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The Legend of Hell House

Any movie prefaced by a certificate of probability from a "Psychic Consultant to European Royalty" is certainly setting itself a high standard, and 1973's The Legend of Hell House almost lives up to it. Ripping a bloody page right out of the Haunted House Film standards manual, a rich old cripple hires a scientist and two kooky psychics to bed up for a week in an infamously haunted manor in search of factual proof that life is sustained post-mortem. It's not an ambitious narrative, but director John Hough (Escape From Witch Mountain) plays down the camp, takes the material head-on, and creates palpable tension with great help from his serious and fully committed cast. There's little room to fault the fine performances of Roddy McDowall as a tortured survivor, Pamela Franklin as a psychic ingenue, Clive Revill as a not-so-skeptical skeptic, or Gayle Hunnicut as his malleable wife. Hell House's fizzle occurs, sadly, in its dying moments, as it tries to solve the mystery with explicit motives and cause, and the pure silliness of the explanation is as underwhelming as possible. Nevertheless, fans of the Hammer school of atmospheric chills will find plenty to appreciate in this well-wrought chiller. Fox's DVD offers an excellent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a remarkably well-preserved source print, while audio is in both a Dolby Digital 4.0 remix and the original mono soundtrack. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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