James H. Nicholson co-founded American International Pictures with the Sam Arkoff. Starting 1954, the duo were the kings of indie films putting out numerous Roger Corman, Vincent Price and Beach Party films to the delight of drive in theater crowds. Nicholson split AIP around 1972 to go out on his own. He had ambitious plans with backing from 20th Century Fox. But they ended abruptly when he died in 1972 from a brain tumor. He was in the midst of post-production on The Legend of Hell House, his first project. Perhaps his ghost is trapped in the film since the movie still scares after over 40 years. The movie was written by Richard Matheson ( Kolchak: The Night Stalker) based on his novel. It’s not the normal tale of people stuck inside a haunted house. There’s something kinky about the spirits haunting the mansion in The Legend of Hell House.
A dying rich man wants to know if there’s really an afterlife. So he hires noted scientist Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill, voice of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back) to investigate a haunted mansion. But not just any mansion, Barrett must spend a week in “The Mount Everest of haunted houses.” Emeric Belasco is presented as a Aleister Crowley type of guy. Within his huge mansion he had drug fueled satanic and pagan rituals. Nothing was excessive for Belasco. Even though he had a full life of wickedness, his spirit and those of his followers still lurk within the hallways and secret passages. While Barrett is a scientist who won’t believe in such stuff, he does know that the last party to full investigate the house ended in major tragedy. The only survivor was the psychic Ben Fischer (Planet of the Apes‘ Roddy McDowall). Barrett is getting Fischer to return to the house. Also on his team is an inexperienced medium, Florence Tanner (The Food of the Gods). Seeing how this is the week before Christmas, Barrett’s wife Ann(The Wild Angels‘ Gayle Hunnicutt) also tags along for the adventure.
The spirits trapped in the house aren’t that shy. They also aren’t willing to settle for just a few bumps in the night. They’re out to get crazy and freaky. Florence becomes the prime target of the spirits. They want to corrupt her from beyond the grave. There’s a whole scene where a ghost joins her in bed for an old school possession moment. The ghost also gets ticked off and sends an evil cat after her. Barrett’s wife isn’t immune from the ghosts invading her spirit. She becomes a bit of a seductress. She puts the moves on Fischer. This gets a bit to Barrett. But he’s not willing to flee the house since he’s getting a fat payday at the end of the week. He also has one massive science experiment he wants to use on Belasco and his phantom followers.
The Legend of Hell House works as a haunted mansion tale. There’s enough moody atmosphere in the English manor to make it seem like a Hammer Horror film. Director John Hough had made Twins of Evil for Hammer. Cinematographer Alan Hume had made several Carry On films and would work on several Roger Moore era James Bond adventures. The film looks and feels right. While the film received a PG, there’s enough naughty moments that could probably get it an R in today’s rating system. Nicholson had produced a film that rivaled the best he made at AIP. It is a shame he didn’t live long enough to see his haunted mansion scare audiences.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The high resolution transfer brings out the fog. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo. The levels make the bumps sound louder. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary features Pamela Franklin talking about her time on the set. She had a fun time with her fellow actors.
The Story of Hell House (28:19) allows director John Hough to discuss what went into making the movie. He would directed Crazy Larry Dirty Mary which was being developed by Nicholson before his death.
Theatrical Trailer (2:28) sells the scares.
Radio Spots (2:00) picks the choice quotes from the film.
Still Gallery (2:50) is a montage of choice production shots and promotional materials.
The Legend of Hell House ought to be part of your Halloween movie festival. The movie presents a haunted mansion full of ghosts that want to a bit of debauchery in their scare tactics. This feels like a movie that Hammer should have made in 1973.
Scream Factory presents The Legend of Hell House. Directed by John Hough. Screenplay by: Richard Matheson. Starring: Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Pamela Franklin and Gayle Hunnicutt. Rated: PG. Running Time: 94 minutes. Boxset Contents: 1 Blu-ray & 1 DVD. Released: August 12, 2014.
Tags: Scream Factory, The Legend of Hell House