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Legend of Hell House, The (Blu-ray)

The Legend of Hell House (Blu-ray)Starring Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt

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The Legend of Hell House (Blu-ray)Starring Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt

Directed by John Hough

Distributed by The Scream Factory


There are a number of variables that can lead horror fans to make assumptions about a film’s quality before seeing a frame of footage, but none seems more arbitrary than the rating. Slap an “R” on a film and there’s a buzz of excitement in the air; garner a “PG-17” and almost immediately complaints pop up decrying that a film has been neutered for younger audiences. Sometimes the latter is true – and also foolish, since the 12-17 demographic that studios so desperately chase is a minor slice of the movie-going public pie – but, really, a film’s rating is not intrinsically linked to its quality. Just look to the past for ripe examples of horror films that are truly terrifying despite their (gasp!) “PG” rating. Of course, many of these examples were from an age before the advent of a “PG-17” rating. Still, the great thing about horror is that gore and nudity aren’t required to instill terror, and there is a subgenre that can skate by without either of those: hauntings. Going back to an era before these films relied almost entirely on jump scares, some of the most consistently lauded fright films are decades-old favorites such as The Haunting (1967) and Poltergeist (1982), both of which have “mild” ratings.

One film that seems to get overlooked on many lists is the British cult classic The Legend of Hell House (1977) which, personally, I’ve always found to be quite effective. The screenplay was written by famed literary icon Richard Matheson, based upon his own novel of the same name. The plot is very basic: four people are commissioned to stay in “the Mount Everest of haunted houses” in an effort to prove whether or not life continues after death. That’s it. There are no ulterior motives, no sneaky sinister characters, and no slow building of tension before culminating in a frenzied climax. Four people enter a home that is unquestionably teeming with paranormal activity and the spirits within endlessly torment them until the very end. Ably directed by John Hough, who has helmed many cult favorites during his career, the film stands as a strong example of using fear of the unknown (and unseen) to bolster scares without relying on graphic imagery.

The picture opens with the following text:

“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

Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill), a prominent physicist, has been tasked by an aging millionaire to investigate the Belasco House, site of a massacre many years ago. The massive mansion was constructed by Emeric “The Roaring Giant” Belasco, a six-foot-five mountain of a man who disappeared shortly after the killings in his home. It is said the house is haunted by the spirits of those who died there. Previous expeditions to prove the existence of the supernatural ended poorly, with nearly every person who set foot inside dying under mysterious circumstances. Barrett brings along his wife, Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt); a psychic medium, Florence (Pamela Franklin); and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowell), the one survivor of the research team that was killed in the home. Barrett is convinced the phenomena seen inside can be explained away as unfocused electromagnetic energy, and he’s brought along a giant machine (which looks like an old prop from “Star Trek”) that can reverse the energy fields.

Ridding the home of its evil won’t be that easy, however, as the four soon find out. Almost immediately, the place is abuzz with activity, which Barrett thinks is nothing more than Tanner using her abilities to manifest phenomena. Fischer is simply along for the pay day, keeping up his mental walls so as not to allow the house any influence over his mind. The others aren’t so detuned, and Barrett’s wife finds herself continually under a hypnotic spell that causes her to unleash her restrained sexuality. Tanner, too, is heavily influenced by the spirit of whoever resides here. She is continually attacked both mentally and physically, the latter of which comes in the form of a sleek black cat that is unrelenting in its attacks. Fischer finally lowers his mental block and lets his mind focus on the home’s energy, which lets the group uncover some of its hidden secrets. But, ultimately, Barrett thinks only his machine can clear the evil out and end all of this madness. He may be right; however, arriving at such a conclusion requires confronting the evil forces head-on from their origin point in the heart of the house, the chapel.

The Legend of Hell House might seem tame by today’s standards, especially when you consider it lacks anything visceral. They still get away with quite a bit for a “PG” rating, including some decent side boob action, a few strong sexual moments and some mild, bloody imagery. Where the film succeeds is by presenting a constant stream of nefarious activity that occurs almost as soon as our team of four enters. The scares aren’t major, but there’s an eerie undercurrent that’s slightly unsettling because of that intangible, unknown entity causing chaos. Is there only one malevolent spirit? Several? Barrett and his team are under constant attack, both from outside and from within their own group. What’s more, Barrett is able to play the skeptic despite an abundance of clearly inhuman activity because he attributes all of it to electromagnetic energy, claims Tanner and Fischer find dubious.

