The Legend of Hell House
Title: The Legend of Hell House
Year Of Release: 1973
Running Time: 95 minutes
DVD Released By: 20th Century Fox Home Video
Directed By: John Hough
Writing Credits: Richard Matheson based on his novel Hell House
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt
1. For The Sake of Your Sanity, Pray It Isn’t True.
Review Date: 9.11.05 (updated 1.1.10)
Shadow's Title: "The Legend of Ever So Slightly Bad House"
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Rudolph Deutsch – This is the rich old guy who gets the ball rolling, putting into motion the events of the film. He comes off as grouchy, cranky and a pain in the ass – your typical old person. He probably smelled really, really bad, too. Don’t expect to see him after the first few minutes.
Lionel Barrett – A physicist who has certain theories about ghosts and electromagnetic radiation. He gives new meaning to the words tiresome bore with how he carries on about it all. Suffice it to say that Mr. Stick In The Mud here doesn’t buy into that whole life-after-death concept.
Ann Barrett – Lionel’s long suffering wife. She apparently tags along with him on his various trips and decides to accompany him to Hell House. She spends most of the movie ignored by her husband, who is far more interested in his scientific equipment than his obviously horny wife.
Benjamin Franklin Fischer – A physical medium, he was the only one to walk out of Hell House twenty years earlier with his mind and body intact. He believes something evil is at work, but doesn’t want to disturb any supernatural shit, so he opts to just ride out the week and collect his money.
Florence Tanner – She is the mental medium, through which spirits can talk with the living, which is usually achieved by possessing her and lowering her voice to Jabba the Hutt bass levels. Somewhat young and idealistic, Barrett is unsure of her suitability for this expedition.
Emeric Belasco – He built Hell House way back in 1919 and proceeded to throw a series of parties renowned for their decadence and deviant themes. After one such legendary bash, the relatives of the guests had to break down the doors to the house in order to find out what happened.
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Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving psychic phenomena are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true.
- Tom Corbett
Clairvoyant and Psychic Consultant to European Royalty.
Um…so in addition to being a Space Cadet, this guy advises European Royalty (that explains sooo much)? Talk about a Renaissance man. I bet he’s a surgeon and a rock star, too! Hey, maybe Buckaroo Banzai was based on him! Then again…what kind of loopy statement was that? "Within the bounds of possibility?" "Could well be true?" I can think of dozens of things that easily fit both those classifications, yet their existence in reality is determined by exactly whom you ask and what their level of belief in such a thing may be (not to mention their IQ). It's a bit like running something before a Godzilla film that reads, "Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving a giant radioactive lizard are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true." I mean, c’mon…given the right circumstances and confluence of highly improbable events, there could right now be a four hundred-foot tall bipedal reptile ambulating across the ruins of Tokyo and belching forth radioactive breath with toxicity unheard of outside of your local Indian food place. It could happen!
Getting back to our movie now, which had not even begun before I went off on a tangent (I know, my bad), we see that it opens by showing us Lionel and Ann Barrett waiting in a very large room that appears to be part of a mansion or large estate building of some type. Lionel looks very impatient, as if he desperately wants to leave so he can do something important, like re-arrange his sock drawers or something. A nearby door opens and a man calls for him and then leads him through some more huge rooms that are quite grand in appearance, design and decoration. Barrett is there to meet with Rudolph Deutsch, a rich old fart who is fast approaching the end of his tenure here on earth and who wants some reassurances on his continued well being after giving up the ghost – even if he has to buy them.
Before Barrett has even finished walking across the bloody room to where the old guy is sitting, Deutsch begins talking. He notes that Barrett is regarded as one of the best five in his field and that he will be paying Barrett one hundred thousand Pounds to establish the facts regarding survival after death. Barrett balks slightly, citing his reputation as a physicist and disregard for parapsychology, but Deutsch is firm in that he wants facts. Barrett asks where he is to find such facts and the older man informs him that he must go to the Belasco House, which Barrett acknowledges by a different name – Hell House. Barrett is under the impression that the place was sealed up after an incident twenty years in the past, but Deutsch explains that the Belasco family is in need of money and that he has now purchased the place from them. He wants Barrett there by Monday morning to begin his work. Barrett agrees and the old man then informs him that there will be two others joining him: mediums Florence Tanner, who Barrett considers as little more than a child, and Benjamin Franklin Fischer, the only survivor from the last attempt to probe the mysteries of Hell House. Deutsch goes on to explain that he expects results within a week. Barrett is surprised by the short time and the old guy just says, "take it or leave it" before rolling off in his wheel chair. Barrett stands there for a moment and then departs.
The movie notes that the date and time is: Friday, December 17th at 4:08 PM. In fact, the film provides such dates and times throughout its running time, so I will list them as well – they are a good way to note many of the abrupt changes from scene to scene. As he leaves Deutsch’s humungous pad, Barrett discusses things with Hanley, one of Deutsch’s underlings, who will see to it that Barrett’s electronic equipment will be assembled and arriving at the Belasco House by Wednesday at the latest.
Next we see Barrett in a car with his wife. He thinks that she should not accompany him on this particular trip, but she doesn’t want to be left alone, citing the fact that she always travels with him on his assignments. Besides, she wants to be present when he proves his new theory (whatever that may be). She asks about Hell House and Barrett informs her that there have been two prior attempts at investigating it, both of which ended in disaster with a total of eight people ending up dead. The only survivor was the previously mentioned Benjamin Franklin Fischer, who came out of the experience a mental wreck.
