The Legend of Hell House 1973 ****

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When it comes to haunted house movies, the influences on The Shining should not be overlooked. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting is one, Richard Matheson’s book Hell House, filmed here with a more elaborate title, is another. John Hough’s film is often forgotten in the annals of great horror, perhaps because of its PG certificate, yet it’s an intense and original take on the genre that serves up a veritable banquet of scares.
The scenario is familiar; a group of intrepid ghost hunters, scientists, mediums, arrive at Belasquo House, dubbed ‘the Mount Everest of Haunted Houses’. Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell) is the only survivor of a previous attempt to understand the house’s secrets, and he’s joined by physicist Lionel Barratt (Clive Revill) and his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), plus spiritualist Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin). Belasquo is long dead, or at least misplaced since he allegedly poisoned a group of visitors who ate at his manor. Séances are planned and executed, while a computer big enough to store a rugby team inside arrives, and a book of auto-erotica is found and perused; this isn’t a lowest-common denominator stalk and slash at all.
A property ‘haunted by multiple personalities’ certainly brings to mind the varied an unexplained inhabitants of the Overlook hotel, although there’s a quaint British-ness about some of the proceedings here; the presence of Peter Bowles and discussion about whether the house as a ‘full larder’ firmly identify what kind of vibe the house has. There’s also a strong sexual undercurrent that belies the family certificate; presumably the lack of gore persuaded the censor to turn a blind eye to the nudity. The investigation into violent psychic activity reaches a fairly vice-like crescendo, even if the dialogue occasions becomes over ripe; ‘The cat?’ “Yes, it was possessed by Daniel Belasquo!”
The screenplay, direction and performances are all top notch, but the icing on the cake is the foreboding electronic soundtrack by pioneer Delia Derbyshire, which adds an unsettling edge to the film. Something of a neglected classic, The Legend of Hell House is one of the few great horror film that you’re probably not seen yet.

To The Devil, A Daughter 1976 ***

 

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In the 1970’s, Dennis Wheatley was a literary phenomenon, with a slew of bestsellers; he was pretty much the biggest brand-name for horror in the UK. Wheatley has been a friend of Ian Fleming, and an advisor to Winston Churchill during World War II, and knew his way around all manner of government secrets., He wrote spy novels too, but the notion of having access to hidden information seemed to inform his most popular work; They Used Dark Forces is a typical title. Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out was pretty good, special effects aside, but not particularly scary, and when Hammer was looking to take on The Exorcist, The Omen and the devil worship cycle of the mid 1970’s, it turned to Wheatley’s To The Devil A Daughter. With genre favourite Christopher Lee as a villain, imported star Richard Widmark as the occult writer tracking him down, and Natasha Kinski as the nubile Bravian nun set to be sacrificed to Old Nick himself, what could go wrong? Throw in Rising Damp’s Francis De La Tour as a Salvation Army singer, Bond girl Honor Blackman, saturnine Anthony Valentine and of course the always welcome Denholm Elliot, and there’s nothing boring about Peter Sykes’s film. There’s nothing very scary about it otherwise, but that’s to do with the source material. Wheatley was an adventure writer who used black magic themes; To The Devil A Daughter was the wrong selection of weapon, club or instrument by the Hammer executives, but shorn of expectations of the next big thing in horror, it’s a fun ride for specialists.

https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Daughter-Richard-Widmark/dp/B01K8I8UKA/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=to+the+devil&qid=1565011208&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Hellboy 2018 ***

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The knives were out for Neil Marshall’s reboot, rehash, re-imagining of the comic book property Hellboy, which crashed and burned at the box office with barely a whiff of brimstone or sulphur. And yet, it’s not by any means as bad as might have been expected, with some flashes of wit in the script, some huge visuals and a decent centre in Stranger Things’s David Harbour. Having an enormous face seems to be the requisite for getting cast in this role, and while Harbour’s countenance is undeniably huge, it’s not quite of the ironing board dimensions of Ron Perlman. Harbour seems a little lost under the latex and make-up, but still makes a fist of Hellboy’s laconic attitude, with Ian McShane having some fun as his dad. The story, about secret societies, Nazis, sorceresses and the usual Hellboy elements is familiar, although Milla Jovovich is a memorable villainess. Truth be told, this isn’t much better or worse that the two Guillermo del Toro versions, which were no great shakes either; for Marshall, who musters a certain vulgarity as well as some big action scenes, it’s a setback perhaps, but one that suggests he’s got what it takes to deliver a great action film one day.