• Legend Of Hell House, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: August 26th, 2014.
    Director: John Hough
    Cast: Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Gayle Hunnicutt, Clive Revill
    Year: 1973
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    The Movie:

    Based on the novel of the same name by author Richard Matheson (who also penned the screen play), 1973’s The Legend Of Hell House follows a group of researchers as they explore ‘the Mount Everest of haunted houses.’

    The house in question once belonged to a wealthy eccentric named Emeric Belasco but after he passed, his family locked the place up and didn’t want anything to do with the place. It would seem that Belasco was a deviant in the truest sense of the word, a man involved in necrophilia, occult rituals and much, much more. The legend of the evil that still lived in the house continued after he passed, however, and for that reason a dying man named Rudolph Deutsch (Roland Culver) who is determined to learn of its secrets, specifically if there really is life after death or not. As such, he hires a scientist named Doctor Barrett (Clive Revill) and his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) to work alongside a medium named Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and another medium named Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall). Ben, more so than the others, knows how powerful the energy in the house really is, as two decades past he almost lost his life there. Fischer is the only man to have made it out of past expeditions into the house with both his life and his sanity intact.

    So Barrett and his team head to the old house and prepare to spend a week behind its walls. It doesn’t take long before the evil spirits that call the place home begin to make themselves known, targeting all four of the researchers at one point or another but seeming to have a preference for Tanner, possibly because of her heartfelt religious convictions. As she begins to feel empathy towards one of the spirits, she opens herself up to attacks as her beliefs come into conflict with the rest of the team and the manifestations of whatever it is that haunts Hell House become more frequent and more powerful.

    Like The Haunting, a film that The Legend Of Hell House is often compared to, this film leaves much of the detail work to the viewer to figure out rather than bombard the audience with gratuitous effects sequences. It’s a tactic that works well here, particularly since the performances from the four principal leads are all convincing enough that their reactions to what we cannot see is often times enough to convey the gravity of a given situation. Pretty Pamela Franklin in particular really shines here. Her character is obviously far more fragile than the others, we learn this early on, and her belief that the supernatural is an act of God and not of whatever evil entity you would care to name would, by most theological belief systems, make her a prime target. When things get bad for her, the combination of clever, subtle makeup effects and her transformation of character are completely convincing. As her morals turn to perversions and her eyes become more manic, we know in no uncertain terms that she is no longer in control of herself and the interactions the young actress shares with the more experienced cast members become key to much of the tension that occurs later in the film. The rest of the cast are excellent too, McDowell really stands out once things head south for everyone and he ramps up his intensity. Really though, all involved in front of the camera deliver fine work.

    Plenty of quirky camera angles employed throughout the movie tend to frame much of the action in unconventional ways. This gives the movie an uneasy feeling at times, one completely in keeping with the way in which the story unfolds. Speaking of which, Matheson’s script keeps things at the film’s PG rated level but does add in layers of perversion and evil throughout. It never goes too over the top with it but those story elements are absolutely integral to the mood that Hough is able to conjure early in the film and maintain throughout. Add to that some excellent production design (the house itself is just flat out creepy) and an evocative score and it’s easy to see and understand why The Legend Of Hell House has remained a horror classic all these years.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout! Factory presents The Legend Of Hell House in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. This is, in terms of its cinematography, a pretty dark looking film with most of it taking place inside a dimly light house. While this absolutely works in the film’s favor in terms of creating atmosphere, it does mean that you need to take the intended look into consideration when discussing its transfer as this isn’t the most colorful film ever made. Having said that, the picture’s cool color scheme is reproduced quite well here and the increase in detail over the previous DVD release is obvious right from the start. There isn’t much in the way of print damage at all, just a few white specks here and there that most won’t notice, while black levels stay pretty solid. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate, never waxy, and that combined with the obvious but never overpowering film grain would indicate that no noise reduction was used. There is some minor crush in a few spots and some minor compression artifacts as well, but nothing so serious as to prove distracting. All in all, the movie looks quite good on Blu-ray.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. For an older single channel mix this disc has a decent amount of depth and range to appreciate. The score has really strong resonance here and compliments everything nicely without burying the performers. Dialogue stays clean, clear and perfectly discernable throughout and there are no issues to note with any hiss or distortion.

    The extras on the disc start off with a new audio commentary track with actress Pamela Franklin (advertised on the back of the packaging as an audio interview possibly because it ends just past the hour and twenty-minute mark and doesn’t run the full length of the film?) and an unnamed moderator periodically quietly chiming in to probe her brain about her experiences working on the picture. She shares some fun stories here about working with Hough as well as what it was like on set with Revill and the more reserved McDowell. She talks up some of the details of her character, what she helped to bring to the film and how the shoot was an exhausting one given that the effects set pieces often times took ages to get right. She looks back on the movie pretty fondly and has a sharp memory, making this an interesting way to revisit the film for those who have seen it plenty of times before.

    Also included on the disc is a new twenty-eight minute video interview with director John Hough. He expresses his admiration for Matheson’s source material and talks up how he went into making this movie with a ‘less is more’ mentality in regards to what he did and did not want to show to the audience. He talks about the house as it’s featured in the film and about what was shot on location and what was shot on a studio set and he also discusses the importance of the cast that he was able to collaborate with on this picture.

    Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the feature, a trio of radio spots, a still gallery, trailers for a few other Scream Factory releases, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:


    The Legend Of Hell House remains a high point in the cannon of seventies supernatural horror films and one of the best haunted house movies of the decade in which it was made. The film makes excellent use of a convincing cast and employs mood and suspense in place of cheap jump scares or schlocky effects. As such, it has aged quite well and remains an enjoyable and tense watch. The Blu-ray from Shout! Factory offers up a substantial upgrade in the audio and video departments and throws in some quality supplements that detail the history of the picture. A strong release of a great movie.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!