Monday December 20th 9:13 AM
Benjamin Franklin Fischer is at a train station, where presumably, he has recently disembarked a train. He sees the car that is carrying the Barrett’s approach and he walks down a ramp to meet it. The viewer assumes that he got in the car, because suddenly its…
Monday December 20th 9:41 AM
…And we see the young medium Florence Tanner waiting alongside a muddy road somewhere out in the country. Along comes the Barrett’s car, now carrying Fischer as well, which stops so she can get in. Then it continues on down the road, eventually reaching the gates of the legendary Belasco House. The entire area is shrouded in fog (of course). Hanley gets out and hands over the keys to Barrett and then explains that all their luggage and equipment has been moved in, the electricity has been turned on, the larder is fully stocked and that he will be back at 5:00 PM on the twenty-forth of the month. Then he beats a hasty retreat.
Monday December 20th 11:47 AM
Barrett opens the gate and everyone gets their first look at Hell House as well as the long overdue opening credits. As the latter unfolds, Barrett leads the small group of people toward the house. As they approach, they notice that all the windows have been bricked up – to either prevent people from looking in or from looking out. Hey! Maybe it was to keep out the chill. Florence thinks the place is "hideous" and Barrett notes that they are not even inside yet. Florence replies that she "doesn’t have to be." Really? So in addition to being a medium she is also a design expert? Does she have her own show on HGTV? Something like Decorating Tips From Beyond or Crossing Over In Style? I know! She combines HGTV’s House Hunters and the SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters and calls it Haunted House Hunters.
So they open the door and slowly walk in. Despite what Hanley said, the lights don’t work and the electricity, which runs off a generator, is non-functional. Ann bitches about the smell while Florence comments on the "atmosphere," which Barrett dismisses out of hand as being of this world and not of the next. Undeterred, Florence states that the house itself knows that they have arrived. Barrett doesn’t believe that and Florence promises to keep such observations to herself. Barrett then turns to Fischer and asks him if he knows where the emergency generator is located. Fischer just nods and leads Barrett off down a darkened passage. Florence and Ann exchange a few words and then the lights flicker to life. Barrett and Fischer return and the four have a look at the place now that it is slightly illuminated. Ann asks just how wealthy was Mr. Belasco. Barrett believes that he had left "millions" when he died. This gets a reaction from Fischer who with another nudge from Barrett admits that the House once tried to kill him and almost succeeded.
They poke around some more and locate the stairs that lead to the cellars as well as the estate’s chapel. When the door to the latter is opened, Florence has an odd reaction, as if sensing something. She refuses to enter the chapel at this time. As the others explore the chamber, Florence hears a voice talking nearby. Ann discreetly asks her husband why Florence could not enter. He explains that Miss Tanner’s system is attuned to psychic energy and obviously it is quite strong in this room. Ann then asks why Fischer is not affected. Barrett surmises that Fischer knows how to protect himself better than Florence does.
Fischer and the Barretts now exit the chapel, but Florence is nowhere to be seen. They call out for her and when there is no reply, they go looking for her. They finally locate her in one of the first level rooms. Barrett chastises her for walking off without notice and alarming everyone. She apologizes and explains that she heard a voice in this room and came to investigate. It turns out the voice is that of a phonograph recording made by the late Emeric Belasco and which welcomes people to his house. Since Belasco has been dead for decades, the message was obviously meant for someone else. Ann wonders what made the record play by itself, to which Fischer explains that Belasco once boasted that he could will people to a particular object and then move among them undetected once their attention was focused on it. Barrett doesn’t buy that for a second. Fischer asks Barrett how he is so sure that Belasco did not walk right by them when they were all staring at the record player. As they all stand in silence, we the audience see some nearby cobwebs move as if something has disturbed them in passing…though they do not see it.
Monday December 20th 6:42 PM
The four are now seated at the long dining room table, having dinner…or supper…or whatever the hell it is called in England. Ann doesn’t think the house has lived up to its reputation so far, but Fischer thinks that is just because it hasn’t taken their measure yet. Florence doesn’t believe that the house itself is the haunting force. Rather, she thinks there clearly are several "surviving entities" that are causing the problems for which the place is infamous. Barrett doesn’t believe in the notion of "surviving entities" and is sure that such a view will be proven right by their stay. Ann asks when the house was built, but Barrett has to turn for Fischer for such information, who tells him it was in 1919. Barrett gets the idea that Fischer knows quite a bit about Emeric Belasco and wonders if the other man would mind sharing what he knows with the group.
Fischer gets up and walks around the room a bit, launching into a short speech that reveals much about the man who built the house, and for whom it was named. Emeric Belasco was born on March 23, 1879 and was the illegitimate son of an American munitions manufacturer. Ann asks what he looked like and Fischer quotes a description from Belasco’s second wife that describes him as demonic. It seems she committed suicide in that very dining room back in 1927 (there are better ways to show your displeasure with a meal…sheesh). Barrett then asks how tall a man was Belasco, which turns out to have been six feet five inches and which helped earn him the nickname of "The Roaring Giant" (CLUE). Ann then inquires into what Belasco did to make the house so evil. My personal guess is that he played Yanni records non stop for days on end and had quiche parties. Alas, no. It seems old Belasco was into quite a few recreational activities that polite society frowns upon: drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophelia, cannibalism and a gamut of other sexual deviances. Looking somewhat shocked by that list; Ann then wants to know how it all ended. Fischer is quite adamant in saying that if it had ended, they would not be there now. Barrett chimes in and says that "it’s about to end."
Fischer takes his seat again and Miss Twenty Questions AKA Ann, asks what ultimately happened to old Mr. Belasco (since the Yanni theory is wrong, we can rule out being tried for crimes against Humanity). Fischer says that no one knows. After one memorable party back in 1929, relatives of the guests had to break into the sealed house in order to discover what became of their loved ones. It seems all twenty seven of them were dead, but Belasco himself was not among them. Florence now announces that she wants to try a "sitting" later that evening and no one objects, though Fischer admits to not being ready to attempt one himself.