The acting here is very… British; and by that, I mean kind of stuffy. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that McDowell is the strongest player here, though I wish the script had exploited the angle of him being the sole survivor of previous investigations much more. Fischer seems to be the only logical person on this mission, knowing full well what awaits them in that place. He must be very hard-up for cash considering he voluntarily re-enters the place where his colleagues died in the name of scoring some extra scratch. Old millionaires must pay very handsomely.

Hough’s film plays, in many ways, like a Hammer picture, which makes perfect sense considering he spent a good deal of time directing at the venerable studio. The Legend of Hell House presents a solid ghost story along with a dreary, austere atmosphere. Again, the scares found here may seem tame in comparison to today’s haunting films, but there’s an undeniable charm in the ‘70s aesthetic and gothic setting. If there’s one complaint, it would be there are way too many title cards. On the last day in the home, the date and time must flash on screen a dozen times. If there’s a second complaint, it would be that the ending sort of fizzles out unexpectedly, especially considering the gravity of the secrets that are uncovered. When people ask me to recommend a good, scary horror film that they haven’t seen this has long been one of my go-to picks. Revisiting it now, some of the scares aren’t quite as impactful as I had remembered, though that doesn’t make the experience of watching it any less enjoyable.

For a film that’s over 40 years old, The Legend of Hell House sports a 1.60:1 image that is fairly strong for a low-budget affair. Film grain is very evident throughout, mostly lending the cinematic aesthetic it should, but occasionally it turns to noise and the image quality suffers. This mostly happens during some interior shots. The print itself looks to have been well-preserved, with only minor flecks & dirt apparent. Hough uses extreme close-ups quite often, which not only adds to the sense of claustrophobia even in a huge mansion, but the image detail gets to shine through more than ever. When the camera is shooting medium or wide, though, the picture is softer than a moldy piece of fruit. Black levels hold strong, with only a couple instances of looking hazy. Colors look a tad on the faded side; nothing much pops here. Contrast is stable, but under the weight of shadows image details are swallowed up. This is the kind of transfer that punches up every aspect of the picture as much as it can, even if the results aren’t eye-popping. It would require extensive restoration work to look much better.

There’s not much to be said about the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. It’s clean, free of hisses & pops and carries the dialogue with good fidelity. The real standout here is the electronic score by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. It’s an atypical score that delivers an aura of foreboding, full of low-end instrumentation (think contrabassoon) and bursts of energy when the house comes alive. With so many labels churning out film soundtracks these days, someone should get on giving this its first proper commercial release. It’s absolutely fantastic. Subtitles are included in English.

Actress Pamela Franklin is the lone participant on the audio commentary track, which may just be a repurposed interview cut to use as a commentary. When selected, the disc starts off around five minutes into the movie, when Franklin’s character first appears. She’s pretty lively and quick with the anecdotes, but there are also many gaps of silence. This might’ve been better presented as a sit-down interview. The best extra included here is the Interview with director John Hough (1080p), which features the veteran director candidly talking about his style of shooting pictures, efforts to build suspense, the film’s energy, and he mentions they even had psychic advisors on set to make sure events were being presented correctly. He’s had a long, strong career and hearing him speak about his craft is a joy. The film’s theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, and a handful of radio spots conclude the supplements.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with actress Pamela Franklin
  • Interview with director John Hough
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Photo gallery
  • Radio spots
  • Reversible cover art

    The Film:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 1/2 out of 5

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    Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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    Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

    Directed by Charles Martin Smith


    I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

    Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

    Now let’s get to it.

    First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

    Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

    I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

    Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

    It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

    And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

    Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

    This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

    And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

    Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

    In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

    That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

    Rockstar lighting for days.

    Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

    Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

    More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

    Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

    Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

    All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

    Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

    • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
    3.5

    Summary

    Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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    User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 4 (18 votes)
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