The Film (5/5)
The Haunted House film much like the werewolf film is one of the most underappreciated subgenres of horror. There are a number of outright classics in the genre such as the House on Haunted Hill, the Uninvited, Robert Wise's ultimate classic the Haunting. I thought I had seen all the truly great haunted house films, and then Scream Factory's Blu-ray release of the Legend of Hell House appeared on my door step.
The film was based of a book by, and scripted by I Am Legend's Richard Matheson. The book (which is making it's way to my mailbox as I type) was written to be the ultimate haunted house story, and in turn the film aspires to those lofty heights on the instigator of the films investigation describes the haunted house in the film, Belasco House, as the "Mount Everest of Haunted Houses," and by the films conclusion it is understood why.
The film directed by John Hough (Incubus, Watcher in the Woods) and starring a small, chamber drama size cast of Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, and Gayle Hunnicutt may simply be the greatest haunted house film outside of the aforementioned film The Haunting. It details 4 investigators a Physicist named Lionel Barrett, his wife, and 2 mediums Florence Tanner, and Ben Fischer who are charged by a millionaire to enter and investigate Belasco House, and prove the existence or non-existence of an afterlife. Fischer, is the last surviving member of the last expedition 25 years prior to attempt to investigate the house, all of the other members having died during the exploration.
The four enter the house, and immediately begin to experience supernatural phenomena from possession, to physical attacks from invisible beings, to erotic visions. Barrett being a scientist is the Scully to the rest of the groups Mulder, and refuses to believe any of the claims that this is from an otherworldly source. As the group investigates the hauntings become more intense, and the group begin to in fight, blaming each other for carrying on the phenomena. However, they must work together to stop it before it destroys them.
The Haunting Robert Wise's 1963 effort maybe the epitome of the black and white haunted house horror. Legend of Hell House on the other hand, while not the most colorful film, uses color to such great effect (when it does) that it is certainly the greatest haunted house film of the post-black and white era. The film directed by Hough has a near perfect pacing, it is relentless in it's approach making it feel as if the characters are never truly safe within the walls of the house. Hough, also manages to give the story time to breath between the films more over-the-top moments to truly expose our characters, and their motivations. This allows the actors to flesh out the characters and give some nice 3 Dimensional performances. Of course, a lot of this can also be attributed to the script by genre master Richard Matheson, whose genre credentials need not be mentioned, but as stated earlier wrote the novel I Am Legend, and of course, wrote a handful of fine Twilight Zone episodes as well amongst his other notable genre achievements.
I did not know what to expect from the Legend of Hell House when I began watching. I just knew that by the end it had entered into the realm of my favorite horror films of all time. Scream Factory, who consistently releases great horror on to Blu-ray has done the HD collector a great service by unleashing this one for their fans, and it makes a truly ultimate conclusion to their "Summer of Fear" titles, as it has become my favorite of the bunch.
Scream Factory have brought The Legend of Hell House to Blu-ray in a spectacular 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The film has excellent natural film grain throughout, with nice fine detail, and beautiful colors. I did not detect much in the way of negative damage or any issues with the image, overall an excellent transfer.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 2.0 track in English with optional English subtitles. Everything sounds good here, with dialogue, music, and effects coming through nicely, and nothing negative to report.
Not too much to report here, but what is on this set is nice. We get an audio commentary with actress Pamela Franklin, a nearly half hour interview with John Hough the film's director, and a theatrical trailer.
In my newly formed, and happy to report opinion The Legend of Hell House is easily in the Top 3 greatest haunted house films ever made. It concludes Scream Factory's "Summer of Fear" with a huge bang, and is most definitely my favorite film of their summer release schedule. The A/V is fantastic, and the extras are quite nice. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.