The Legend of Hell House (1973)

PG | 90-91 or 93-94 mins | Horror | June 1973

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HISTORY

A written statement appearing before the opening credits reads: "Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving psychic phenomena are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true. Tom Corbett, Clairvoyant and Psychic consultant to European Royalty.” According to the end credits, the film was "made on location and at the EMI-MGM Elstree Studios, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire, England." Studio notes reported that the mansion in the film was located at Wykehurst Park, Sussex, fifty miles south of London. Although the film was set in England, in Hell House , the Richard Matheson novel on which the film is based, the setting was Maine. In that story, "Barrett" is about ten years older and frail, requiring his wife’s constant assistance and the use of a cane to walk. Both the film and the book precede each sequence with a written statement of the date and time within the story, which takes place over a one-week period.
       According to the film's production notes, producer Albert Fennell met the director, John Hough, when both worked on the popular 1960s British television series The Avengers . At that time, Hough served as second and third assistant director. The notes stated that it was in that series that Hough had his first directing assignment. An Aug 1972 ^ IDV news item reported that The Legend of Hell House was the first film produced by the newly formed Academy Pictures Corporation owned by James H. Nicholson, formerly of American International Pictures. Nicholson died of cancer in Dec 1972 just before the ... More Less

A written statement appearing before the opening credits reads: "Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving psychic phenomena are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true. Tom Corbett, Clairvoyant and Psychic consultant to European Royalty.” According to the end credits, the film was "made on location and at the EMI-MGM Elstree Studios, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire, England." Studio notes reported that the mansion in the film was located at Wykehurst Park, Sussex, fifty miles south of London. Although the film was set in England, in Hell House , the Richard Matheson novel on which the film is based, the setting was Maine. In that story, "Barrett" is about ten years older and frail, requiring his wife’s constant assistance and the use of a cane to walk. Both the film and the book precede each sequence with a written statement of the date and time within the story, which takes place over a one-week period.
       According to the film's production notes, producer Albert Fennell met the director, John Hough, when both worked on the popular 1960s British television series The Avengers . At that time, Hough served as second and third assistant director. The notes stated that it was in that series that Hough had his first directing assignment. An Aug 1972 ^ IDV news item reported that The Legend of Hell House was the first film produced by the newly formed Academy Pictures Corporation owned by James H. Nicholson, formerly of American International Pictures. Nicholson died of cancer in Dec 1972 just before the film was completed. According to a Sep 1972 DV news item, Barbara Parkins was cast; however, she was later replaced by Gayle Hunnicutt.
       According to an Aug 1974 Var news item, Norman T. Herman and Michael “Mickey” Zide filed suit against Academy Pictures Corp. and Gunther H. Schiff, claiming they had not received $1,621,000 due them for two films, The Legend of Hell House and the 1974 production, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry , according to an oral agreement made in Jan 1973 in which they were appointed producer and executive producer after the death of Nicholson. In Mar 1975, a HR news item reported that Herman and Zide sued Twentieth Century-Fox for profits from the two films. The outcome of these suits has not been determined. In 2002, a remake of the film was in preparation by producer Don Murphy and writer Guillermo Del Toro for Angry Films and Twentieth Century-Fox; however that project never reached fruition. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Jun 1973.
---
Cue
18 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1972.
---
Daily Variety
19 Sep 1972.
---
Daily Variety
29 May 1973.
---
Films and Filming
Jan 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Nov 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1972
p. 31.
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 1973
p. 3, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1975.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
25 Jul 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Jul 1973
Section IV, p. 10.
New York Times
16 Jun 1973
p. 14.
Time
25 Jun 1973.
---
Variety
30 May 1973
p. 13.
Variety
7 Aug 1974.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A James H. Nicholson Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Set des
COSTUMES
Ward mistress
MUSIC
Mus and electronic score by
Mus and electronic score by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Photog eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Casting dir
Tech adv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson (New York, 1971).
DETAILS
Release Date:
June 1973
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 15 June 1973
Production Date:
began late October 1972 at EMI-MGM Elstree Studios, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire, England
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
30 May 1973
Copyright Number:
LP43206
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Duration(in mins):
90-91 or 93-94
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23618
SYNOPSIS