Monday December 20th 8:46 PM
The four are now gathered in one room that features a large fireplace. A fire within it, a small chandelier overhead and some nearby candles provide the only light in the chamber. Florence is sitting in chair and speaking out to any spirits that may be present in the house and imploring them to put in an appearance. She moves her arms over her upper body as if cold and then says that the house is evil and a place of sickness. She babbles on some more in a near incoherent jumble of words before she announces that there is the spirit of a young man wanting to speak. Suddenly, Florence’s voice drops about four octaves and she begins sounding like a Goa’uld from Stargate SG-1. Since this is occurring years and years before that series began, we can only assume that she is now possessed by that aforementioned spirit of a young man…either that or she is on some serious steroids.
The spirit, speaking through Florence, says that he does not know any of these people and asks them why they are there. Then it says their presence will do no good as "nothing changes" before it tells them to get out or it will hurt them. The spirit claims that it doesn’t want to hurt them but that it must. Again it warns them to get out of the house before it kills them all. Long about now Barrett notices that objects on a nearby table are beginning to bounce around by themselves. This lasts for just a few seconds and then all is still again. Florence takes some deep breaths and it is apparent that the spirit has relinquished control of her body. Barrett flicks on a lamp and informs her that she had begun manifesting physical phenomena. This confuses her, as she is not a physical medium.
Monday December 20th 10:32 PM
Ann and Lionel Barrett are preparing for bed. Ann brings up the possibility that, since Florence is a mental medium and Fischer is a physical medium, it was in fact the latter who was responsible for manifesting all the bumping, pounding and bouncing objects during the sitting earlier. Barrett can’t say for sure who was responsible and at this point is unsure of both mediums.
In her room, Florence is also preparing for bed when the door opens and closes by itself. She senses the presence of something as it passes through the room. She tries to talk to the presence, asking if it is the one who warned them to leave. She realizes that this presence is not the spirit of Emeric Belasco and that it seems to be in a great deal of pain and distress. She continues to reach out with her medium senses and comes to the conclusion that this entity is Daniel Belasco, son of Emeric. She then turns to see the bed sheets being turned down. You’ve heard of Casper the Friendly Ghost? Well, this must be Daniel the Horny Ghost. The blankets and sheets then fly across the room and land on Florence, who just pushes them aside. She asks why Daniel is still a prisoner in the house. This seems to upset Daniel, as the presence suddenly flees the room. Yeah, most guys stomp off when they realize that they are not gonna get laid.
Tuesday December 21st 7:33 AM
The gang is now assembled for breakfast. Florence tells Barrett that the spirit that showed up during the previous night’s sitting stopped by her room later. She explains that it is Daniel, the son of Emeric Belasco and that he is very frightened. This fright is what fuels his anger and she believes that if she can convince Daniel to move on, a great part of the haunting force in the house will be eliminated. Barrett’s face through all of this is one of disbelief, as if she is trying to tell him that Santa Claus came down the chimney four days early. However, he encourages her to proceed in her attempts at persuading Daniel to leave and suggests another sitting – this time under scientific conditions.
Tuesday December 21st 2:43 PM
Now they are all gathered in one of the house’s many rooms, but despite it being afternoon, they have it quite dark, with the only light emanating from a few lamps with red bulbs. Florence is sitting in a chair and is already in a trance while Barrett speaks into a tape recorder making notations on Florence’s temperature and heartbeat, room temperature and the readings on his various scientific gizmos. One of his doodads suddenly comes to life, indicating the presence of electromagnetic radiation. Soon after, the scent of ozone can be detected in the air. Everyone stares as thin, wispy strands of ectoplasm begin forming near each of Florence’s fingertips, and begin to lengthen, stretching out from her chair. The various filaments unite to form two separate strands that then move toward one another and form a single strand. It moves toward an empty jar atop a nearby table and Barrett exhorts someone – I don’t know if he is addressing Florence or the spirit, to leave a sample in the jar. The ectoplasm reaches the jar and as it encloses it, it suddenly vanishes with a loud popping sound. Florence awakens from her trance and lets out a yell. Barrett looks her over quickly and determines that she is all right, then he rushes to his tape recorder to make a few last entries.
Some time later, Ann is with Lionel as he is going over the data collected during the last sitting. She thinks that she spoiled the sitting somehow (why is beyond me, she never uttered a word the whole time) but Lionel is pleased with the results. His theory is that the ectoplasm was manifested by Florence herself, perhaps on a subconscious level, but still her doing and not that of some spirit.
Speaking of Florence, she is in her room and it seems she is preparing for bed again…either that or she just likes prancing around in her undergarments at all hours of the day. She exits the bathroom and notices that the blankets on the bed are raised and moving – as if someone was lying underneath them. She grabs and pulls on them, but there is no one there. A whisper–like sound can be heard and then the door to her room swings open and closed suddenly. It seems Daniel has left the room.
Tuesday December 21st 6:21 PM
Fischer and Barrett are having a bite to eat in the dining room when Florence enters and announces that she had another visit from Daniel the Horny Ghost. Barrett’s response makes it clear that he is still an unbeliever. This sets off Florence, who accuses him of fostering an air of distrust. She feels that mediums should not always be expected to perform under conditions dictated by science and that her abilities are some sort of divine gift. Barrett attempts to claim no knowledge as to what her tirade was all about, but before he can get very far his tea cup shatters in his hand. Another glass on the table shatters and a plate begins to shake before flying his way. Then a metal platter that features long spikes upon it to help hold large pieces of meat, flies across the table at Barrett. He narrowly manages to avoid being hit as it impales itself on the back of his chair. The entire table begins to bounce up and down at this point, making a real mess of dinner. Barrett stands up but an invisible force pushes his chair under him, forcing him to sit before it tilts back and causes him to crash to the floor. The chandelier overhead then breaks free and plummets downward toward the chair, but Barrett manages to get up and dive away before it hits. Ann walks in about now, just in time to see a large fireball spew out of the fireplace. A large mirror falls from the wall and shatters over Barrett, who somehow manages to avoid being cut to ribbons. Florence suddenly yells "no!" at the top of her lungs and all the freaky activity instantly ceases.
