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Dustin Putman



Dustin's Blu-ray Review
The Legend of Hell House  (1973)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: August 26, 2014) – It is hard to imagine "The Legend of Hell House" (and, by extension, Richard Matheson's 1971 novel "Hell House") without Robert Wise's 1963 chiller "The Haunting" (and its source, Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House"). Both plots involve a group of skeptics, mediums and researchers tasked with spending a few days in a mansion allegedly filled with supernatural phenomena. Unexplained occurrences and tragic deaths follow, though "The Haunting" is designed to be more ambiguous about whether the place is running with ghosts. In director John Hough's film, adapted for the screen by author Matheson, the title location (also known as the Belasco House, named after its murderous previous owner) is described right from the get-go as "the Mount Everest of haunted houses." Despite physicist Dr. Barrett's (Clive Revill) attempts to debunk the goings-on, he's fooling himself. His compatriots—sole survivor of the previous expedition to the estate Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall), mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and Barrett's tagalong wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt)—are either already convinced, or will be soon enough. If they remain in the house for four days, they stand to earn 100,000 pounds each. Surviving until the end of their stay is a less certain proposition.

Relying upon suggestion and anxious anticipation over violence, "The Legend of Hell House" earns a fair share of chills, many of them dealing in the expert use of shadows (one on the ceiling, another silhouetted through a shower curtain) to depict the mind games played by its encroaching apparitions. As spiritually open communicator Florence Tanner, Pamela Franklin is a standout among the above-average cast, charismatic, vulnerable and emotionally riveting in equal measure. Drenched in atmosphere and fog (and little exterior moonlight, as every nighttime establishing shot oddly appears to have been shot in the middle of the day), the film is adeptly made, if noticeably laid-back. For a story involving full-blown attacks from invisible ghosts (and possessed black cats), the characters generally seem to take it in stride. Sure, there are tears and screaming here and there, but no one is all that interested in walking out the front door. Working best as an appetizer to the slicker full-throttle frights of 1982's "Poltergeist" and 2011's "Insidious," "The Legend of Hell House" nonetheless holds a handsome vintage charm.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
 B+/B+

Short of a frame-by-frame restoration, Scream Factory's 1080p transfer for "The Legend of Hell House" will likely be as good as the film ever looks on a home video format. Grain is an ever-present fixture, as it should be, though some shots are noisier and dirtier than others, with unobtrusive age-related lines, hairs and dirt specks on view. Where this high-definition presentation gets points is, well, in the very high-defness of it all. Colors boast warmth and consistency (the reds in Florence's bedroom are moody and dramatic), clarity is notably improved from previous versions on VHS and DVD, and depth is excellent. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is evenly modulated and pleasantly mixed. Dialogue is clear (if sometimes faintly echoey, though this kind of works due to the cavernous mansion setting), while the drum-beat musical cues sound great. When the story's threat level skyrockets, the audio fills out the mid-range with active capability.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with actress Pamela Franklin
  • Interview with director John Hough (28:19, HD)
  • Photo Gallery (2:50, HD)
  • Radio Spots (2:00, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:28, HD)
Bottom Line
Scream Factory journeys back to 1973 to bring fresh, welcome attention to "The Legend of Hell House," a classical supernatural tale that otherwise might have vanished into the ether of generations past. While there is a certain quaintness to the film today, it has retained an eerie vibe and a number of memorable scares. In addition to solid picture quality, this likable Blu-ray release comes with a commentary and an in-depth interview with the pic's director to sweeten the pot. Fans of "The Legend of Hell House" and haunted house stories in general should have no qualms about picking up a copy. Recommended.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman