MOVIE REVIEW: The Legend of Hell House
1973 was an important year for horror. For that is the year that 'The Exorcist' was released, singlehandedly putting companies like Hammer out of business. Even most contemporary shockers could not keep up with the image of a teenage girl masturbating with a crucifix while possessed, hissing out the infamous words ''Your mother sucks cocks in hell''. Horror had to catch up.
That same year a film came out that was between two stools. It is known as a cheap knock-off of 'The Haunting'; the horror archetype from 10 years before, and therefore of a bygone age. Yet it is quite forward-thinking in its style, in fact having a lighting and colour scheme that would be used to similar effect four years later in the cult Italian classic 'Suspiria'. The source novel is by the great writer Richard Matheson and is in fact set in Maine, USA. Transplanting the setting to England and downtuning the sex and controversial violence of the book actually works in its favour. The obvious way to go would have been what other filmmakers were doing at the time, with censorship laws being opened up to allow nudity and more explicit gore, it could have been expected with a film of this type to go that way.
Opening up with the introduction of a physicist leading a group into the world's most haunted house, there is a dark history that is revealed, most helpfully by the para-psychologist who has been dragged back to the place he was the sole survivor of a number of years before. Together with a medium and the doctor's wife, they set out to seemingly trap and then, with the aid of what in the 1970s must have been modern technology, rid the demonic power of what is disturbing, and even killing, all visitors who come to Hell House. The characters are coming from different angles on what it is that resides here and conflict is bound to break them apart, rather than letting them defeat this curse together.
The discoveries made along the way pertain to the previous owner and his predilections. Emeric Belasco had some perverted notions, but they are more left in the mind than shown on the screen. It is effective, eroticism filling up every corner of the beautifully designed creaky manor house. The chandeliers and great staircases, the four-poster beds and art-adorned walls. Wykehurst Place was where they shot the exterior and this evokes a permanently fog-filled world where the guests are trapped inside.
To find out if anyone made it out alive you must delve into this creepy masterpiece. It may not be the 'Mount Everest of all haunted houses' as claimed, but I dare you to enter. You may never leave.