Florence warns Fischer to leave, reasoning that since he is the physical medium, he is being used by whatever forces lurk in the house to make these things happen. Florence tries to appeal to Barrett, but he accuses of her of trying to get rid of both him and Fischer. She is confused by this and asks what he means, but Barrett just walks out to attend to a cut on his hand. Florence then turns to Fischer who explains to her that she is the one being used and that she should be the one to leave the house.
Elsewhere, Ann is attending to her husband’s cuts and wondering if they have to stay. Barrett won’t hear of leaving and wants to remain. He thinks that because he was the one singled out for attack, and that it all ended when Florence yelled out, that it was her behind it all because she was angry with him. He does find it unlikely that she did it all unassisted, and claims that there is a lot of power in the house with Florence being the one who directed it at him. There is a knock at the door and speak of the devil, it turns out to be Florence. She claims to know what happened and says that it was Daniel Belasco trying to divide the group and drive them away. She agrees to another sitting but Barrett says that he is putting a stop to the sittings. Florence realizes that Barrett believes that she was the one responsible for the attack on him and she adamantly proclaims her innocence as well as laying the guilt on Daniel Belasco. Barrett says that there is no such person. Florence tells him that he is wrong and then leaves the room.
Tuesday December 21st 10:18 PM
Lionel is fast asleep, but Ann is still wide awake and pacing around their room (probably disappointed in hubby’s lack of energy). She turns out the light and climbs in bed. The flickering light from the fireplace is the only illumination, and when she looks at the shadow of a small statuette, the figures seems to be moving – entwined with one another in a passionate embrace. She tries to wake Mr. Energy, but Lionel is snoozing away. When Ann turns back, the shadow has stopped moving. Never once did she look at the statuette. I don’t know about you, but if the shadow of a solid object suddenly came to life and started moving, the first thing I would do is take a look at the object in question, just to see what the hell is going on with it…but that is just me.
Now Ann gets up to fix herself a drink. Hey, why not? If weird shit like that was happening around me, I’d be knocking back the scotch like it was going out of style, too. As she is enjoying her booze, Ann notices some books in the same cabinet that houses the liquor. Some of the titles include The Anatomy of Abuses, Phallic Worship, Sin and Sex, The Worship of Priapus and Dianetics. Ok, I made that last one up, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it was present. By the way, Priapus was a Greek god of fertility known for his huge penis, with which he would butt-rape thieves as a means of punishment (I’ll opt for sixty days in the slammer, myself). Ann reaches for a book entitled Autoerotic Phenomena, which one can assume is not about cars that make people horny.
Downstairs, Fischer decides to drag his ass to bed and as he rises from his chair, Florence stomps past. He asks her where she is going and she says is looking for something. He surmises that she is looking for proof that Daniel Belasco really existed, and she stomps off. Fischer lingers a moment longer and then sees a figure in white on the stairs. He looks closer and realizes it is Ann Barrett. He walks over and sees that Ann is running her hands over the breasts of a statue. When she sees him, she makes her way over to him where she tries to embrace him. He pushes her back but she whispers something that is not too intelligible though such words as you, me, naked, drunk, clutching and sweating can be heard. Sounds good to me! To emphasize her desires, she strips off her robe and stands before Fischer completely naked. He responds by bitch-slapping her. This seems to have snapped her out of the spell she was under (no doubt from reading that book). Her face turns to one of horror as she realizes that she is naked and what she had been doing. Fischer retrieves her robe and tries to reassure her by telling her that she was walking in her sleep. She just continues to gasp in shock before high-tailing it back up the stairs.
Downstairs in the cellars, Florence is poking around and comes across a pair of old crutches (CLUE). She grasps them and closes her eyes in concentration. She hears the faint sounds of a male voice that seems to be in distress and is drawn to a nearby wall. She manages to open a secret door and peers inside, muttering "Daniel, I’ve found you." Then she screams in stark terror at what lies within the chamber.
The screaming manages to wake Lionel Barrett (though a horny wife could not) and accompanied by Ann, he races to the cellar. There they find Fischer trying to calm a visibly shaken Florence. Barrett asks what happened and Florence informs the group that she found Daniel Belasco and that he attacked her. Barrett gives her another one of his truly annoying "you're full of shit" looks, and she shows some scratch marks on her chest which are not imaginary by any means. She points to the chamber she uncovered and Barrett takes a closer look. There in the forgotten cell is a skeleton chained to the wall, a thin layer of rotting skin stretched across its form.
Now we see Fischer and Florence standing over a recently dug grave, with Miss Tanner reading from the bible. I take it they buried the poor bastard she found in the cellar. This scene is slowly superimposed with an image of Florence tossing and turning in her sleep. She calls out to Daniel and asks why he has not moved on, since his body was laid to rest and prayers were said over the grave. She suddenly awakens to finds her bedroom door opening, but this time it is a black cat that is pushing its way into her room. It hisses at her and before you can say "Cat Scratch Fever" it flies through the air and attacks her. She manages to throw it off, but it hits the lamp and knocks it over, which makes things that much more difficult to see. She heads for the door to make her escape. However, the cat jumps on her back before she can get the door opened and she runs around the room in a panic, trying to remove the crazed animal. Again, she tosses the cat away and this time grabs a heavy stone vase from the dresser. The cat jumps at her again…but BATTER UP, she knocks it away. Then she runs for the bathroom, the cat hot on her heels. She manages to get inside and close the door before the cat can follow. At the bottom of the door, the cat’s paws can be seen as it tries to reach under and grab her (it’s almost funny).
