THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
DIRECTOR: JOHN HOUGH
USA 1973
CINEMATOGRAPHY: ALAN HUME
CAST: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt
WRITTEN BY: Richard Matheson (also the novelist)
ONE WORD: The solid ensemble acting, and excellent story. And the respect for the writer!


There are very few films, that are buried in the horror genre, that deserve better attention than usual. This film, not quite a popular film at the time, or one that really got too many people's attentions like the guts and gore stuff of the time, is probably one of the best films about psychic phenomena that has ever been done. And the main reason why it is so, is because it never quits on its story, and never quite deteriorates to the point where it has to destroy all its characters to make for a crunchy film that everybody will think is really cool.

This film is intense, and the actors work at it. And the intensity of the work reverberates on itself, and creates some serious tension, which throws us off the story line more than once. It creates a magnificent psychological thriller that is really tough to discover until the end of the film. And the events, in between, are just a teaser.

It is the story of a rich man that has bought a piece of property that has been haunted for centuries, and who has hired four people, two mediums, a parapsychologist and his assistant (and wife), in order to get the house cleared, so it could be used for other reasons.

And no sooner the four people get settled that the two mediums begin seeing things and feeling things, and reporting them as they see it. Ben Fisher, seems to be specially out of tune with the house, and it may be because he is one of the people who has tried this before and survived, in a previous experience. He remains totaly detached to the surroundings, and does not give us much hint of his talent until the end. The youngest of the mediums, Florence, is immediately attracted to the surroundings, and is constantly affected by the events. And she provides the doctor with enough information, to help him wire his machine that eventually is to reverse the electro magnetic flows in the house, which he discovered in the process.

Absolutely excellent, in the way it was handled, are the psychic experiments that we see. And the battle that brews between the mediums and the doctor, who is geared towards making his machine work. And of special attention is how the discovery of the way the house works from the start, which is how and where its power is centered.

Although the ending is a bit rapid, compared to the way that things were discovered, the film is still excellent, and much of it is due to a well tuned cast, and a very careful directing job and filming exercise.

Pamela Franklin is magnificent as the young medium whose sexy appeal is an immediate target for the ghostly intervention. The scenes that follow, and the images that they create are indeed haunting and special. They are also well designed and carefully staged, so we always get the feeling that in many ways, we are the perpetrator of the whole thing.... we are, in essence, doing to the house what these people are trying to do and solve.

Roddy McDowall, in what may have been one of his best roles, is very good, although his acting style tends to be a bit too obvious, in that he is too quiet the first half of the film. And the doctor and his wife, so entranced in their work, that they do not notice that she is also beginning to be affected by the events.

This is a special film. For anyone who is afraid of seeing "psychic energy" at work, this film could be a very scary exercise. But for anyone who would like to see a film that takes these things seriously, and tries to define them honestly and clearly, this film is one of the very few that has the guts to even touch the subject. It is never subjective, and both the scientific and the psychic approaches are, eventually correct about their way of making things work. But it took both together to make it work, or it would have not. Mr. Tanner comes to realize that if it had been the psychic approach alone it wouldn't have worked as it did not before. And the scientific approach would have worked to a point, if it would have been able to place itself in the right spot, which of course, it does not have the feeling perception to do so.... excellent intrigues all the way through.

Few films deal with these subjects, and do not degenerate into a film where nothing is solved, and people are dead. Two people, of the four die in this film, but things get resolved, and that is a very rare stance in this film business. And to boot, the film is very well thought out, and its acting is above and beyond the call of duty... it is excellent, and superbly handled all the way through.

4.5 GIBLOONS

 

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