IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), published in the December 2015 edition of THE HWA NEWSLETTER, the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association.
Enjoy!
—Michael
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Not only is December a great time to watch a haunted house movie, but the plot of today’s movie ­ THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) ­­­ actually takes place in December. How cool is that? Okay, so I’m easily amused.
I actually saw THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE when it was first released at the drive­in as part of a double feature with THE OTHER (1972). I was nine years­old when my parents took my younger brother and me to see this double bill, and while I slept through THE OTHER, I remember enjoying HELL HOUSE. So, there was certainly some nostalgia watching this one again recently on Netflix Streaming, especially since I hadn’t seen it in years.
Its tale of an investigative team probing a haunted house, trying to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, reminds me an awful lot of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and the movie THE HAUNTING (1963) which is based on the Shirley Jackson story. But it’s actually based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist, leads the examination into Hell House. His team includes his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being the only survivor from a previous investigation into the house.
legend of hell house - team
So, do ghosts exist or not? Dr. Barrett seems hell bent on proving once and for all that they do not exist, but the spirit that occupies Hell House has other ideas.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is ghostly fun from start to finish. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and contains plenty of creepy scenes.
Director John Hough, fresh off his horror hit for Hammer Films, the vampire film TWINS OF EVIL (1971) starring Peter Cushing, pretty much strikes gold again. Both of these films are excellent horror movies. Hough would go on to direct the Walt Disney classic ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), as well as its sequel RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) starring Christopher Lee. Hough would also direct Peter Cushing’s final movie, BIGGLES: ADVENTURES IN TIME (1986).
Roddy McDowall leads a fine cast. McDowall is excellent here as Benjamin Fischer, the man with the most insight into Hell House since he had been there before. I was already a Roddy McDowall fan when I saw this at the movies in 1973 because of the PLANET OF THE APES films. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was probably the first movie where I actually got to see his face!
So that’s what Cornelius looks like!
Clive Revill is authoritative as physicist and lead investigator Dr. Barrett, and Gayle Hunnicutt is memorable as his wife Ann. Pamela Franklin makes for a beautiful and oftentimes vulnerable psychic Florence Tanner. Even Michael Gough shows up as a corpse, which is a nice way of keeping this Hammer favorite from his signature overacting!
All four of the main characters go through changes since they are all affected one way or another by the spirit occupying Hell House. McDowall’s character probably fares the best, as he seems to
be best equipped to fend off the ghost.
Clive Revill’s Dr. Barrett, on the other hand, the supposed the leader of the team, is influenced by
the Hell House spirit pretty much from the get­go, as he quickly becomes irritable, angry, and worst of all confused. Sure, these could just be personality flaws, but more likely, they’re the work of the ghost.
Barrett’s wife Ann becomes sexually aroused and continually makes advances towards Ben Fischer, while psychic Florence senses who the ghost is but no one on her team seems to believe her, probably because she too exhibits odd behavior.
Is this assembled team just a group of oddballs? Or are they all influenced and infected by the supernatural presence residing at Hell House? You know the answer to that question, and that’s what makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much fun.
The prevailing feeling throughout THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of uncertainty and doubt. The supernatural entity makes its presence known immediately, and the characters all become affected quickly, even if they don’t realize it.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is an excellent horror movie and is yet another quality horror film from the 1970s, a decade which is chock full of horror classics. Sure, there are the big budget  classics like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), THE OMEN (1976) and ALIEN (1979),  but it’s also the decade of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978). It’s also the decade of films
like THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), low budget films that didn’t become huge hits but provided quality horror entertainment all the same. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE falls into this latter category.
As we look back today at the 1970s, a decade famous for its bad hairstyles and disco music, it’s quite clear that for horror movie fans, it’s one of the best decades ever. There are a lot of really good horror movies made in the 1970s.
If there’s one weakness regarding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE it’s the film’s plot. Its haunted house tale is nothing I haven’t seen before, and even though the film has fun with it, and it all works, at the end of the day, it’s still just another haunted house story with all the similar
trimmings.
What makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE stand out among other films of its type is a talented cast, strong direction, and a decent script by Richard Matheson.
As you make the rounds this holiday season, visiting family and fiends­­­ er, friends, don’t forget  to stop by HELL HOUSE. There’s someone there who’s dying to see you.
­­­END­­­
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MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

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Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER.

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER.