Wednesday December 22nd, 9:14 AM
A truck bearing the name of Deutsch Industries is seen pulling away from the Belasco House. Left behind in the dining room is a big machine about the size of two refrigerators put together side by side. This must be Barrett’s fancy dancy scientific thingamabob, since he and Ann are looking it over. Fischer appears and tells them that Florence was attacked again. Barrett wants details but Fischer knows little.
They all head to Florence’s room where she tells them that she was attacked by a cat and that it was possessed by Daniel Belasco. She shows off the bite and scratch marks on her back but doesn’t want a detailed examination from Barrett. The two exchange some more harsh words and he raises the possibility of her leaving so that she won’t become another victim of Hell House. Naturally, she refuses to go. Once the Barretts have left the room, Fischer tries to convince Florence that she really should leave for her own safety. He suggests that she is being used and/or fooled somehow, and questions why Daniel Belasco is still being a spectral shit disturber even after his remains were properly laid to rest. Florence thinks she knows why: controlled multiple hauntings. In other words, there is one surviving presence that is dominating all others and forces them to do its bidding. This dominant spirit can be only one person – Emeric Belasco. Florence blames him for everything strange that has transpired, such as keeping her from entering the Chapel, the poltergeist-like attack on Lionel Barrett, the possession of the kitty cat and keeping Daniel’s soul imprisoned in the house. Hell, why not blame him for Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance and the high price of gas while you’re at it!
Wednesday December 22nd, 10:31 PM
Fischer is looking at Barrett’s thingamabob (his machine, you pervs!) when Ann enters the room and asks what he is doing. She seems a bit off and he asks if she has been drinking. She thinks that that is a splendid idea and pours herself a drink. Fischer tries to convince Ann to go back upstairs and not leave Lionel alone, even if the jerkwad is snoring his life away. Ann just ignores him and begins sauntering around the room. She explains that the room they are now in is where all that debauchery took place in times past. How she knows this is anyone’s guess. She is either possessed again or she’s been reading the late Emeric Belasco’s diary. She continues to act strange and again tries to put the moves on Fischer, demanding that he touch her or she will find someone who will. About now both notice that Lionel is watching from the top of the stairs. Ann passes out after muttering "no" a few times.
Next we see Lionel lying in bed, with Ann nearby. She doesn’t know why she did what she did and wishes she could undo it all. She rattles on and on and on, becoming more and more unhinged with each second until Lionel finally gets off his ass and consoles her. He says everything will be better once they have left the house. Yeah right.
Now Fischer approaches Barrett and tells him that Ann is in danger. He tells Barrett that his wife was sleepwalking the night before as well. He doesn’t think Barrett has a clue as to what is going on in the house. Barrett doesn’t seem to care, and despite the odd behavior of both women in the house, he refuses to leave. He accuses Fischer of blocking himself off and then stomps away. Fischer now has an internal monologue, where we hear his thoughts. He says that he is not blocking himself off, but he is not sticking his neck out, either like he did back in 1953. He sits down, closes his eyes and concentrates. Suddenly his eyes bug out and he screams. He lurches out of the chair and falls to the floor, his body spasming while he makes sounds that seem more appropriate to somebody on the crapper trying to pass a whole grapefruit.
Thursday December 23rd 10:31 AM
Fischer is now in his room, tossing back some booze (at ten-thirty in the morning, no less) when Florence enters. Before she can say too much, he cuts her off and tells her to just "give up." She guesses that something has happened to affect him. I guess she didn’t see his retard impersonation in front of the fireplace the previous night. He talks about how dangerous the house is and that nothing in it can be trusted. She disagrees and thinks they have made excellent progress, citing the discovery of Daniel’s body and deducing the way Belasco operates as examples of this. He again raises the possibility that she has been fooled somehow. She thinks that she is right, but he counters by saying that everyone thought the same back in 1953, the last time the house was investigated. He tells how one of the mediums at that time jumped from the balcony and shattered her legs (CLUE). Another member of the 53’ team, a physicist, crawled (CLUE!) out of the house only to die later. Yet another scientist ended up paralyzed (CLUE!!) while a fourth person was crippled (CLUE!!!!) and rendered insane. Fischer then admits that he is shutting himself off and has no intention of opening up again. He plans on collecting his paycheck and then never coming near the place again. He suggests to Florence that she do the same.
We now see Florence pacing in her room. She hears the shower in the adjacent bathroom start up and heads over to take a look. The shower is enclosed with thick non-transparent glass, but the silhouette of a figure inside can be seen. Oozing out from the under the shower door is a small stream of blood. She approaches the shower and opens the door to find…nobody there. However, on the shower floor is the kitty cat that attacked her. Only now it is quite dead, having been ripped up and filling the shower with blood.
Ann is with Lionel, who is putzing around with his scientific machine doohickey. The couple seems to be getting along better after Ann’s recent nocturnal wanderings. Barrett explains that his machine will measure the energy in the house and counteract it. By the same time the next day, Hell House will be drained of energy. Fischer overhears and tells Barrett that his "pile of junk" isn’t going to do a thing. Fischer again tells the Barretts that they should leave. He says that fighting the house is a mistake. Emeric Belasco will not like it one bit. He advises Barrett to relax for the remainder of the week and then tell old man Deutsch anything he wants to hear before banking the money and moving on. Anything else, according to Fischer, will result in his death. He looks at the Barretts and realizes that they won’t change their minds (well, Lionel won’t change his, Ann seems to be along for the ride). He remarks how he was the only one who emerged alive and sane from Hell House in 1953, and how he’ll be the only one to do so again this time around. Then he walks off. Lionel looks at Ann and reassures her that both Florence and Fischer are wrong in what they believe.
