I have a special place in my heart for THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE as it was one of the first haunted house films I saw as a child and it continued to haunt me over the years.
With a script written by the great Richard Matheson based on his novel HELL HOUSE, it tells the story of a team of investigators with extrasensory powers tasked by a dying millionaire to once and for all settle whether the afterlife exists. They are sent to the Balasco house, notorious as being one of the most haunted dwellings in the world.
The team consists of Dr. Chris Barrett (Clive Revill) and his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) who are the skeptics and feel there is a rational scientific explanation for the hauntings. Joining them are a pair of mediums; Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) who can communicate with the dead and Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall), the only survivor of a previous failed investigation of the Belasco house when he was a young man.
The backstory of the isolated house is quite chilling. In the early 1900’s, Belasco encouraged his guests to explore all types of depravity that included a laundry list of humanity’s most deviant carnal desires acted out with no restrictions.
Convinced that there are multiple hauntings due to the amount of bloody deaths that have despoiled the Belasco house, the team is always kept on guard as the evil spirits that reside there, toy with them and pit them against one another.
Eerily directed by John Hough, the movie has the feel of a classic Hammer Horror film and relies more on mood and an unsettling stillness to create suspense. When the scares do come, they break the silence with heart-racing precision.
If I was to lodge any complaint, it is that the story is nothing new and very reminiscent of the genre defining, Robert Wise classic THE HAUNTING (1963). There is an interesting twist at the end, but the explanation strains credibility and is not entirely satisfying. Plus the inciting incident that puts the story in motion is never truly resolved.
But even with these complaints, I still recommend checking out THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. It’s a solid haunted house film that will make you want to sleep with the lights on for a few nights.