Horrortoberfest Day 26 – The Legend of Hell House (1973)


This is one of the few classic horror films I hadn’t yet bothered to watch. Mostly because it’s a 70s movie and I have a kneejerk prejudice against pretty much everything of that time unless proven otherwise. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised that there were no scenes of a one sided phone conversation that then gets explained after hanging up or long, pointless exposition given in a wood paneled sheriff’s office.  It also doesn’t hurt that one of the main characters of the film is the one and only “Rowdy” Roddy McDowell.

The film has a very basic set-up. A rich man with more money than sense decides to hire a group of people to go to an infamously haunted house and spend a week there in order to determine if there is actually life after death. He gets the top physicist in his field who then brings his wife along (Dr. Barret and Ann), the top psychic in her field (Florence Tanner), and the only survivor of the last group that tried to go in to investigate the house who also happens to be a psychic(Ben Fischer). They go about trying to test theories on what happened here and how they can stop it with the physicist and the psychic butting heads. When they try to get rid of the presence there, the house fights back with deadly results.

The basic premise of the movie isn’t really anything new. The whole “I’ll give you a bunch of money to hang out in a haunted house” thing has been going on for a while and even the skeptic vs. believer trope was nothing new. However, the thing that immediately got me was that this is a world where the physicist absolutely refuses to believe in ghosts but also is 100% certain that psychic powers exist. They have a séance the first night and some objects start moving and crazy shit happens. His reaction is that it’s weird since Tanner is a mental medium and not a physical one so she shouldn’t be able to move things with her mind. I guess in the universe where this takes place, psychic phenomenon have been proven for a while and are old hat because he doesn’t even seem excited about having proof of mental abilities. The idea that maybe ghosts exist, on the other hand, is totally outside the realm of possibility.

Barret thinks that ghosts are just residual psychic energy that gets shaped by the people around it but doesn’t have a conscious mind. Science! The movie wants to also set up a mystery with Tanner thinking that the main ghosts son is calling to her and wants to be set free. The “mystery” really isn’t much of anything since they immediately find his body but then he keeps pestering them. The film gets weirdly sexual as both the women in the film end up getting sort of possessed and acting super randy. Kind of odd that a ghost is using its power to try to get people to bone but I guess you pretty much gotta be a voyeur if you’re incorporeal. It does make for some scenes that are fairly uncomfortable but there isn’t a lot of outright spooky stuff going on.

I liked the film and it was definitely good for its time, especially for the ghostly effects. However, the plot was not quite as tight as you might want and the acting got a bit goofy at times. I’d give the movie a 3.5 out of 5 with the extra half point in there for not getting dragged into the black hole of suck that is the 70s.

Favorite thing in the movie: Barret’s certainty of psychic powers. That was seriously confusing but made for an interesting dynamic.

Least favorite thing: The entire sub plot of the son’s ghost is just pointless and goes on needlessly long.

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