Saturday, April 28, 2012

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (John Hough, 1973, UK)

Richard Matheson recreates the Shirley Jackson classic not as a masterpiece of psychological dread but as a terrifying orgy of supernatural debauchery. Director John Hough is able to charge each scene with a current of malignant energy: he frames each shot with creepy silhouettes or slightly skews our perception. High angle shots give us the feeling of an omniscient voyeur who revels in this sadistic drama. 


Hell House is a charnel house of fancies, the tomb of The Roaring Giant, the corrupt Emeric Belasco who stalks the deserted corridors patiently awaiting his next victims: skeptic Lionel Barrett and his wife Ann, mental medium Florence Tanner, and physical medium Ben Fischer. Hired by an aging wealthy sponsor, their task is to prove or disprove the existence of the afterlife, the ethereal identity that transcends the physical body…in one week. They are given charge of the Belasco House, better known as Hell House, though they know the risks: Fischer was the only survivor of the last investigation over twenty years ago. Dr. Barrett’s ambition is to prove that there are scientific causes to what we call supernatural, that our identity does not survive our body; only unfocused, mindless energy. The two mediums believe otherwise. 


There are no subtle bumps in the night here, only the disembodied drunken sounds of sexual carnage, ghostly physical manifestations, crashing objects, possessed animals, repressed and destructive desires, and ghostly rape. Florence is like an open nerve and easily manipulated by the spirit(s) while Ben has closed himself off completely. Dr. Barrett’s hope lies with his Reversor, a machine that will flood the house with electromagnetic radiation and disperse the unguided energy in a very scientific and logical manner. 


Two are destroyed by the very thing they seek; they never realize their tenuous understanding of Hell House. The survivors limp from the violent sepulcher into the thick choking mist, battered and bruised, and with dawning comprehension hope that their deceased friends can guide the despicable Belasco to everlasting peace. 


Final Grade: (B+)

1 comment:

Rick29 said...

I know I'm in the minority, but I prefer HELL HOUSE to THE HAUNTING. It's not as subtle, but--in this case--it's the more frightening, entertaining film. My only quibble is with the ending, where more restraint might have worked better.