Speaking of morons, Florence decides that the time has come at long last for her to enter Hell House’s chapel. She slowly walks in and soon hears the sound of people screaming. Upset, she quickly leaves. She flees to her room, where she senses the presence of Daniel Belasco again. There is some type of exchange between them, not always in words. Finally, Daniel seems to leave and muttering a quick prayer, Florence turns off the light, disrobes and climbs into bed. As she lies there, the blankets move as if another person was also getting into the bed. Florence speaks aloud to Daniel, but he seems to be in full on Horny Ghost mode and soon she is screaming (like most women do when you try touching them in bed).
Naturally, all this screaming does not go unnoticed by the others, who come running. The door opens by itself, they enter and find Florence face down on the bed, her back covered with a new collection of scratches. Daniel the Horny Ghost gets a little rough during boom-boom it seems. Barrett approaches Florence and slowly turns her over. She is smiling ear to ear and begins laughing like those people in insane asylums. Nevermind those ideas I threw out earlier for possible shows she could host. This women needs a program called Ghost Bangers.
Friday December 24th 7:19 AM
Florence rests in bed with Fischer watching over her from a nearby chair. She awakes and asks him how long he has been there. "All night," he answers. Coyly she berates him for not getting into the bed with her. Then she asks who put on her nightgown for her. "Mrs. Barrett" is the answer. Again, she teases him and asks why it wasn’t him who did it. Suddenly she begins to shake and says, "He’s inside me!" I will dispense with any crude and obvious jokes at this juncture. Much boo-hooing follows and Florence explains that Daniel’s spirit is in her and just waiting to take over. Fischer tries to reassure her by saying that Daniel cannot stop her, but she doesn’t buy it. Then he says, "Well, he can’t stop me." Uh oh. That was the wrong thing to say. At this point Daniel takes control of Florence’s body and in that deep voice that sounds like someone sporting ten pound testicles (each), he cusses Fischer out. Then Florence snaps out of it and cries some more. She’s turning into a real crybaby.
Friday December 24th 7:48 AM
Ann is in the dining room with Lionel, who is playing with one of his gadgets. Fischer and Florence enter, the former announcing that he is taking Miss Tanner away. Barrett tells Fischer that he need not come back if he does not want to. Barrett plans on using his gizmo and clearing the house of its energy. This piques Florence’s interest and she refuses to leave until it is explained to her what Barrett means. So Barrett launches into a speech about how all living organisms emit energy in the form of EMR – electromagnetic radiation. With all the freaky stuff that took place in the house in ages past, and with the outpouring of mental and physical energy that resulted from those happenings, he feels that the place is a giant battery loaded with energy. It is this energy being subconsciously directed by people such as Florence or Fischer that Barrett credits with all the weird shit that has occurred in the house, and not surviving entities such as Emeric Belasco or his son Daniel. His fancy contraption will fill the house with a massive counter-charge of EMR which will "oppose the polarity of the atmosphere, reverse and dissipate it." And thus, ending the legend of Hell House once and for all.
Of course, Florence doesn’t agree. She thinks Barrett’s thingamajig will harm the spirits still in the house, so when he turns his back, she grabs a fireplace poker and begins wailing away at the machine like it’s a Whack– a–Mole carnival game. She gets in a couple good hits before the two men rush to stop her. Fischer takes a blow to the collarbone and drops to the floor like dirty laundry. Barrett however evades getting hit and slaps the hell out of Florence, who then follows Fischer’s stalwart example and throws herself onto the floor.
Friday December 24th 8:23 AM
Florence awakes from the nap that Barrett’s slap put her into, and hears him blathering on to Ann about how she had to destroy his beliefs before they destroyed hers or something like that. It's apparent that Barrett’s machine is still in working order, in spite of Florence going Lizzy Borden on it. She realizes that he still plans on turning it on and clearing the house of energy, so what does she do? She races to the chapel and calls out to the spirit of Daniel, hoping to warn him no doubt. For some insane reason, it is quite drafty in the chapel, as there seems to be a slight breeze moving through the room (somebody probably turned the AC on high). There are also the sounds of screaming voices. Florence proceeds to the large wooden crucifix, covering her ears to help block out the spectral wailing. The voices then vanish and the wind picks up even more. She calls out a warning to Daniel but the only reply she gets is the large wooden crucifix coming loose and toppling over on her. SQUISH.
Back where the others are, Fischer is regaining consciousness after his little encounter with the poker-wielding Florence. He notices that Florence is nowhere to be seen and asks the others where she is. The Barretts don’t know, as the last they saw of her, she was passed out on the couch.
Returning to the chapel. We see poor Miss Tanner pinned underneath the crucifix. It has crushed her legs and lower torso (CLUE!), and she is spitting up blood worse than Gene Simmons live on stage. She struggles to free herself when some lights appear. She looks into the lights and says, "You tricked me." Using her finger, she dips it in her own blood and scrawls out the letter "B" in a circle. The she drops dead. Well, she doesn’t drop dead as she was already on the floor. It was more of a "lies down dead." Right about now, the three stooges arrive and discover her body. Ann, quite predictably, freaks out. Fischer takes note of the bloody message left behind by the late Miss Tanner.
Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.
Sometime later, Barrett is fiddling with his machine and preparing to activate it. With all the settings in place, he, Ann and Fischer exit through the front door as the power in the gizmo slowly builds up. They wait outside while the contraption works its scientific mojo. After an indeterminate amount of time, they return. Barrett exhorts Fischer to open himself up to the house, positive that the medium will experience no trouble at all. Fischer does just this and it is obvious from his expression that he is not picking up anything. The medium goes upstairs while Ann and Lionel talk about things finally being over. Fischer calls out from the balcony in amazement – the house is completely clear. Lionel tells Ann to get some rest while he checks the readings on his machine.
