richard matheson


V.20 No.43 | 10/27/2011
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Couch Potato

I Like to Watch (Instantly): The Legend of Hell House

Halloween Countdown Edition

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Directed by John Hough

Cast: Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Peter Bowles, Roddy McDowall, Roland Culver, Pamela Franklin

For this ludicrous-yet-effective haunted house film, Richard Matheson adapted his own down-and-dirty novel for the screen, somehow managing to create a reasonable PG version from the NC-17 source material. The scenario is very deliberately a sexed-up ’70s remix of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (not Hell House, got it?), itself filmed quite effectively in 1961 as The Haunting.

The setup is archetypal. Four quirky characters investigate a haunted house: The physicist and his wife (Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt), the touchy-feely medium (Pamela Franklin, formerly haunted as a child actress in The Innocents) and the sole survivor of a previous expedition (Roddy McDowall). The cast is great and utters potentially clunky lines about “ectoplasm” and “multiple hauntings” with so much in-character authority that they totally work.

My previous VHS viewing of this film did not include the pleasure of beholding the awesome wide-angle, widescreen frame composition employed throughout (and especially during the opening sequences). Creepy exterior shots of the fogbound house with datestamps presage each supernatural incident, creating both quickie verisimilitude and a rhythm of suspense. The general aura of competency and class—plus Delia Derbyshire/Brian Hodgson’s extra-delicious electronic score—makes Hell House an excellent Halloween A/V treat. (Well, aside from the overwrought ending.) I watched it twice.