Scream Factory likes to surprise me with their releases they send for review. I generally request films I know, curious to see how they’ve put them together. Recently though, I’ve been getting films I’ve never seen. The Legend Of Hell House was always on my list! What’s a better way to enjoy the first viewing than with a Shout Factory presentation? None I can think of.
My wife isn’t much of a gore hound when it comes to horror, but she DOES love slow-moving, creepy stories that don’t always end in big jumps but rather leave you hanging around just to enjoy the eeriness. That describes The Legend Of Hell House and we both LOVED it. It hits all the right notes of having some great scares, a fun mystery to follow, all while staying moody and atmospheric.
It starts with a top-notch cast : Clive Revill, Pamela Franklin and the great Roddy McDowall (not in ape make-up). They play a team of paranormal researchers who are paid to enter The Belasco House – known as the Mt Everest of haunted houses. A nutty millionaire who now owns the notorious estate wants them to find proof of life after death. And you thought YOU had a rough job. These guys have to go in and start messing with ghosts.
I won’t spoil many plot details for the new viewer. There is one nifty device of putting a time stamp to remind you of the ticking clock. We’ve seen it a million times since, and I’m not sure how many times previous to this film it had been used, but it’s very effective and is used in conjunction with the great soundtrack. The film’s style, guided by director John Hough, is very advanced for the era. You can tell he loved classic horror films, but wanted to amp up the conventions. Here we see a mix of Hammer, Universal and Giallo, and it all manages to work. Film geek sidebar – I do wonder why in this era the music and sound end abruptly in scenes – as if the entire film and audio track were just spliced up against the start of new scene without a fade out or finding some natural end in the music. You see this a lot on Italian horror as well. Was that a technical issue with the reel change? Was that a choice? I’ll ask a few old-time editors and get back to you.
There’s some sexuality in this film and my gut tells me it was more prominent in the source material which was written by the legendary Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay. I also see where Edgar Wright was heavily influenced for his fake Grindhouse trailer, Don’t.
THE BLU-RAY RELEASE
I’m waiting for the day I watch a Shout Factory release and I say, “that doesn’t look very good.” I suspect the day will never come. Now, I have not seen the film in any other version so I cannot compare it to your German PAL video you got at the trade table back in 1996, but this transfer is gorgeous. Seriously stunning. The movie plays a lot in shadows and nothing gets lost or muddy.
This release is stripped down of extras. Sometimes I think it’s because the demand for extras needs to be enough to merit the time to produce some or, in many cases no material exists to create additional content. The short list has an interview with the director, the film’s trailer and an interesting audio commentary with Pamela Franklin.
In doing some research, there are debates about what makes the film complete, wether or not this version has every scene in tact. I don’t know the film backwards and forwards to know if this is the most complete version of the film. I do know, for the first timer or the old fan, you want this Blu-ray.
Last thoughts before I perform a sage ritual to cleanse myself – if you decide to pick the movie up and happen to own a cat, go ahead and put him or her away for the evening. You’ll thank me later.