Friday December 24th 12:45 PM
So Lionel begins looking over his equipment and making notations in his logs, when one of the gauges on his EMR machine flares to life. Soon enough all his equipment is active, registering something and making all sorts of clicking, whirring and beeping sounds. Barrett looks on in disbelief, claiming it to be impossible. "I do not accept this!" he calls out. The response is one of his machines exploding, sending small pieces of glass flying through the air and cutting his face up.
Friday December 24th 1:03 PM
Ann exits her room and calls out to her husband. There is no reply, so she goes looking for him. She enters the room where he had his equipment set up and finds much of it smashed to pieces. She calls out again, and hearing what sounds like his voice, follows it through the house. She is led to the chapel, where the body of Miss Tanner is still pinned beneath the fallen crucifix – only someone took the time to drape a sheet over her. Looking around, Ann spies Lionel laid out on the floor, crushed beneath a fallen chandelier. He is obviously quite dead. Ann now freaks out BIGTIME and begins running through the house, screaming nonstop and bumping into furniture. She collides with Fischer, who is successful in calming her down.
Friday December 24th 2:21 PM
Regaining consciousness, having obviously fainted from the shock and terror of finding her husband fatally acting out a scene from Phantom of the Opera, Ann begs Fischer to get her out of the house. Fischer tells her that he won’t be leaving. In fact, he plans on returning to the chapel. He feels that for him to leave now would make him a failure, and that he needs to do this for both Florence and Lionel. Ann doesn’t want him to stay and tells him that "it can’t be solved" and that he will die like the others if he pursues this course of action. Fischer accepts this possibility, but is still undeterred.
Friday December 24th 3:13 PM
Fischer and Ann now return to the chapel. Fischer remarks on how the entire house has been cleared by Barrett’s EMR machine except for this one place. Looking again at the bloody "B" scrawled by the late Miss Tanner, he realizes what message she was trying to send – there was never multiple entities haunting the place. There was no directionless energy in the house. There was in fact, a single entity directing it all, pretending to be all the others – Emeric Belasco himself. Searching for the key to it all, he notices again how the fallen crucifix had crushed Florence’s legs. Then it hits him. He looks at Barrett’s body beneath the chandelier and then recalls the fates of the others who made up the last team to investigate Hell House – one was paralyzed, one had their legs crushed, another crawled out of the house.
Fischer now turns and calls out to Belasco, taunting the entity and daring him to show himself and kill him. Another chandelier breaks loose and plummets earthward, but Ann pulls Fischer out of the way. Again Fischer taunts Belasco, asking why he never left the house when he was alive, why he didn’t like the sun light and why he preferred to skulk in the shadows. Fischer surmises that it was because it made hiding his secret that much easier. An invisible force reaches out and knocks him across the room at this point. Fischer gets up and begins making his way toward the pulpit, continuing to call out to Belasco, calling his mother a whore and him a bastard. Again, the invisible force pushes him back. Fischer keeps at it and finally hits upon the truth: Belasco was no "Roaring Giant" but a rather short man, not even five feet in height. There is a final spectral scream and all is suddenly quiet.
Ann asks if it is clear and Fischer puts his fingers to his temples and concentrates. A stained glass panel at the front of the chapel shatters. The two rush over and explore the chamber hidden behind it. Within is the preserved body of Emeric Belasco, seated and holding a brandy snifter. Fischer now reveals the truth behind Belasco. He takes a pocket knife and cuts away at Belasco’s pant leg, revealing an artificial leg underneath. It seems Belasco so hated his diminutive size that he had both his legs amputated and then took to wearing artificial legs to give himself height. Fischer looks about and realizes that Belasco really was a genius after all. The reason why Barrett’s EMR machine was unable to clear away this chamber was due to the fact that it was lined with lead. Belasco had built a place to preserve his spirit.
The chamber now accessible, Fischer reactivates Barrett’s EMR machine (which obviously escaped the equipment trashing earlier) so that it can reach into the protected sanctuary and clear away Belasco’s energy.
Friday December 24th 4:59 PM
Fischer and Ann exit Hell House.
James H. Nicholson, a sales manager for the RealArt Production Company, and Hollywood lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff were the first to realize the ticket buying power of that teenage audience. They formed the American Releasing Corporation in 1954 in order to cater to that market. Two years later the name was changed to American International Pictures, but the focus on youth-oriented action, comedy and horror films remained. Thus began thirty years of AIP films, categorized by low budgets and quick shooting schedules – the epitome of the "B" movie. After finding success with monster and teen rebel films in the 50’s, AIP continued to set trends when they imported Peplum films (AKA Sword and Sandal) as well as jump starting the youthful Beach film genre and macabre Edgar Allen Poe-inspired films of the 60’s. However, by decade’s end, the outfit was seeing change. Nicholson divorced his wife and married starlet Susan Hart (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine). The divorce left Arkoff as the majority share holder in the company and not long after Nicholson left to form Academy Pictures, having secured a six film distribution deal with 20th-Century-Fox.
The Legend of Hell House was the first, and ultimately only, film Nicholson oversaw as part of Academy Pictures, partnered with his wife as well as long-time production associate Norman T. Herman. The films at Academy Pictures were intended for a more mainstream audience, unlike AIP’s dedication to the youth crowd. Screenwriter Richard Matheson, whose Edgar Alan Poe adaptations had heralded a new chapter for AIP years earlier, was brought in to adapt his own novel, Hell House. In keeping with the trend set by earlier haunted house movies such as The Haunting, Matheson’s screenplay downplayed the more graphic horrors of his book and concentrated more on mood, atmosphere and imagination. Sadly, Nicholson was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and died shortly thereafter. Academy Pictures only released one more film (Dirty Mary Crazy Larry) but still exists to this day, overseen by Nicholson’s widow, Susan Hart–Hofheintz who seems ready to sue anyone who publicly airs or attempts to air any film to which she now owns the rights (or thinks she owns the rights), as part of a settlement with former AIP co-founder Arkoff.
