30 for 31: “THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE” (1973)Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Samuel Zimmerman
The Season of the Witch is upon us, ye ole FANGORIA Readers! And to many, Halloween means candy, costumes and creepshows of all sorts. But to the staff at FANGORIA, Halloween can mean something more entirely. Therefore, we present 30 FOR 31, in which FANGORIA recounts the cinema that most strongly represents what Halloween means to us.
Though a movie for two seasons—it takes place during Christmastime, after all—THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is oh so perfect for Halloween. A platter of my beloved Samhain signifiers, including a tremendous, spooky mansion; unending fog; black cats; giant machinery to facilitate the supernatural and Florence Tanner’s ectoplasm converge into a storm of old, dark house atmosphere and eerie kitsch. That director John Hough transferred the action from the novel’s Maine to the film’s rural England (exteriors were done in West Sussex) gives every creepy countenance just a bit more of a wicked grin.
Based on the novel HELL HOUSE by the iconic Richard Matheson, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE finds physicist Lionel Barrett, his wife Edith and mediums Florence Tanner and Ben Fischer pit against Belasco House, an estate described as the “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” It’s also described as something of a past party destination featuring a Stefon-like list of degenerate and dangerous acts: ““drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophilia, cannibalism, not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies.”
It’s never as gnarly as all that (or the book), but Matheson infuses the screenplay with much in the way of the horrifying and titillating. The faces really sell it, though. Stars Pamela Franklin, Gayle Hunnicut and Roddy McDowall cry, contort, frown and anguish at the myriad paranormal occurrences, from séances, to scientific experiment, to an inspired vicious feline attack.
Like a perfectly chilling campfire story, the faces and the cadence of their voices really sell it. The ensemble make real what many believe to be not. So much so, that even when the house has ostensibly been cleansed, it lingers, towering and impossible, through the end titles