The Legend of Hell House

Starring: Roddy McDowell, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver & Peter Bowles
20th Century Fox

RRP: £15.99

Certificate: 15
Available now

A physical psychic and his wife are offered 100 000 to answer the question of life after death by spending a week in the Mount Everest of haunted houses and solving the mystery behind what has been dubbed Hell House. Also along is a mental psychic and the only sane survivor of a previous attempt to investigate the house. They soon discover acts of debauchery were common place here years ago; many bodies were found but the owner's was not present. When strange occurrences begin the quartet initially blame each other for the manifestations, until a restless spirit gives them reason to believe otherwise. Then it is a race to discover the truth before they all die...

Seldom is a film as good as the book from which it came. The Legend of Hell House comes pretty close, and the reason is the scriptwriter was the author of the original novel (Hell House). Richard Matheson is one of the greatest horror writers of our time, whose many successes include, I Am Legend (filmed as the Omega Man), A Stir Of Echoes (a recent movie with Kevin Bacon), Duel (directed by a young Steven Spielberg), and myriad scripts for The Twilight Zone (including Nightmare at 20 000 Feet with William Shatner).

This may have been 1973 when special effects were in their infancy, but that only aids this classy tale in standing the test of time. The story is by far the most important ingredient of any celluloid venture, which is why Poltergeist, for example, already looks dated. Everything in Hell House is terrifically understated and will no doubt bore those brought up on Hollywood whizzes and bangs. The plot is methodical, the characters strong and sensible, and the dangers few and far between, rather than taking over the movie. Roddy McDowell is particularly good as the underplayed, at times withdrawn, previous survivor. Also, watch out for a surprise appearance by Michael Gough as a rather well-preserved corpse near the end of the film.

In conclusion, if you're looking for a big DVD package with lots of extras, this won't be your cup of tea. There is only a theatrical trailer and scenes access. Treat it as it is: a damn fine English ghost story.

Ty Power

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