I must admit that the Haunted House sub-genre is a relatively new field in horror cinema that I have explored. As I mention later in the “My Personal History With This Film” segment, as well as other places around this website, I was raised in a somewhat strict fundamentalist Christian environment. I say “somewhat” because mom was the church goer while dad was not, thus I could get away with more stuff on his watch than on hers. Mom was pretty tolerant when it came to most horror flicks, allowing me to watch a wide variety of movies, but when it came to anything that seemed remotely supernatural, she would put her foot down with all the force and finality of Godzilla himself. Thus I was unable to see many such films when I was young. As I got older and into my 20’s, many such films were no longer shown on TV and I found my tastes drawn to more mainstream science fiction and fantasy works in both literature, film and TV. It wasn’t until the DVD boom of the last few years that I have been able to discover many movies that I was forced to bypass in years past, now made easily available. The Legend of Hell House is one such film. Perhaps it is because so much time has gone by – the film is a product of another age of horror films, that I find it to be severely lacking in both scares and atmosphere. While I can readily concede to its positive points, the film comes off as more a glorified episode of Night Gallery (and thus none too terrifying) than a big screen horror gem.
Animals Gone Berzerk - One black cat that goes nuts, attacking Florence and chasing after her like a psycho killer from a slasher flick.
Ghosts - One ghost here that pretends to be several entities. While the spirit is quite active, it never manifests into any visible form.
Haunted House - The Belasco House is quite haunted and quite deadly. Many people have returned from the house quite dead. Thus its nickname: Hell House.
Nudity - A very brief scene when Florence strips before getting into bed. Mostly seen in silhouette, there is still a quick glimpse of some nipple.
Science - Lionel Barrett believes in science over superstition and spouts his verbose theories at length when he is not monkeying around with all his scientific doodads and gizmos.
Sex - More accurately, it would be sexual assault, in this case Florence being molested by Daniel the horny ghost (who is really Emeric the horny ghost).
Technology - One of those contraptions of Barrett’s is ultimately responsible for ridding the house of ghosts…years before four guys with Nuclear Accelerators on their backs.
Violence - Not much and fairly restrained, but two people do end up receiving fatal doses of "The Squish Treatment."
Number of deaths: 3 including one cat
Number of dead bodies: 5 including one cat
Alcoholic drinks consumed: 10
Possessed people: 2
Possessed cats: 1
Cups of mysterious goo: 1
Times possessed Ann flirts with Fischer: 2
Times possessed Florence flirts with Fischer: 1
Times anyone flirts with Lionel: 0
Bare boobs: 2 (barely seen)
Sex with ghost: 1
People that get flattened: 2
Corpses with false legs: 1
Days spent in house: 5
Days it seems they spend in the house: 500
Mins - Is that a house or a museum?
Shadow's Drinking Game: Each time a date and time notation appears on the screen, take a drink.
for larger image
Fischer describes Emeric Belasco, the guy who built the place.
Fischer: "His was a frightening visage. Like the face of a demon that had taken on some Human aspect."
Shadow’s comment: Yeah, too much spicy Mexican food will do that to you when it comes time to hit the crapper.
Barrett, ever the scientist, reacts to his instruments going haywire after the house is supposedly cleansed.
"This is impossible…I don’t accept this…I do
not accept this!!"
comment: That was the same thing I said after discovering
the bathroom stall I was occupying was devoid of tissue.
Film & Me
was four years old when this film came out, and while I remember accompanying
my parents and siblings to all manner of films (I have vivid memories
of Bruce Lee movies in particular), even some of a "dubious"
nature (dubious in this context refers to anything that did not readily
conform to my mother’s fundamentalist Christian world view, yet
wasn’t claiming outright to be material best suited for devil
worshippers), there was just no way in hell mom would allow me to be
taken to a film such as The Legend of Hell House. Thus my first
exposure to the movie was years later when the film was shown on TV
in the early 80’s, and while I was forbidden from watching it
at that time, too I did manage to see the commercials for it or catch
a few minutes when I "accidentally" turned it on while flipping
through channels. That wasn’t too hard to accomplish. In those
days, we owned no TV’s that came with a remote, so in order to
change channels, we had to drag our asses up off the couch and do it
by hand. By standing directly in front of the television while changing
channels, I could effectively block my mother’s view of the TV
from the kitchen, where she would sit working her crossword puzzle magazines.
I managed to sneak peeks at many "taboo" films via this process.
Anyway…where was I? Oh, yeah. The Legend of Hell House.
I never did manage to see the film during those years, though I do remember
it being shown several times. I suppose that is why the film achieved
legendary (pun not intended) status in my eyes: I was forbidden to see
it, thus it became larger than life – the stuff wild imaginings
are made of. Alas, I saw the film for the first time about two months
ago when I bought the DVD. While I did think it was moderately entertaining,
I couldn’t help but think to myself over and over again, "that
was it?!" I expected so much more. Here I thought it was a haunted
house movie so terrifying that people crapped themselves just remembering
it, but what I got was ninety plus minutes of talk, talk, talk, talk
and….yes, more talk. Now, don’t get me wrong. Talk is good.
I like talk. Talk brings characters to life. Talk can deepen the story.
Talk can do many things. But, too much talk can put you to sleep, and
this film treads a very fine line in my book between entertainment and
sleep aid. In the end, I’m glad I finally got to see it, but part
of me thinks it would have had more impact had I been allowed to view
it twenty-five years ago.
Shadow's rating: Five Tombstones