LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt
Director: John Hough
Audio: English 4.0 surround, English 2.0 mono, French 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: September 4, 2001
did he do to make this house so evil, Mr. Fischer?"
addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, mutilation, vampirism, necrophilia,
cannibalism, not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies.
Shall I go on?"
did it end?"
it had ended, we would not be here."
love a good scary movie, and the "haunted house" sub-genre has always
been my favorite sort of horror film. Done
correctly and with style, these films can be as frightening as the Robert Wise
classic The Haunting or the recent
Nicole Kidman film The Others.
But done with the usual Hollywood flair, utter garbage like 13
Ghosts or CGI-disasters such as the remake of The
Haunting are the typical results. Fortunately,
The Legend of Hell House (1973) is
done very correctly and remains to this day one of the most unsettling haunted
house films ever.
from the novel Hell House (whose author Richard Matheson also wrote the
screenplay), this British film presents a minimalist's approach to the ghost
story. We never actually see any
ghosts, yet we are constantly aware of their presence.
Psychological horror, rather than special effects, maintain this
illusion. If memory serves, the
actual house chosen for exterior shots was reputed to be haunted, a fact which
no doubt contributed immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the film.
the house's first appearance in the film is an utterly chilling one.
At first, we see nothing but a heavy persistent fog.
So little light penetrates it that no shadows are cast.
The air is grey and stale, hardly stirring. Slowly, we perceive bars of an iron gate.
As we approach, the gates swing open silently, accompanied only by a
menacing beating on the soundtrack. Beyond
the gates, through the dense fog, a dark silhouette appears.
It looms above us, sharp spires and narrow towers extending skywards, a
visage so large that its edges are swallowed into the surrounding greyness.
It is the Belasco House, the film's Hell House.
sane guest, upon receiving such an invitation would wisely turn about and depart
most rapidly. But Belasco House has
been purchased by an eccentric British millionaire who seeks the answer to one
question - is there life after death? He
believes the answer lies in Belasco House, and to that end, he has employed
three persons to establish an answer...within the week.
The first person is Barrett (Revill), a confident parapsychologist, who
is accompanied by his wife. The
second is Florence Tanner (Franklin), a young mental medium.
The last is Fischer (McDowell), a physical medium who is the only
survivor of the previous but disastrous effort many years prior to solve the
mysteries of Belasco House. These
four characters are Belasco House's guests for the next five days, for better or
being a haunted house film, we know they are not alone.
The film employs unusual camera angles and lens to create a sense of
uneasiness, suggesting an unseen presence that silently observes the unwanted
houseguests. The hauntings are
slyly implied rather than graphically displayed, without the prevalent blood and
gore of modern horror films. Old
phonographs play by themselves. Shadows
dance along darkened walls. Chandeliers
swing as though swayed by unseen hands. Through
clever sound editing and eerie cinematography, the film maintains an
ever-increasing sense of dread and tension.
By resisting the temptation to display too much, the film encourages the
audience's mind and imagination to supply the terror.
It is a time-proven, old-school method, and it is chillingly effective in
as the saying goes, the old ways are still the best ways.
In this case, The Legend of Hell House easily tops its modern, CGI-crazed cousins
print used for this DVD is a decent one with a mildly coarse grain.
There are some indications of the film's age but only a minimal amount of
dust and scratch marks. The solid video bit rate often approaches 10Mbps, so the
quality of the transfer is quite good, even if the image does appear somewhat
soft at times. The film's spectrum
of colors is well preserved, from the foreboding creepiness of Belasco House's
washed-out, grey exteriors to the vivid red color scheme that accompanies Pamela
DVD presents a resounding re-affirmation of the familiar expression "if it
ain't broke, don't fix it." There
is a new 4.0 surround mix that is delivered with a solid audio bit rate of
448kbps, but don't bother with it. Dialogue
in the new mix has a strange isolated quality, while background noises are too
mute and distant. I cannot
emphasize how much this film depends upon sound to create its horrific ambience;
the new mix upsets this delicate balance. In my initial viewing, I kept wondering if something was
wrong with my amp/receiver. Nothing
was wrong, so I switched over to the original English mono track, and the
difference was startling. Dialogue
is suddenly strong and forceful, and the background ambience is alive with
twirling gusts of winds, creaking floor panels, and shadowy whispers.
And that nightmarish music, those menacing drums!
The score alone is one of the most nightmarish I've ever heard.
Now that's the film I remembered and loved!
Bottom line - the original mono track is utterly superior to the 4.0 mix
and should be the audio of choice when watching this film.
a trailer for this film and some other random movies. Nothing terribly exciting.