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The Legend of Hell House

(Directed by John Hough)

This inventive movie is sometimes written off as the poor cousin to Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963), which is understandable if entirely unfair. Both films are based on books around ghost-prone buildings being investigated by a small group of experts. But “Hell House” has its own unique wrinkle on hauntings and a very different direction. It’s based on a book written by the great genre author Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay to ensure the ideas copied across. (NB: That said, the sexual elements were still toned down for the movie). Whereas the classic Wise film contains a fair bit of ambiguity with its scares, the supernatural element is certainly in no doubt here. But what does elevate “Hell House” to superior Haunted House fare, is the combination of modern-day investigative theories around life-after-death (residual electromagnetic energy, and the phenomena of “surviving personalities”), along with a superior cast and a slightly deranged but engaging plot. A renowned Physicist leads two mediums (and his wife) into the gothic grounds of Belasco House, which is supposedly haunted by a multitude of spirits, in order to find proof of life after death.

Given that the duration of their investigation eventually consists of violent poltergeist activity, spiritual possession, demonic cats, and entombed corpses… you would have thought that they would tick a few boxes and skedaddle post-haste. But instead the narrative plays out in a most satisfying way, with some extremely solid performances from the likes of Roddy McDowall (in one of his best non-“Planet of the Apes” roles) and Gayle Hunnicutt (as the tormented and repressed wife). It balances the scientific theories nicely with the overt spiritualism, to give an undercurrent of believability to the mist-strewn mansion and its inhabitants. It even manages to handle a major twist to the plot that sounds preposterous when spoken aloud (it centres on the identity and appearance of the “antagonist”), that comes across as creepy and fitting when it’s actually played out. A firm favourite to those that have caught it on late-night showings during the 80s and later, this is a quintessential “Haunting” film that should be sought out. Director Hough would later go on the direct the Disney horror, “The Watcher in the Woods”.

Theatre of Blood

(Directed by Eugenio Martín as Douglas Hickox)

As we’ve seen in earlier blogs, the early 70s were a Golden Age for classic Vincent Price performances, and this contains one of his hammiest and most enjoyable. The movie was reputedly another clear favourite from the iconic actor, and also that of its leading lady Diana Rigg in a rare villainous role (before GOT obviously). There are clear parallels between this movie and the “Dr Phib