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THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE ($20) has always been one of my favorite haunted house movies and I am delighted that it has finally arrived on DVD in an enhanced wide screen presentation. Noted genre writer Richard Matheson adapted his own novel to produce a very documentary like film that takes a "scientific" look at the possibility of life beyond the grave. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE proves to be a rather scary movie because it cloaks its horror in scientific detachment, which makes the events depicted in the film appear quite real and even more frightening than if the screenplay had taken a traditional approach to the material.

In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, a dying millionaire enlists the services of a physicist named Barrett (Clive Revill) to prove conclusively whether or not there is life after death. Having only a limited period of time to get his answer, the millionaire has purchased the Belasco House, which is purported to be haunted beyond any reasonable doubt. The Belasco House, which is also known as Hell House, was the scene on a previous scientific investigation that ended with all but one member of the investigative team either insane or dead. Psychic Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall) was the sole survivor of the previous encounter with Hell House, and has also been engaged to participate in the investigation, along with another gifted, but inexperienced medium named Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin).

Although Barrett has his reservations about the presence of the two psychics, he intends to collect a fat paycheck and prove his own theories about the paranormal with the assistance of his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt). Although nothing of consequence happens when the investigative team first arrives, the psychological and physical manifestations of Hell House target each member of the group; growing progressively more violent and then turn deadly. The four primary players in THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE all give very believable performances, which makes the horror of the story even more credible. Genre fans should look for Michael Gough in an uncredited, but pivotal cameo.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Being that THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a modestly budgeted horror movie from 1973, this isn’t video demonstration material, but the transfer looks quite good. Most of the film has a sharp, crisp appearance with very good detail, although individual shots that contain optical transitions do appear a good deal softer and less defined. Colors tend to be vividly rendered; especially the reds, and the flesh tone are usually very natural. None of the strongly saturated hues cause any form of chromatic distortion or smearing. Blacks are solid and deep, but the age of the movie and the film stocks employed during the production do limit the level of shadow detail. But then again, the darkness does enhance the fright factor. This presentation of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is nowhere as grainy as previous versions of the film, with only modest traces of grain appearing here and there. The film element used for the transfer does have some age related blemishes, but none of which are distracting. Digital compression artifacts out of sight on this cleanly authored dual layered DVD.

For this release, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is presented with a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel surround track. Surround activity and channel separation is limited, but this mix is a bit more effective than the original monaural soundtrack. The film’s creepy electronic score by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson is more effective on the wider soundstage, although fidelity is hampered by age. Still, the dialogue is completely intelligible and the sound effects are fairly convincing.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer for THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, plus BATMAN: THE MOVIE, BEDAZZLED, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a personal favorite that I am recommending to other genre fans, as well as those looking to check out an older but very effective scary movie. Fox has done a good job with the DVD and the price is very reasonable.


The Legend of Hell House


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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