The Legend of Hell House (1973)

The Legend of Hell House (1973), directed by John Hough.

Having now read Richard Matheson's Hell House I wanted to give this adaptation another try. I like it better than before, understanding more of each character's backstory and inner life. It seems to me that all of the leads read the book and were working from the text.

Unfortunately the audience doesn't have that resource while watching and without it the plot lacks a certain amount of "get up and go". I think some voice-over narration of thoughts would have helped, as was used to good effect in The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1963).

Actors, director and photography are all fine, so I think responsibility must fall on Matheson's screenplay, closely following his book. Maybe too closely? Books and movies ought to be different things. The little genre of "psychic investigators in the haunted house" needs more plot design than "they go into the house and various strange things happen".

Our cast:

This is an opportunity to straighten out the catalog of "haunting" books and films which has often confused me:

On psychic investigations: I always imagined "spirit" to be of another dimension or reality only mysteriously intersecting our own. But no: spiritualists really believe spirit is just an attenuated form of matter, which makes sense of all that scientific apparatus.

The screenplay follows the book closely, dialing back some sex and violence. Filmed in sequence, our characters are not quite as beat up in the film as in the text.

Photographed by Alan Hume -- Eye of the Needle (1981), Return of the Jedi (1983), Lifeforce (1985), and three Roger Moore 007 films.

The spooky electronic score suggests wind, breathing, and heartbeats.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. Pamela Franklin provides a light, somewhat intermittent commentary on her memories of the production.

Contrary to my presumption above, she says she didn't read the book before playing the character, wanting a fresh, uninfluenced approach.