Monday, October 23, 2017
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Who's In It: Pamela Franklin (The Food of the Gods), Roddy McDowall (the original Planet of the Apes movies and TV show), Clive Revill (the original Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back), and Gayle Hunnicutt (Marlowe).
What It's About: Four paranormal investigators try to survive a haunted house in order to unlock the secrets of the afterlife.
How It Is: I'm surprised that I don't love more haunted house movies, but I think the problem is generally the characters. This one has a great-looking house, a pretty good mystery, and some spooky scares, but I only really feel anything for one of the characters.
I like the set-up that each investigator has their own area of expertise. Florence Tanner (Franklin) is a medium who specializes in channeling voices. Benjamin Fischer (McDowall) is adept at letting spirits take over his body and act through him. Lionel Barrett (Revill) is a scientist who attempts to measure ghostly phenomena so that he can get rid of it with the exorcism machine he's invented. His wife Ann (Hunnicutt) is also his assistant and she insists on coming along in spite of the deadly history of the house.
Fischer is the most reluctant of the group. He's the only survivor of a previous expedition into the house and has closed himself off psychically. That should make him a fascinating character, but he actually ends up making the house less spooky. Early in the film, it's his job to tell the other characters how deadly the house is, which of course makes me wonder why he's there. The team is being paid extremely well, but why does Fischer think that's worth his life? I end up thinking that the house can't be as bad as all that.
And that turns out to be true when, later, Fischer reveals that he's figured out a way to game the ghost. (It's not played as a shocking revelation; just a bit of information that he's been withholding for no good reason.) The fact that there's a safe loophole in the haunting again makes the whole thing less scary. The only thing keeping the story going is that the other characters either don't know what he knows or care.
Tanner is too trusting of the house and her own abilities for me to take her seriously. And Lionel Barrett is so distrusting and cranky that I don't like him, either. But I do like Ann, who knows that she's going into a dangerous situation, but loves and trusts her husband enough to follow him into it. She's the only character to strike the right balance between being threatened by the place and having a convincing reason to stay.
Rating: 3 out of 5 shook up psychics.