There’s something about late 70’s early 80’s horror movies that just seem gothic and foreboding
Gothic horror used to be big, it was pretty much that, slashers or b-movies about giant animals, each had their own look and feel, slashers had texas, the b-movies had small town america and the gothic horrors had any mansion they could find, this is exactly what the Legend of Hell House did, using the wonderfully imposing Wykehurst Place standing in for Hell House, the ‘Mount Everest of haunted houses’, where Physicist Lionel Barrett is sent by millionaire, Mr. Deutsch, to make an investigation into life after death, which was originally owned by the notorious Emeric Belasco, a six-foot-five perverted millionaire, who disappeared after a massacre at his home, leaving behind a home filled with twisted evil spirits.
The house is a place that has been tainted by debauchery and satanism, turning good people into sinners, which this film shows this by mixing traditional haunted house elements and graphic sex and violence scenes, something that hadn’t been seen much before in cinema, instead it was usually hinted at and implied.
The house is the start of the film, owned by Emeric Belasco and played host to vampirism, sadism, necrophilia, drug addiction, orgies and other unsavory activities, but just 8 years after the house was built, Belasco even bricked up all the windows to stop people looking in, disappeared without trace and Hell House was boarded up for over 20 years, with it’s owner missing, presumed dead, 2 investigations are launched to find clues, but physical psychic Ben Fischer, is left as the only survivor on both occurrences, but after being offered £10,0000 to take part in a third investigation, he agrees, along with Physicist Lionel Barret and his wife Ann, mental medium Florence Tanner, to find proof of life after death.
But once in the house, the team are systematically pulled apart, causing mistrust and fear between the team, especially the women, with Florence going from a timid and innocent girl, crazy and lust filled and devoted wife Ann, becoming love starved and desperate for sex, while Dr Barret buries himself further in his work and Ben attempting to prevent what happened in his previous investigations.
The Legend of Hell House contains some pretty good performances, especially Roddy McDowall, who plays Ben, the spooked medium who refuses to help out, instead he is just there for the money and wanting to get out unharmed, he is the stand out character of the film, going from the weak link of the group to the only hope for someone to leave the house alive.
The film is sadly a little overlooked, mainly down to the film coming out not long before The Exorcist, which eclipsed everything else that was made that year, especially dark gothic horrors about spirits and possession, but if your a fan of Robert Wise’s The Haunting, but wanted more skin and blood, then The Legend of Hell House is the film for you, visually stunning and wonderfully dark, but also filled with great character development, sadly where The Legend of Hell House falls down, is that the twist at the end, just wasn’t as good as in The Haunting, but this is just a minor fault in an otherwise great classic horror movie.