The Legend of Hell House

I make it a point to write spoiler-free reviews. In most cases, I can delineate my thoughts without revealing critical plot details, even if my opinion of a film is tied directly to a curveball in the script. Try as I might, I can't review The Legend of Hell House without spoiling the twist ending. Sorry, but there is no way around it. For those who haven't seen this haunted hayride, here is my truncated, yet spoiler-free assessment of Hell House. Ready? It's...okay. The atmosphere is swollen with dread, but I was put off by the unlikeable characters and the abortive third act. If you don't want to know how this flick resolves itself, now would be a good time to stop reading.

An affluent quack hires four paranormal investigators to spend a week in "the Mount Everest of haunted houses" to find out if there is life after death. My friends told me that I would enjoy Hell House, and on some level, they were right. I dig quiet, foggy spine-chillers. This film offers plenty of fog and several instances of uncomfortable silence. As slow as this candle burns, I can't say that I was ever tempted to check my watch. The cast is auspicious. Roddy McDowall seems to relish the opportunity to play with the nuances that his role affords him. He gives a focused performance as Ben, a medium who knows more about the titular homestead than any of his colleagues.

So where does Hell House falter? I'm glad you asked. The first hour builds to a dampening payoff. The twist isn't very twisty. This is where spoilers come in handy. Eventually, we find out that our malevolent spirit is pissed off because...he is short. No, really. The "twist" is that the antagonist resents his victims for being over five feet tall. I wish that I was fabricating this whole thing, but sadly, I am speaking the truth. How does Roddy McDowall vanquish the pint-sized ghost? He yells at him. He fucking yells at him. Oh, and he activates a machine that reverses the polarity of ectoplasm. Or something.

Honestly, I am shocked that the screenplay was penned by Richard Matheson. He adapted his own source material, which I understand is superior to this film. To each his own, but I wince when I see people refer to The Legend of Hell House as a horror landmark. Hypothetically, a better ending wouldn't change my mind. I would still be left with grating characters. The male lead is an arrogant prick, the two hotties are absolute flakes and McDowall doesn't garner much sympathy (compared to his co-stars, however, he comes across as a sweetheart). I've seen worse. That's a compliment, I guess. Rent Poltergeist or The Changeling instead.

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