In England, elderly millionaire Mr. Deutsch hires three specialists in the occult to determine the existence of life after death by spending a week conducting research in the haunted Belasco mansion known as “Hell House” because of the numerous mysterious deaths that have occurred within it. The experts are Dr. Lionel Barrett, one of the top five physicists specializing in parapsychology; Florence Tanner, a mental medium, who is the best in her field despite her youth; and a physical medium, Ben Fischer, who was the only survivor of a similar project held at the Belasco house in 1953. The following Monday morning, Barrett, his wife Ann, Ben and Florence are taken to the Belasco gate by Deutsch’s employee Hanley, who plans to return for them at 5:00 p.m. on Friday. The group walks through the eerie fog and past a stray black cat, then enters the gloomy house darkened by windows sealed with bricks. Upon entering, the prim Florence senses evil and states that the house is aware of their arrival, but Barrett believes that paranormal activity has a scientifically explainable cause and suggests that her impressions are based on “this world, not the next.” While exploring the ground floor, the group finds a chapel containing a tortured figure on a crucifix, while elsewhere, an old Victrola mysteriously plays a decades-old recording that welcomes guests to the mansion. At dinner, Florence theorizes that the house is haunted by multiple personalities, but Barrett is skeptical and Ben says little, except to make taunting remarks about the others’ naïveté. Annoyed by his aloofness, Barrett asks for information about the history of the house and ... +


