In many ways, 'The Legend Of Hell House' could be described as a 1970s colour update of the 1960s classic 'The Haunting'. It's a valid comparison as the setting and storyline are very similar. A team of investigators set up camp in a supposedly haunted house to investigate the paranormal goings on that occur there.
Based on Richard Matheson's novel 'Hell House', the film is fairly standard haunted house fare, but it's put together with great effect. Matheson provided the screenplay for the movie.
The characters are well portrayed and provide a nice contrast to each other. Dr Barrett (Clive Revill) is the staunch non-believer who is convinced there is a scientific explanation to the strange goings on in the house. Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) is a mental medium that believes the problem is 'multiple surviving personalities', Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall) is the only survivor of the last attempt to investigate the house, and seems to be there this time just for the money. Tagging along is Dr Barrett's wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicut).
As the film progresses, various phenomena are experienced by our intrepid foursome. Strange sounds, objects loosing their temper etc. As I said, standard haunted house stuff really. You never actually see a ghost, which isn't a bad thing as the film has enough atmosphere already without having to resort to visual depictions. There is however a particular impressive poltergeist attack on Dr Barrett, and also a scene during a 'sitting' where Tanner produces ectoplasm from her fingertips.
For the most part, the middle section of the film centres on the developing battle between Dr Barrett and Tanner, with Barrett refusing to accept Tanners belief that the place is just plain old haunted and claiming the house has nothing more in it than 'mindless, directionless energy'. While this is going on, Barrett's loyal wife seems to turn into some kind of over sexed nymphomaniac (yeah, I bet you all have a woman in mind that you would LOVE to take to Hell House), while Fischer refuses to open himself up to the house, preferring ride out the week doing nothing. Not surprising really, considering he barley survived his last visit. It's in this middle section that the film falls away slightly, Tanner is visited by spirits, Barrett twiddles with his machinery, Barrett's wife tries to get off with Fisher, who refuses her advances (idiot!).
The film climaxes with Barrett bringing in a machine that will 'de-energise' the house. Meanwhile, Tanner dies a horrible death, and so does Barrett after his gizmo fails to do the trick. That leaves us with Fischer and Barrett's wife.
The ending is certainly inventive as we discover that in a way, Barrett was right all along, and so was Tanner but Fischer cracks the code and discovers the secret of the house. I wont spoil it for any one whom hasn't seen the film, but lets just say that the owner of the house Emeric Belasco (Michael Gough), whom hasn't been seen since 1927, does make an appearance, but maybe not in a way you will expect.
Whilst 'The Haunting' is undoubtedly a superior film, The Legend of Hell House was an atmospheric and impressive entry in the haunted house genre. Franklin is particularly impressive as Tanner, and McDowall is always value for money. The setting is appropriately eerie, and the movie is well filmed.
Some people may see the conclusion of the film as being a disappointment but I disagree. Like I said, it's different, it's not formulated or predictable, and that's a very strong point. So to conclude, Hell House is not quite up there with 'The Haunting', but it's not far off. If you enjoyed 'The Haunting' then you should also check out Hell House.