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.

And Soon The Darkness 1970 ****

 

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Remade to minimal effect with Amber Heard in 2010, this original Robert Fuest chiller fully deserves a cult reputation. The brain-child of Avengers creator Brian Clemens and Dr Who/Daleks originator Terry Nation, it’s an unusual horror film that unfolds almost entirely under bright sunlight and over a few miles of French countryside.

It’s in this idyllic environment that we meet Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michelle Dotrice), two nurses on a cycling holiday. They bicker and get separated;  Cathy vanishes after Jane leaves her in a woodland clearing, and enlists various local men in her quest to find her friend; Sandor Eles and John Nettleton are amongst them.

Kim Newman’s notes on this new Blu-ray extras tie And Soon The Darkness into a specific genre of films in which fish-out-of-water tourists are menaced by locals, with Hostel the obvious example. But there’s also a straight who-dunnit here, with much to misdirect and some ingenious touches like the non-translation of dialogue which forces the audience to see things from Jane’s view. For television specialists, Clements and Nation resisted the temptation to overstuff the narrative ,and instead keep things simple; the killer can only be one of several people, but you’re kept guessing right to the end.

Franklin and Dotrice are British film and tv staples, with Dotrice best known as Betty in sitcom Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, and they both give a good account of themselves here. Although marketed as horror, this feels more like a straight up thriller, and the minimalism gives it the kind of stripped-down appeal of Steven Spielberg’s Duel. 

Regular late-night exposure on television has made And Soon the Darkness a well-remembered film; it’s one of a kind, the there’s bound to be a few viewers, petrified by the film’s moody atmosphere as children, who will return and find that this was a rather accomplished entry in the canon of Bryan Forbes’s short-lived reign at EMI.

AND SOON THE DARKNESS will be released courtesy of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection on 14TH October 2019 and is available to stream below

Necromancy 1972 ***

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It’s hard to imagine why Orson Welles is in Necromancy, also known as Horror Attack, The Witching, The Toy Factory, Rosemary’s Disciples and several other titles, none of which conceal this is a cheap production from horror director Bert L Gordon. Welles presumable banked a cheque for his role as Dr Cato, the sinister patriarch of the small town of Lilith, where Lori (Pamela Franklin) and her husband Frank (Michael Ontkean from Twin Peaks) unwisely move so her can pursue a career in ‘advertising and promotion’ at a local toy factory. Dr Cato turns out to be the head of a coven that Lori is invited to join, but her refusal sparks controlling behaviour from the townspeople. Welles may have been down on his luck at the time, but as the admirable F For Fake shows, was still very much himself; perhaps the role of a magician was too enjoyable a notion for his to turn down. Necromancy is a strange and uneven film, bizarrely edited and scored, but it’s not devoid of interest; it puts devil worship at the centre of the narrative, and conjures up a surreal, distasteful atmosphere that dedicated horror fans might enjoy.