“THIS HOUSE,,,,IT KNOWS WE’RE HERE”. That is one of the lines from the movie THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE which was released in 1973 and directed by film maker John Hough. The movie was originally destined to be an American International Pictures release, but producer James H Nicholson had a parting of the ways with AIP and thus it was released through 20th Century Fox. Alas although Nicholson is credited as a producer on the movie he passed away before the film was finished. The movie is in my opinion one of the most unsettling and frightening cinematic experiences that one could sit through and for a movie released in the early 1970’s broke new ground within the horror genre, some saying it went to far but others agreeing that it was and still is a film that effectively set the scene for many horror motion pictures that followed.
For example, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE SHINING and THE CHANGELING. Many horror fans labelled THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE as a re-working and even a rip off of Robert Wise’s masterpiece THE HAUNTING which was released a decade before. But, although there are certain similarities, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE has a clear identity of its own, and in many ways can be considered a more polished and even more realistic take upon THE HAUNTING. Filmed in full colour and starring Roddy McDowell, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicut, this was in my humble opinion a classy and thought-provoking motion picture that contained some fine performances from the cast members. It was also awash with numerous special effects and contained an atmospheric and disturbing score.
The four main protagonists of the story are asked to investigate the possibility of survival after death. What follows is a terrifying and unrelenting horror fest of occurrences that shock and make ones heart jump. Physicist Dr Lionel Barrett heads the team and is accompanied by his wife (Gayle Hunnicut), Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) who is a medium and a spiritualist minister Ben Fischer (Roddy Mc Dowell). Fischer has been to the house before and was the only surviving member of a team that was sent there to investigate it 20 years previous. Dr, Barrett, says “THIS IS BELASCO HOUSE the MOUNT EVEREST OF HAUNTED HOUSES”. The house was owned by a perverted giant of a man Emeric Belasco, who indulged in all sorts of gruesome and sadistic acts. He was supposedly murdered after a massacre took place at the house and it is said that it is haunted by numerous spirits who were the victims of the twisted millionaire. The investigation commences a week before Christmas and straight away Barrett is sceptical of anything that Tanner has to say, he is more interested in proving that the house has a strong electro magnetic energy rather than it being haunted by spirits, and installs a machine in the house that he believes will rid it of this force.
The medium and the Doctor clash and an argument follows that ends in a terrifying attack on the DR by forces unseen, but even after this he is not convinced it is haunted, he concludes that it is the medium Tanner using the electromagnetic fields present within the property against him. Roddy Mc Dowell’s character remains above all of this and tries to close his mind to the influences present in the house, so he can collect a pay-check at the end of the investigation. Ann Barrett (Gayle Hunnicut) begins to have erotic visions late into the night, going from her room to the downstairs sitting room to undress and demand sex from Fischer. Fischer laps her and brings her out of the trance she is under, but it happens again after she has been drinking and is caught making advances to Fischer by her husband, after which Fischer drops his psychic guard and straight away is set upon by the entity within the house. Meanwhile Tanner is attacked by a possessed cat and also raped by the entity who brutally attacks her and possesses her body. Eventually Tanner is killed, crushed by a falling crucifix in the chapel and Barrett too dies after saying that he and his machine have cleared the house of the evil. It is then down to Fischer who taunts the entity within the house until it finally abates all of its activities, Fisher finds the preserved body of Belasco behind a secret door which itself is hidden behind a stained glass window, and discovers he was no giant but was in fact a short and weak man who went as far as to amputate his short legs and replace them with prosthetic limbs which made him look like a giant. Fischer and Ann leave the house and hope that both Barrett and Tanner will then act as guides for Belasco so he can at last enter the afterlife.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is if you will forgive the pun a hell of a movie, it is filled with a malevolent atmosphere and a powerful and vibrant persona, that keeps you tense and on the edge of your seat all the way through.
The film is aided greatly by the musical score, it is a largely electronic work, which also contains a handful of solo instruments that are introduced in the quieter or opening moments of the movie, is the work of composers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, if you think that you recognise the names you probably do as both were mainstay composers of the early episodes of the hit BBC TV show DR WHO, Derbyshire being responsible for arranging Ron Grainers classic theme for the series. Derbyshire was born on May 5th 1937, and is best known for her ground breaking work with the BBC radiophonic Workshop during the 1960,s and throughout the 1970,s. Derbyshire was a masterful exponent of electronic music, and is said to have influenced musicians such as, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS and ORBITAL. She passed away on July 3rd, 2001.
Brian Hodgson who was born in 1938, was also a pioneer in electronic music and also worked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, it was Hodgson who created the sound that we still hear to this day when the Tardis comes into or goes out of shot in DR WHO. He also created the distorted and sinister sounding voices of the Daleks for the series. The score for THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was recorded at Hodgson’s Electrophon studios in London’s Covent Garden. In 1977 Hodgson returned to head the Radiophonic Workshop where he remained until 1994.
Although electronic and largely a score of sounds rather than actual music, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE still contains a score that is innovative and important within the history of film music. It is one that deserves a release onto a recording, so that fans of the movie can hear the sounds of the house, as I always thought that the score was the actual sound of the house within the movie, after all it did have a personality all of its own, didn’t it?