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Belittling Horror Excessively: The Legend of Hell House05:46 PM -- Sun October 9, 2016

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

This conversation also appears on SoloRien.wordpress.com.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Rated PG
IMDB rating: 6.9/10
Metacritic: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: 56% critics, 57% audience
Mikey: 2/5
Solee: 1.5/5
We watched on Netflix.


An original work by Solange!
IMDB’s description: “Physicist Lionel Barrett and his wife lead a team of mediums into the Belasco House, which is supposedly haunted by the victims of its late owner, a six-foot-five serial killer.”

Mikey: You picked this movie, Solee (well, sort of - you picked it from a list I had), on the basis that you wanted to see an older movie. What’s the draw? Did this fulfill your wish?

Solee: This did fulfill my wish. I felt like we’d only been watching very modern horror films (of many genres) and horror has evolved a lot in the past decades. This was exactly the kind of old-style movie I was looking for, especially with its penchant for crazy lenses and spinning camera effects. How do you think this movie held up?

Mikey: I was surprised at how minimally different it felt to something released today. The spinning camera I’m sure was a formative memory for Sam Raimi. Other than a little extra chauvinism (very little - horror movies are pretty bad about it), this could’ve been released today. Well, with better special effects.

Solee: They so rarely use fog machines anymore...

Mikey: No shortage of those here! I wonder how they managed to put out so much fog.

I have a bunch of questions in my head, but I feel like they belong later on. Where do we start?


Solee: Well, one things I noticed right off the bat was that this is another horror film set around Christmas. Their time in Hell House spans from Dec 20-24. I know there are other horror stories set in December - Gremlins being the one that always springs to mind. Do I just notice them more readily? Or is terror at Christmastime a popular theme?

Mikey: Oh yes, Gremlins is all about Christmas! I am not sure why this movie is set then, as there isn’t a single mention of it. We only know because of the timestamps. It’s actually a little abnormal how these people fail to mention Christmas in any way during the four days leading up to it.

Solee: Maybe that’s a British thing? These people were SO VERY British.

Mikey: Maybe. I know they treat it differently than we do! That reminds me of another fun fact about this movie’s beginning: “The stuff you are seeing is fiction. But it could totally be true! For serious!” the screen tells us at the beginning (possibly paraphrased). You think?

Solee: I think there are people out there who believe that to be true. I’m not one of them… but I’m no physicist with a focus on paranormal psychology. There are people to call for that sort of thing.

Mikey: If only they had hired Peter Venkman instead of this guy. Hey, here’s my big issue that kept bugging me throughout: the last visit to this house was 20 years ago (maybe there were others in between, but we know that at least it wasn’t “lived in” for the intervening time, and probably hadn’t been for a long time before that). These people moved right in. They ate off the plates, drank from the glasses...

Solee: They slept in the beds!!! I had the same problem as I was watching them get ready for the first night. There would have been so much dust and musty smell. I mean, we could SEE the cobwebs everywhere. Gross.

Mikey: Cobwebs, yes, but in between the cobwebs there was pristine wallpaper, nicely upholstered furniture, and clean shot glasses for your late-night toddies. Is there a cleaning staff that comes in and dodges around the ghosts once a week? How is this place so tidy?

Solee: I don’t know. Maybe we can find out who does their cleaning. Having a ghostly housecleaner would sort of negate the awkwardness of having to watch a stranger do your chores, right? If they were invisible, that is…

Speaking of sets, I was noticing that the items that are put in front of the camera to indicate wealth - chandeliers, heavy furniture, marble busts on pedestals, velvet drapery - are the very same items used to indicate that a house is haunted. Why is that?

Mikey: Wait… maybe rich people were ghosts the whole time!! I don’t know, but the statues and stuff are always pretty creepy. Velvet drapes too. I was actually thinking during this movie, “the first thing they should do is just start hauling out the furniture”. If they just took that stuff out, it wouldn’t be nearly so creepy.

Solee: There were some “Game of Thrones” level chairs in that house.

Mikey: I didn’t notice any made of swords, but yeah, it was a bit opulent.

Solee: Fun fact. My grandma was born in 1919, the same year that house was built. Okay… so that was not really that fun.

Mikey: Seems like maybe it’s a coincidence. Or is it… anyhow, there was a cute kitty. Cats have a long history in horror movies, and that history is riddled with absolute ludicrosity. One of the things that always gets me is that they’re so cute. They want it to be creepy and stuff, but those big eyes are just staring at you and you wanna snuggle. The other thing of course is that in order to fake a cat attack, they throw a fake cat at the victim. It’s never not funny.

Solee: Truth. This is two movies in a row with “scary” cats that were actually just adorable. I have never understood why directors think they are getting away with anything when they throw a cat to make it look like it’s attacking. It always just looks like someone is throwing a cat at the character.

Mikey: There’s a totally ridiculous swarm of them in Let The Right One In.

Solee: I think I remember that. So we’re not crazy about the cat effects. What did you think of the level of profanity and sexual content, given that it was rated PG. Seems to me that PG meant something different in 1973.

