Friday, September 20, 2013

Stupid Sexy Belasco - The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Horror movies with this kind of pedigree are rare. They're even rarer when they're not at the same level of say something like Rosemary's Baby or The Shining. The Legend of Hell House certainly has some names behind it with the one and only Richard Matheson adapting his own story for the screen, 4 reputable actors (with maybe some not so reputable dentists) and a stunningly shot film. Thankfully for us, The Legend of Hell House is not so much about austere hauntings and ghost stories, it's about weird sexual depravities, voluminous sleeves and computers made out of cardboard boxes. That's not to say The Legend of Hell House isn't without class, it's beautifully shot, has great performances and despite some odd flights of fancy, it actually stays focused on its plot.

Released ten years after the seminal ghost movie The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House actually looks quite similar on paper. Four investigators go into a haunted abandoned mansion in search of proof of the afterlife for a rich old kook. The team is comprised of a physicist Dr. Barrett, his wife Ann (because sure), a mental medium Florence and a physical medium Benjamin. Barrett believes the phenonmenon can be explained away but as the stay in Hell House goes on, the mediums (Florence in particular) provide more and more evidence to the contrary.

Part of what separates Hell House from other haunted house movies is its shooting style which is actually quite reminisent of Argento's Suspiria. While the house is for some reason styled by the same decorator of that dance school, the film is so lushly shot with the rich colours partically oozing out of the frame and director John Hough makes the most of his cast of four shooting them within the same rooms through different lenses and angles making what could have been nearly a stage play seem down right Gone With the Wind cinematic.

And contrasting the beautiful shots, is the over the top sexuality. As the mediums become more affected by the house, so does Barrett's wife Ann. She becomes overtly sexual towards Benjamin with seemingly no recollection of the encounters especially after he's dealt her a few good slaps. Florence is also the subject of sexual desire of one of the ghosts and we're not talking pottery wheel kind of way, in an aggressive terrifying way. While the sexuality is loosely tied to the overall story (Matheson apparently had to tone it down from his book for the censors) it's inextricably a part of this movie. Sexual degradation goes hand in hand with the satanic goings on of Hell House which made it the haunting capital of the world. While The Haunting danced around the subject of sexuality, The Legend of Hell House attempts to dive right in. Since the film very clearly had to avoid certain things and couldn't go as far as it would have liked it adds to the bizarre campiness of the whole thing which ,personally, I greatly enjoyed.

The Legend of Hell House is an astonishingly beautiful movie that also manages to play to its ridiculousness. While I'm sure this wasn't intentional it makes for a wonderful contrast to all the intensely important (*cough* James Wan *cough*) ghost/haunted house movies currently in theatres.