman's THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. The colors merely emphasize the Edwardian (or Victorian) setting with the rose wallpaper and furnishings. Characters do not turn blue or any other color. They are merely, and only occasionally, distorted by the wide-angle lenses during appropriate moments.
What happened in the past is never shown, only discussed by the characters -- although what they describe sounds gruesome and decadent enough. We have no bending door frames or talking wallpaper, but we do have a possessed black cat (shades of THE TOMB OF LIGEIA) and a horny ghost who mar the delicate skin of Miss Franklin. We hear the whispers of the ghosts, and hear what we presume is the voice of Belasco's son when he speaks through Franklin as a medium during a psychic sitting. At first, it appears that a multiple haunting is taking place, but the McDowall character finally solves the mystery by pointing out an alternative explanation.
This is not a spooky movie like those in the past which only frightened children. This is an adult film with seemingly, at least at first, rational explanations that seem plausible in the physical world. Modern-day paranormal investigators are at work here, and the scientific approach as put forth by Revill's stiff academic type gives us another perspective on what hauntings might actually be. Listening to his explanation of how the bulky machine he has dragged into the mansion is able to drain the energy left behind by the personalities of those who lived there before almost makes one feel that he is preparing a paper for a conference or a scientific journal. I am not a physicist, so I cannot comment on the authenticity of his dialogue -- and we have certainly come further in the field of paranormal research and psychic investigations since the year of this film,1973 -- his learned and academic approach rings true. One has only to read the T.A.P.S. (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) case studies (to which I contributed an article years ago) or watch the popular television series based on some of those cases to be brought up to speed on what is going on today in this arena. For example, it is unlikely that paranormal investigators (amateur or otherwise) would drag such a monstrosity as the one shown in this film into areas where hauntings have been reported. I think that if someone as abrasive as the Revill character in this film were to enter my property, I might be inclined to request the presence of someone with greater sensitivity to the suffering of others. As example of the latter would by the psychic Chip Caffey in the PARANORMAL STATE series. However, as I pointed out at the outset, the casting is superb, and Revill's strong presence at the center of this particular investigation (Richard Johnson in THE HAUNTING is a mild-manner wimp by comparison)is compelling and dramatic, which is what good motion pictures are about.
Even though this film with its questionable title --where is the legend in this case? -- is somewhat dated, as a believable and chilling ghost film, it holds up pretty well. The characters in this film are clearly in danger throughout, and even though the ghosts cannot be seen, they can certainly cause destruction and death. If you want to take a break from the CGI-driven monster movies made in more recent years, dig into this British horror film. As readers of my other reviews know, I am an anglophile -- particularly when it comes to the often-understated style of their horror films. This is no HELLRAISER or Dario Argento gore-fest, just a good old-fashioned ghost movie where what you imagine is more frightening that what you are actually shown on the screen."
BEST Haunted House movie you will EVER see
Lizard | Florida | 07/24/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I watched this movie many times because it's *great*. I seen tons of horror movies and this one remains one of my favorites. Roddy McDowell was absolutely brilliant. The Balasco House will put a chill in you :-)"
GREAT! Still Scary
Phymns | 08/05/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the haunted house flicks I know, this one still is scary as hell. And you gotta love the greatness that is Roddy McDowell. I believe the story is by the great Richard Matheson (I am Legend, others) and that alone makes this worth it. Definitely made in the 70's, but still holds up. The music is creepy as heck! This one gave me nightmares as a kid."
Classic cult film
Kat | 08/09/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a classic horror film very cult like. I've loved it since it was first released. This film can get into your head."