jump to navigation

The Weekend Horror Double Bill: Haunted Houses March 12, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , add a comment

The Legend of Hell House (1973) Region 2

This is similar in structure to Rober Wise’s The Haunting with a group of paranormal investigators spending a few days in a haunted house and like that film was based on a novel, in this case Richard Matheson’s Hell House. The films also share similar plots with the groups gradual deterioration as the oppressive atmosphere of the house weighs on them evident in both films. Hell House is the less subtle of the two films, there’s nothing here to compare with the classic ‘holding hands in the dark’ scene in Wise’s classic.

What it does have going for it is a powerful sense of dread generated by the inventive direction of John Hough, who uses odd angles and reflections to keep the viewer off balance. Hough was also responsible for Hammer’s underrated Twins of Evil but sadly most of his work was in TV.

Adding to that oppressive atmosphere is an exceptional score by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire both of whom worked on the BBC’s Doctor Who in the early years of that show. Here they mix electronic sounds with more conventional instrumentation to great effect.

As for the actors all give decent performances with Roddy McDowall relishing the chance to take a more central role as Benjamin Franklin Fischer the only survivor of a previous expedition. I’ve always been a fan of McDowall and this is one of his best parts (at least out of ape make-up) and he’s clearly having a ball.

The film degenerates to silliness towards the end with a twist that falls flat, yet it still deserves a place among the best haunted house movies.

The films transfer to DVD could be better. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ration the film looks soft and lacking in detail, although this could be due, in part, to the low budget nature of the production. The sound is 2.0 Surround but there is little activity in the rear speakers and they may as well have used the original mono.

Extras consist of only a trailer.

The Haunting of Hell House (1999) Region 2

No relation to Legend, this takes Henry James classic story as its source. Produced by the king of low budget horror, Roger Corman, this is a lesson in how not to make a haunted house movie. Mitch Marcus direction is flat and fails to generate even a little atmosphere.

Where as Legend of Hell House had a score that added immensely to the tension the music here removes whatever chance there might have been of any scares. Sometimes silence is far more effective than music and this is something composer Ivan Koutikov and the director fail to grasp, filling every moment with a score that is so clichéd it would have seemed dated in one of Corman’s 60’s Poe films.

The story deals with two ghosts, one real one imagined. Michael York plays Professor Ambrose whose daughter (played by Claudia Christian) he believes is haunting him. Andrew Bowen is the other hauntee who seeks out York for advice. He believes himself haunted by his girlfriend who died after undergoing a backstreet abortion.

Michael York is really slumming it here but he tries his best as does Claudia Christian unfortunately they can’t surmount the films glaring faults. This is a movie that simply fails to deliver as a horror movie; it’s more likely to send you to sleep than keep you awake all night.

Relying on the old Corman standby of the cheap exploding house for it’s big finish this is a film bereft of original ideas and is best avoided.

The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks as cheap as it no doubt is, with a picture that looks soft. The sound comes in three varieties – Stereo 2.0 , 5.1 and DTS, the latter two completely superfluous.

Extras are limited to a trailer, biographies for York and Christian and film notes.

Next Week: Spiders and Arachnid.

Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 4/5 (9)