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The Legend of Hell House (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: John Hough
Writer: Richard Matheson
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt, and Pamela Franklin
Year: 1973
Length: 95 min
Rating: PG
Region: A
Disks: 1
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: August 26, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English

Extras
  • The Story of Hell House: An Interview with Director John Hough
  • Audio Commentary/Interview with Pamela Franklin
  • Radio Spots
  • Photo Gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
legReleased just six months before William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist, The Legend of Hell House had just enough time to make a small impact, before it was completely overshadowed and almost forgotten. While remarkably different films in their own respects, they do share a few striking similarities. However, while The Legend of Hell House made a modest 2.5 million dollars, The Exorcist smashed all expectation, bringing in over 440 million dollars. Not nearly as successful, or even as sleek or frightening, The Legend of the Hell House is nonetheless an important, fun piece of British horror history. Shot by Return of the Jedi Cinematographer Alan Hume, with Direction by Twins of Evil’s John Hough, the film carries that certain Hammer-esque Gothic beauty that translates well on Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray release.

The Film

Based off the book Hell House by Richard Matheson ( of I am Legend, What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes fame)—who also penned the adapted screenplay—, The Legend of Hell House tells the story of the “Mount Everest of haunted houses,” The Belasco House. Rumored to be haunted by the spirit of Emeric Belasco, a supposed giant who late in life turned to murder and ultimately disappeared from society, the Belasco House exists as a goldmine for potential extrasensory discovery.

Enlisting a team of paranormal experts—each heralded as the best in their respected focuses—millionaire Rudolph Deutsch intends for the group spend a weekend in the house, to prove or disprove, beyond all reasonable doubt, the houses’ supposed haunting. The team consists of physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), his wife, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), by his side; psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin); and the lone survivor from the last Belasco expedition, Benjamin Franklin Fischer (Roddy McDowall). For most of the film, the narrative pegs the rational Lionel Barrett against the spiritually driven Florence Tanner, while Fischer attempts to remove himself from the activities, however it isn’t long until things start heating up.

John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

While much of the sexual nature of the novel had to be downplayed to appease British sensors, the film still embodies a dark, sexual nature for its PG rating. Almost right away the spirit that roams the house targets Tanner. Possessing Tanner and later Ann Barrett, the spirit causes the women to act out in perversely sexual manners. The strength of the film lies in these moments. The sexual politics of the film are up for exploration and can be held in contempt, but despite the inconsistent, if not ill formed ideology at play, both Franklin and Hunnicutt’s commitments to their respected roles drives the film home. In particular, Franklin, as Tanner, is as strong as any, laying the groundwork—perhaps merely by coincidence—for the possession model that will very much be seen in Friedkin’s picture later that year.
John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

While visually it may seem like the film was produced under the Hammer line, it was actually one of the two pictures James H. Nicholson produced after leaving AIP and before passing away. Shot in the confines of a Gothic mansion—on what appears to be a low budget, but nonetheless lavish, set—The Legend of Hell House is not a far cry from the visual make up of many Hammer Horror titles. Perhaps Hough’s time on Twins of Evil informed some of the decisions that went into crafting his vision for the film, or it could be that the producers were trying to tap into the tried-and-true Hammer formula; either way, the outcome is stylistically pleasing. While the sets are appealing, there is a slight drab quality to much of the picture. Despite a few extravagant scenes with luscious, crisp reds, a lot of the film has a greyish banality to it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is its rather unconventional score. One may suspect—given the film’s gothic tendencies—a full blown orchestral, classical score, but what is present instead is the fully electronic musical accompaniment by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. Capturing the gothic essence in a modernized fashion, the score is one of the film’s most unique aspects of the film—and something that will keep this reviewer coming back for revisits.

John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

Video

The 1.85:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer is a bit uneven, but nothing that wouldn’t be anticipated. As already discussed, while at times the film is super crisp—contrast strong, colors bold—at other times, the image looks a little flat and soft. Overall, the print shines more than it falters. During the film’s key moments, the elements are at their best; and, even at its worst, the print is not distracting. A healthy dose of film grain is kept intact, and—to our surprise for a film of its stature—there are minimal amounts of damage to be seen. All in all, Scream Factory has given The Legend of Hell House an exceptional introduction to the Blu-Ray format.

John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

Audio

Fewer complaints can be made of the film’s audio track. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is a fine representation of the original audio elements. The dialogue, sound effects, and score interact well with each other, leaving a balanced and dynamic track. Little to no damage can be heard on the track.

John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

Extras

Besides the radio spots, photo gallery, and trailers, there are really two features on this package that will entice fans. The first is a twenty-eight minute interview, The Story of Hell House: An Interview with Director John Hough. Highly informative, Hough has a great memory of the picture and shares with viewers a lot of behind the scenes tidbits about the production. The second piece is an audio commentary/interview with actress Pamela Franklin. If you are looking for her to discuss much beyond her own role then look elsewhere, but what is revealed is more than worthy of at least one listen.

John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

John Hough’s The Legend of Hell House (1973) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

A bit sparse in terms of features, and not—to appeal to the British sensibility—everybody’s cup of tea, The Legend of Hell House is an entertaining psychological piece of British horror history. With it comes the style that pervaded most of the country’s horror films for almost three decades, but not failing to introduce a bit of its own charm. Fans of Scream Factory’s line may find this film a bit unusual and off-style, but, if you are willing to invest yourself in it, The Legend of Hell House more than justifies its place among Scream Factory’s other titles. A modest, but nevertheless worthwhile, package, The Legend of Hell House is the perfect grab for those fans of British horror and haunted house films alike.

Released just six months before William Friedkin’s classic The Exorcist, The Legend of Hell House had just enough time to make a small impact, before…

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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