“Closing Credits From Hell House.” The soundtrack to this movie was done by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, BBC soundtrack powerhouses who did most of the sound effects and music for the original Dr. Who and a ton of other stuff, but I’m not going to get into that because you’re not here to read about pioneering electronic musicians from England.
Interesting Dated References: People being concerned about old English castles; Individuals investigating the paranormal without being totally preoccupied by filming everything that transpires so they can try to sell it as a television program.
Best Line: Said by a woman in a non-drug induced hypnotic trance “You … me … that girl … Lionel … all together … naked … drunk … clutching … sweating … biting … .” We’ve all heard this said more than once by a woman in a drug-induced hypnotic trance, but never from a woman who isn’t as high as a kite on pills you slipped them.
Social Context: The Legend of Hell House starts out with a warning about how although it’s a work of fiction, it could very well be a work of fact. That seems a little odd, but at least they’re more honest than the dozens of haunting/possession movies that have been coming out lately that are “based on actual events.” This movie is based on the book “Hell House” by Richard Matheson (Duel, I Am Legend, Stir of Echoes, a bunch of Twilight Zone episodes, Real Steel).
Summary: So a bunch of people are hired by an old wealthy man to investigate a haunting at a castle/house. The investigative team consists of Physicist/scientist Lionel Barrett and his sexy wife (with a super unsexy name) Edith, Psychic-ghost-vibe lady Florence Tanner, and easily-possessed-by-spirits Medium Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall) who is the sole survivor of a previous investigation at the castle/house.
The group has seven days to rid the house of hauntings. The previous owner, Emeric Belasco, was some sort of pervert/murderer, and the team seems to think if they mention him every other sentence we will find him scary and understand he’s an important character to the story.
Almost immediately, Florence starts to act like she took too many hallucinogens at a shitty concert: She’s paranoid, rubs her body in a sexual manner over her clothes, is seeing things, is excessively needy, and thinks everything she says is super important and/or meaningful. You may recognize these symptoms from the time you took a love interest to a shitty rave in some shitty old building a several years ago and he/she kept insisting on taking pictures of everything using the “black and white” setting on the camera.
In an attempt to be an even bigger buzz kill, Fischer starts to tell stories about the previous investigation and how everyone except him died because they were driven mad by the spirits in the house.
The next day, Florence tries to channel the spirit that has been giving her bad vibes. It makes her fingers stream out some type of ghost-jizz, and Lionel tries to collect said ghost-jizz in a jar. At some point in there, Florence constantly mentions she thinks the spirit is the son of Belasco.
All the spirits seem to care about is showing off how good they are at shaking and knocking over shit you would buy at an over-priced vintage-goods store. This includes, but is not limited to, old plates, old brass ashtrays, tarnished candelabras, busted-up wooden dining room chairs, empty luggage, crystal drinking glasses, casserole dishes, and various ceramic animal figurines.
Later that night, Edith starts to fall under a spell that puts her into a sexual fervor. She goes downstairs and exposes her genitalia to Fischer, whose immediate reaction is a swift slap across her face, thereby snapping her out of her sex trance. For a solitary man whose sole interest is ghost hunting, you’d think Fischer would be a little more slow with the backhand and instead try to at least draw out the genital display for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, Florence is attacked by a corpse in the basement and then a cat in her bedroom, which causes her to also fall into some type of sex trance. The group buries the corpse, which they seem to think was Belasco’s son.
Edith continues her attempts to seduce Fischer, eventually getting caught by her husband, Lionel. All this teasing makes Fischer have some type of seizure. The following morning, because of the seizure, all the teasing, or all the ghost possession, he begins drinking at 10:30 a.m. At least those are legitimate reasons to start drinking that early in the day, unlike my drinking rationale, which entails morning drinking as being a reward for taking out the garbage or going to the grocery store.
Florence makes love with (READ: gets raped by) a demon and continues to act crazy. After a bunch more debating about the haunting and everyone saying, “Belasco,” several thousand times, Fischer decides to take Florence and leave the house/castle, but before that can happen, Florence goes to the chapel and is crushed by a giant wooden cross and/or slits her wrists with part of the cross. It’s not clear because the movie is rated PG.
And then some dude drops off a giant computer, which Lionel thinks is the solution to everything. He turns it on and says it will rid the house of the electromagnetic energy. This does not work. After realizing Lionel is missing, Fischer and Edith find him dead in the chapel, as well.
Fischers solution is to shout at the wind blowing from the chapel while getting thrown around a lot as Edith shrieks. After ten minutes of that, they find Belasco’s corpse in a lead-lined room behind the chapel. Oh, and you are supposed to care that Belasco had wooden legs because he was super self conscious about being less than five feet tall. They turn on the ghost-eradicating computer, which can now extend its electromagnetic energy into the lead-lined room, and then they leave the house/castle. Fade to black.
The Legend of Hell House was directed by the sometimes-capable John Hough (Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain, The Incubus, and Howling IV). The first 2 acts of the movie are well done, albeit standard, Euro-horror fare. The entire third act of this movie is misguided. Clearly the movie should have been rated R and much more violent. Instead we get truncated and therefore confusing death scenes. But a PG rating shouldn’t be the scapegoat. Hough effectively directed The Watcher in the Woods. Aside from when I was 6 years old and got my pinkie finger caught and torn apart in the luggage reclaim belt at O’Hare Airport, that film was possibly the most traumatic event of my childhood.
Poster and Box Art: The Legend of Hell House has imagery that makes the movie look far more violent than it is. Fucking bloody skull, eyeball, bloody female hand … it’s a good illustration that any 80s metalhead would be proud to wear on a backpatch.
The illustration was so good they used it for all international marketing, as well, although with a slight variation.