In England, elderly millionaire Mr. Deutsch hires three specialists in the occult to determine the existence of life after death by spending a week conducting research in the haunted Belasco mansion known as “Hell House” because of the numerous mysterious deaths that have occurred within it. The experts are Dr. Lionel Barrett, one of the top five physicists specializing in parapsychology; Florence Tanner, a mental medium, who is the best in her field despite her youth; and a physical medium, Ben Fischer, who was the only survivor of a similar project held at the Belasco house in 1953. The following Monday morning, Barrett, his wife Ann, Ben and Florence are taken to the Belasco gate by Deutsch’s employee Hanley, who plans to return for them at 5:00 p.m. on Friday. The group walks through the eerie fog and past a stray black cat, then enters the gloomy house darkened by windows sealed with bricks. Upon entering, the prim Florence senses evil and states that the house is aware of their arrival, but Barrett believes that paranormal activity has a scientifically explainable cause and suggests that her impressions are based on “this world, not the next.” While exploring the ground floor, the group finds a chapel containing a tortured figure on a crucifix, while elsewhere, an old Victrola mysteriously plays a decades-old recording that welcomes guests to the mansion. At dinner, Florence theorizes that the house is haunted by multiple personalities, but Barrett is skeptical and Ben says little, except to make taunting remarks about the others’ naïveté. Annoyed by his aloofness, Barrett asks for information about the history of the house and Ben replies that it was built in 1919 by the reclusive Emeric Belasco, who, according to rumors, was known as the “roaring giant” because he was over six feet five inches tall. Questioned further, Ben lists the many vices attributed to Belasco: drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, murder, vampirism, mutilation, necrophilia, cannibalism and various sexual proclivities. No one knows what happened to him, Ben says, but in 1929, relatives of his guests broke into the house and found twenty-seven people dead and Belasco missing. The group holds a séance, led by Florence, who first prays that their efforts will bring peace. When she enters a trance, a male voice emanates from within her, warning they will be killed if they stay. The house trembles, but then stops abruptly, leaving Florence exhausted. Afterward, when Barrett tells her she manifested physical phenomena, she is surprised, as she is not a physical medium. In their bedroom later, Ann suggests to Barrett that the noises were created by Ben, a true physical medium who refused to lead the séance, and Barrett admits that he has qualms about both Ben and Florence. During the night, the entity from the séance enters Florence’s room and, at breakfast, she claims that it is Emeric’s son Daniel, whose spirit is held captive. Although she suggests that helping him might dissipate the house’s negative energy, Barrett says, condescendingly, that they should do another séance under “scientific conditions.” That afternoon, Florence sits within a gauzy chamber rigged by Barrett, who monitors the room with mechanical equipment. As she goes into a trance, Barrett takes note of increased electromagnetic radiation, ozone in the air and ectoplasm streaming out of Florence’s fingertips. When the ectoplasm suddenly retracts, Florence goes into systemic shock. Hours after recovering, Florence reports that Daniel contacted her again and when Barrett expresses doubt, she becomes angry. She accuses him of disregarding her beliefs and quotes Bible verses to support her views. As dishes and glassware fly toward Barrett, he barely escapes being crushed by a falling chandelier, but it all stops when Florence screams, “no,” prompting Barrett to believe that she psychically caused the disturbance. Uneasiness also develops between Florence and Ben, who accuse each other of being the source of the disturbance. Later, in bed, Ann is disquieted by an erotic statue of a man and a woman having sex, which seems to come to life. On two different nights, the normally faithful Ann tries to seduce Ben, but realizing that she is sleepwalking and not in possession of herself, he sends her back to Barrett, who witnesses her second attempt. When she awakens and tries to apologize, Barrett reasons that she is vulnerable to the house’s energy. Meanwhile, Florence, prompted by more visits from the entity, searches for physical evidence of Daniel and discovers a corpse chained to a wall in the wine cellar. After presiding over a graveside service and burial, she expects he will now rest in peace, but the voice continues to haunt her, begging that she make love to him. When Florence is attacked by a hissing black cat, Barrett secretly wonders if her wounds are self-inflicted and urges her to leave the project. However, wanting to free the trapped spirits, Florence remains. Barrett then accuses Ben of blocking the house’s energy and not carrying out his part of the research. Tormented by memories of the first experiment, in which victims suffered leg and spinal injuries before dying, Ben tells Florence that he intends to protect himself, collect the money and never return. Later, Barrett explains to Ben that he believes the house contains a power field of electromagnetic radiation, which he can reverse and subdue using a machine he designed and is having delivered. Doubtful, Ben warns that the house does not mind having guests, but fights back when attacked. That evening, Florence opens herself to the entity, after praying that love will give Daniel strength to leave the house. However, the entity rapes her, and when Ben and Barrett respond to her screams, they see scratches all over her body. Throughout the rest of the night, Ben watches over Florence and the next morning tries to get her to leave. However, when she sees Barrett’s machine and hears his plans to suck the energy out of the house, she fears that he will force Daniel and the other spirits “from one hell to another.” When Barrett insists that a “mindless, directionless power” disturbs the house, not the Belascos, she tries to destroy the machine. Failing that, she sneaks into the chapel to warn Daniel, but the crucifix falls and pins her down. While dying, she realizes that the entity has tricked all of them and with her blood, writes a B within a circle. By the time Ben and Barrett find her, she is dead and her symbolic message is incomprehensible to them. When his preparations are complete, Barrett activates his machine and he, Ann and Ben wait outside until the procedure has finished. Back inside, Ben confirms that the house is now clear of the malevolent energy. However, while Barrett is alone taking readings for his final report, the machine mysteriously comes to life and explodes, killing Barrett. Finding his body pinned under a chandelier, Ann wants to leave, but Ben feels obligated to complete Barrett’s work. With sudden illumination, he explains that Florence’s symbol was meant to convey that Belasco is haunting the house. Noting how the legs of Barrett and Florence were pinned down, he recalls that the researchers in 1953 also suffered leg injuries and shouts to Belasco’s spirit, accusing it of hiding in the mansion because he does not want people to know he was less than five feet tall. A scream is heard and glass shatters behind the chapel’s altar, revealing a door to a vault where the corpse of Belasco sits in a chair. Ben jabs a knife in the corpse’s leg, revealing a prostheses and says that Belasco despised his lack of height so much that he cut off his legs and wore prosthesis to appear taller. The vault is shielded with lead, Ben now realizes, which is the reason Barrett’s machine did not clear it. Soon after, he turns on the machine to finish the procedure, and he and Ann exit the Belasco gates forever, on their way passing a black cat. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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