Thursday, 10 July 2014

Legend of Hell House (1973)

This film begins with a text card, attributed to "Tom Corbett – Clairvoyant and Psychic Consultant to European Royalty", solemnly informing us that while the movie is fiction, all the psychic phenomena lie within the bounds of possibility, and that it could be true. This perked my interest, because I hoped it meant that the rest of the film would be similarly crazy.

Alas, it is not.

Adapted from his own novel by Richard Matheson (who also wrote I Am Legend), the film covers the efforts of three investigators to uncover the truth of life after death by spending five days in a notoriously haunted house. One of the three was part of an earlier investigation of the abode where eight people died. I guess in 1973 the £100,000 each of them is getting was a big enough deal to risk your life again.

The three investigators are a physicist who denies the idea of consciousness beyond death, but does believe some sort of electromagnetic force may endure, and two psychics. The physicist also brings along his wife, which seems ill-advised given the apparent lethality of staying there.

In any case, the four of them settle in and begin their explanations. The physicist and the young female medium clash over just about everything, while the second medium - the survivor of the previous investigation - spends his time warning everyone else that they're doomed if they stay.

Soon enough, various scary phenomena occur, but they're interspersed with an awful lot of talking and theorising about what might be behind the falling chandeliers (yes, there is one) and other such weirdnesses. That works to the movie's detriment, I think, because any momentum it is building keeps getting blocked off. It also means that very little actually happens in the first hour or so.

The last act ratchets up the pace a lot, but it has one of the silliest weaknesses for an evil spirit that I've ever encountered, which makes the final confrontation more amusing than epic. I'll not spoil it here, but you can find plenty of reviews online that will.

Solid performances from the cast can't save this from being on the dull side. I think it would be a more enjoyable film if it were as gonzo as that opening text suggested.

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