Aaaaaw, Halloween has come and gone, and now I have to wait another year for ghosts, ghouls, and goblins.
Oh, wait, no I don't. That's why I have this blog. So let us start with ghosts and talk about my favorite haunted house film, The Legend of Hell House.
So the first thing to keep in mind about The Legend of Hell House is that, despite the similar name and a few superficial similarities on the plot, it is NOT The Haunting of Hill House. Both are based on novels (The former by Richard Matheson and the latter by Shirley Jackson), and both involve a scientific investigation of a sprawling old house where terrible, terrible things have taken place. That's where the similarities end.
In the 1973 film, a scientist, his wife and a pair of psychics investigate the abandoned mansion of one "Emeric Belasco", a giant of a man who was alleged to have spent his days in the house in a continuous debauched, lecherous, drunken revel...until the day that everyone in the house was supposed to be found dead (except for Belasco himself, whose body was never found). The house soon thereafter gained a reputation as not just a haunted house but the "Mount Everest of Haunted Houses." The characters mentioned above decide that such a place would be the best place to prove the existence of life after death and terrible nasty things ensue.
I won't give away too many details of the plot, on the off chance that I am convincing anyone to watch it, and there are a couple of twists that potential viewers might appreciate that they remain unspoiled.
One thing I appreciate about the film is that it very neatly straddles a fine line between showing too much and showing too little. You never see a ghost per se; it probably would have looked incredibly cheesy in 1973 if the filmmakers had tried. But still things happen, and there is no doubt that the house is haunted and the characters are in grave danger. Too many haunted house movies (and books for that matter) fail in that regard.
Also, it does an excellent job of investing you in the characters. Each is unique, none is vanilla, and none seem to be there just as cannon fodder so someone can have a dramatic death to motivate the more important characters.
Lastly, there is just something about 1970s British horror that I can't put my finger on that is just so damned atmospheric. It has a real 'bad dream' vibe to it. Legend of Hell House is not a Hammer or Amicus film, but it would fit right in alongside any of them.
Criticisms? Yeah, I have a couple despite the films revered status in my mind. There is one badly done scene with a possessed cat. Only the "cat" is obviously stuffed. I think they didn't have the budget to get a real trained cat to do the scene, and they did the best they could with it. But it couldn't be any more cheesy if it actually involved coagulated milk products. And I find the ending just a little anti-climactic. It's almost like Richard Matheson didn't really know how to end it, so he just sort of, well, ended it.
But all in all, it is an incredible film and one that any horror buff worthy of the name should see.