Friday, May 4, 2007

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Fear: 1
Gore: 1
Creepiness: 1
Entertainment: 3
Nightmares: 0

An aging millionaire recruits a team of paranormal investigators to investigate the famed Belasco House, known as the "Mount Everest of haunted houses", aka "Hell House". The previous owner was, legend has it, a maniacal genius who indulged and imbibed in pretty much all of the dark arts, though details are sketchy since he was never found after a massive massacre occured within the house.

The team consists of a skeptical physicist, his wife, a "mental medium" (psychic) and a "physical medium" (spoon bender basically). The spoon bender, played by Planet of the Ape's Roddy McDowell (also of Fright Night fame) is the only survivor from the last investigation, though he never really explains how he survived. Anyway, they set up camp inside the house for one week and if they can refute or prove any evidence for the afterlife, they will each receive 100,000 pounds.

Tensions rise between the team as their differing opinions create plenty of opportunities for heated debate. A seance is conducted and the evil spirits begin to act very much like the ghosts you find in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. In fact, one could argue that the house itself was modeled on Disney's famed attraction which opened in 1969. This is actually a good thing as it adds to the campy fun of the movie which is short on scares, but long on cheesy atmosphere.

Soon enough, the investigators are each possessed and attacked in various ways, none of which carries much punch in terms of scare. A couple of them are picked off and the film ends sort of abruptly after the (obvious and eventual) resolution.

Like I say, there's not much that's going to scare anyone here, though the house is sufficiently creepy and there are a couple moments involving ghostly shadows that are fun. The story, aside from some deep plot-holes, is fun and the dialogue is melodramatic in a good way, not an over the top kind of way. So I liked it.

The films starts with the disclaimer that while the events portrayed in The Legend of Hell House are fictitious, the psychic phenomena shown is not only possible, but likely. This pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the film as the pseudo-science and Victorian age spiritualism presented is done so as matters of fact. And while normally, horseshit like ectoplasm, electro magnetic field disruption and psychic possession would be annoying in the context of Hollywood "scientific investigation", this is exactly the kind of dum-dummery that takes place weekly on the Travel Channel's "Most Haunted", one of England's most popular programs.

The mediums here are goofy and superstitious relying on things like being taken over by spirits and speaking for them in scary deep voices. The science used to debunk the haunting is creaky and out of date at best and just plain stupid at worst. Case in point, a giant boxy machine is rolled into the house near the end of the movie that will emit massive anti-magnetic fields or something retarded like that. The thought being that this will negate the energy that fills the house, thereby clearing it of any ghosties. If that sounds ridiculous, spend an hour with Derek Acorah and the gang one evening and see what it looks like in action. Today. in 2007.

Legend of Hell House is ok, not great. It's certainly no classic, but should be lumped in with the entertaining, lazy-weekend fare of any Hammer Film. It is PG, so don't expect anything scary or gory in the least, but if you like older ghost movies, it's not too shabby.

-Complaint Dept.

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