Saturday, October 8, 2011

Movie Review: The Legend of Hell House

  I am a little torn on this film.  The Legend of Hell House was released in 1973, and suffers from some of the limitations of that time, technical or otherwise.  Even as a fan of old horror films, though, I have trouble giving this film a good review.

 I would like to.  The story is interesting enough; an eccentric millionaire sends a team of paranormal researchers to confirm or disprove the existence of life-after-death.  Physicist Lionel Barrett and his wife, Ann are recruited, along with spiritual minister and mental medium Florence Tanner and physical medium Ben Fischer, to explore the Belasco House.  The Belasco House was the home of Emeric Belasco, the "Roaring Giant", a millionaire, sadist, and possibly murderer who stood 6'5".  The house is considered the "Mount Everest of haunted houses", and Fischer is the sole survivor of the last team to investigate it.

 Barret is a scientist with a logical mind.  He believes that all spiritual phenomenon is a matter of unfocused electromagnetic energy, and is skeptical about the abilities of the mediums and Tanner's Christian beliefs.  Barret had brought with him a device which he believes will rid the home of these electromagnetic energies and end the phenomenon.  Tanner's abilities manifest in unexpected ways, with physical attacks on Barret even though she is not a physical medium.  Fischer, knowing the danger from his last encounter, avoids opening himself to the forces of the house, for which Barret considers him a fraud.

 Ann Barret, suffering from a lackluster sex-life, begins having erotic visions in the house.  She makes sexual advances to Fischer, apparently under the influence of the energies of the house, stripping naked and demanding sex at one point (Fischer slaps her which brings her to her senses).  During another of her advances, her husband catches her in the act but becomes angry with Fischer, and accuses him of not having any psychic abilities.  In response, Fischer drops his psychic defenses and is attacked.

 Florence Tanner becomes convinced that the energies in the house are that of the spirit of Daniel Belasco, Emeric's son.  Her intuition leads her to a skeleton hidden and chained behind a wall.  The group take the skeleton onto the grounds and bury it, with Tanner performing the rite, hoping this would put the spirit at rest.  When it does not, Tanner offers herself sexually to the spirit, hoping that this will sate it.

 Barret gets his machine assembled, and Tanner, possibly or partially possessed, tries to destroy it.  When her efforts fail, she makes her way to the houses chapel to warn the spirits of the house, only to be crushed by the giant crucifix.  In her own blood, she leaves a clue to what energies are really effecting the house.  Barret's machine seems to work initially, with Fischer declaring the house clean, only to have an even more violent assault kill Barret.  Fischer decides to have a final confrontation with the energies of the house and Ann, not too distraught about her husbands death, follows.

 Fischer goes into the chapel, the dark heart of the house, and calls a challenge to Emeric Belasco, mocking him, calling his renowned height a fraud and him a son of a whore.  The psychic energies are enraged and begin pelting Fischer with objects, but he continues.  Eventually, the assault cracks the walls and reveals a door leading to a lead-lined room.  Seated in the room is the mummified corpse of Belasco, who must have drawn the same conclusions as Barret about the electromagnetic nature of the spirit and constructed the room to trap his own soul.  With the room open, it is a simple matter of Fischer reactivating the machine and dispelling Belasco's spirit.  Fischer and Ann leave the house behind them to live out their lives.

 The story sounds great.  There is a murderous ghost of a sexual deviant, and a house that he would have designed to sate his twisted desires.  You have psychics with unusual powers, a scientist and his incredible device, and two honeys who get naked and have sex with the dead.  Unfortunately, the film only hints visually at most of this.  The special effects are limited and not very convincing.  The acting is wooden at times... all the characters are fairly shallow.  Even the opportunities for some TnA are glossed over; we get to see Ann's naked back (not even her ass) and Florence's face as she is either having some rough or some amazing sex (maybe both).  

  Unfortunately, this is a great story that has been lost in the translation into film.  If the writers, the director, the producers, and the actors had been willing to take a few risks, this film would probably be a cult-classic.  Perhaps one day we will be treated to a remake that does the story justice.

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