Mikey: Yes, I think so. I was half-expecting that, because I remember fairly recently hearing about how ratings were less strict in the past, but this movie sure would not have been PG today. It’s funny that in terms of language there were (I believe) 2 mild swear words, and for gore there were a few bloody scratches. But there was nakedness, and lots of talk of doing inappropriate things.

Solee: Yeah. That Belasco was up to some pretty naughty things. He really checked all the boxes of questionable actions. I kind of felt as though the writers, in an effort to be shocking, just listed off all the depraved things they could think of. It came off as pretty lazy writing, rather than shocking, to me.

Mikey: I really noticed that - I bet in the ads they talked about how this movie contains such shocking naughty stuff, but what it really contained was a person listing naughty activities, in clinical language. Like once. I happened upon some info on IMDB regarding the writing, though: this is based on a book by Richard Matheson, which apparently does contain said depravity, and lots of it. People were saying it’s a very intense horror novel, where the characters are psychologically torn apart by the house. He also did the screenplay, and I think you do see that in this movie. That’s basically the plot: they come unhinged over the course of their stay, each in different ways. I’m not sure it was taken far enough to really be that powerful though.

Solee: It wasn’t taken nearly far enough. I was hoping for some Hitchcock level terror, but it was super tame. Just like the naughty bits, the horror was mostly hinted at. The final showdown with the big, bad ghostie was pretty much a shoving match with some name calling thrown in for good measure. This was probably the least scary movie we’ve seen all month.

Mikey: Yeah, I think so. (Spoilers!) It’s so odd that figuring out (somehow?) that the ghost was a short guy made him go away forever. That’s about the strangest way of defeating a ghost I’ve ever heard of. It was a bit like The Dead Room in some ways though, with the ghost ‘hiding out’ in his lead-lined Fortress of Solitude. Oh, and they had a magic ghostbusting machine that used energy waves. And a psychic girl with a tech guy and a skeptic. Although those were the same guy. These movies are twinsies!

Solee: Huh. You’re right. I hadn’t noticed all the similarities. I did notice that the ghost (?? Daniel??) said, “You’re my only hope”, which was apparently a very popular line in the 1970s.

Mikey: And then shoved people around with The Force. Oh wait, I forgot another issue with the house cleaning I had. The house’s cleanliness is clearly a major issue for me! In previous attempts to exorcise this house, lots of other people died. So we can surmise that it was similar to this time, with furniture being smashed, chandeliers dropping, and so on. So… did somebody come in and clean that stuff up too, and put in new (antique) furniture in place of it? Who is managing this property? They’re saints. Or sick and twisted.

Solee: They made a big deal out of all the people who had died. And then when he was actually listing them off, it sounded as though most of them had actually lived. They were crippled and paralyzed and what-not, but very few of them actually died. And NO ONE from this adventure died.

Mikey: No, I have a body count! 1 cat (killed by getting wet apparently - now we see why cats hate water so much), 1 long-dead corpse (we never actually find out who that is, if it’s not Daniel), 1 medium (crushed by a crucifix - quite dead), and 1 physicist (crushed by like 30 things). We got kills.

Solee: Oh. Yeah. I guess those two did get crushed… it was so uninteresting that I forgot. This movie was very disappointing.

Mikey: Does that mean we’re rating it now?

Solee: Well, almost. I have one last question. Why on earth was the physicist’s wife along? I just don’t get it. They made it clear that she always goes with him… but to what? Any sciencey event he has going on? Or does he do a lot of these haunted house things? If so, why was she so bloody useless??

Mikey: Oh, I’m sure he does lots of haunted houses, it seems established that this is his specialty. I just had an amazing thought. Maybe she comes along to clean up the houses and repair the damage! True, she was no good at the ghostbusting, but that fact combined with the mysterious cleanliness just comes together perfectly. She’s the mystery housekeeper. We just didn’t see the cleanup this time because she was rather upset over the crushing we previously mentioned.

Solee: He did mention that the technology was “just too complicated” for her. Maybe she’s a more traditional housewife.

Mikey: I think this movie (and probably most of the era) would assure you that all women are that.

Solee: Well, that leaves me ready to rate it! I’m giving it a 1.5 out of 5. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t compelling, it fizzled at the end, and it failed to impress me. I did like the sets and the acting was acceptable, so it didn’t get a straight up 1. You?

Mikey: Okay. That’s harsher than I shall be! Definitely not scary in any way, but I don’t agree it fizzled: the finale made no sense at all, but it had the style of a dramatic showdown with a ghost, all yelling and wind and objects flying around (well, the guy getting flung around), so not a fizzle, just a confuzzle. That doesn’t make it good, though. I hate to be mean to this movie for some reason. I feel like it tried, and I like that it was so psychological about things rather than just objects flying off shelves making people run for the door. So I give it a 2 out of 5.

Solee: Fair enough. I think it’s time for something REALLY scary tomorrow. I’m going to let you decide what that is.

Mikey: OOH YEAH. That movie will be Kill List - watch for yourself and decide how it measures up.

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