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)
By
Michael Arruda

Today we look at memorable quotes from one of my favorite horror movies from the 1970s, THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) starring Darren McGavin in the role that most of us consider to be his signature role, the inexorable reporter Carl Kolchak.
This movie is so good it’s easy to forget that it was a made-for-TV movie. In fact, it earned such high ratings when it premiered on television on January 11, 1972 that in a largely unprecedented move, it was released theatrically after it played on TV because the film was that popular. Amazing.

And it really is a superior horror movie, which is no surprise since it was produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind the Dark Shadows phenomenon. The other thing to remember is that this was a time, the early 1970s, when a plethora of quality made-for-TV horror movies were being released to the television-viewing public. THE NIGHT STALKER is probably the best of the lot.

It’s also an incredibly lean production, as it clocks in at just 74 minutes. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this baby.

Not only is this movie about a superhuman vampire on the loose in modern day Las Vegas terrifying, but it also introduced the character of Carl Kolchak to the world, a character Darren McGavin would reprise in a sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER 1973) and then in the weekly TV series The Night Stalker which sadly only lasted one season.

THE NIGHT STALKER boasts a fantastic script, and you would expect no less since it was written by Richard Matheson, based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice. The legendary Matheson wrote a ton of movies and so it would be difficult to call THE NIGHT STALKER his best screenplay, but I will say that for me, it’s probably my favorite screenplay that Matheson wrote.

As you would expect, then, this movie is chock-full of memorable quotes. Let’s get right to them, a look at some notable dialogue from THE NIGHT STALKER, screenplay by Richard Matheson:

Some of the best dialogue in the movie comes from scenes where reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) argues with his editor boss Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), as Kolchak is constantly trying to print stories that a vampire is on the loose in Las Vegas, while Vincenzo, under pressure from the local authorities, is doing his best to quash them.

Let’s listen:

KOLCHAK: Did I say it was a vampire?

VINCENZO: What does your suggested headline say?

KOLCHAK: The story makes it clear.

VINCENZO (reading): “Vampire killer in Las Vegas, question mark.” Do I misread?

KOLCHAK: The story makes it clear!

VINCENZO: Did I misread or did you use the word “vampire”?

KOLCHAK: Some screwball who imagines he’s a vampire is loose in Las Vegas, and the people ought to be told.

VINCENZO: If there’s a screwball running around loose in Las Vegas, his last name begins with a K!

And later:

KOLCHAK: What do you want, Vincenzo? A testimonial from Count Dracula?

VINCENZO: Out! Get out!

KOLCHAK: What is this out, out, get out game we play? This nut thinks he’s a vampire! He’s killed four, maybe five women! He has drained every drop of blood from every one of them! Now that is news, Vincezo. News! And we are a newspaper! We’re supposed to print news, not suppress it!

THE NIGHT STALKER also does an amazing job early on building up a sense of unease and eeriness before the brutal vampire actually makes his appearance, as in this scene where the police find another dead body. The body is lying in a sandy pit, far away from where the struggle seems to have taken place, and there are no footprints leading towards the body other than those belonging to the police. Of course, Kolchak is right alongside the police here.

POLICE OFFICER: This girl lost a lot of blood, Sheriff, but she didn’t lose it here.

SHERIFF BUTCHER: (calling to other officers): Anything?

OFFICER #2 (in the distance): We found a purse! There’s signs of a struggle up here!

SHERIFF BUTCHER: But nothing in between. Only our footprints.

KOLCHAK: What’d he do? Throw her?

There are also several neat exchanges between Kolchak and the authorities, such as in this scene where the coroner makes his report to the police and district attorney, and to the press:

CORONER: We found the death in each case was extremely swift, coming in something like less than a minute. After the initial wounds were inflicted, the blood was drained very quickly, some kind of suction device being used. Now this would explain why no blood was found anywhere in the victims or in the areas where they were discovered.

KOLCHAK: Doctor— Kolchak, Daily News. Do you have any idea what could have made these wounds?

CORONER: They’re not unlike the bite of a medium-sized dog.

SHERIFF: What do you mean, dog?

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: What? Dog, dog! What are you telling us? A dog did these murders?

CORONER: I didn’t mean to indicate that the wounds were actually inflicted by a dog, only that they’re similar to those which might be caused by a dog. A rather interesting point is we found another substance mixed in with the traces of blood in the throat wounds, namely saliva.

SHERIFF: What do you mean, saliva?

CORONER: I mean saliva, Sheriff Butcher. Human saliva.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: What do you mean “human”? Are you suggesting that each of these women were bitten in the throat by a man?

CORONER: At present, the evidence points that way. However I couldn’t and wouldn’t hazard a guess as to motivation. I could only be sure they each died from shock, induced by massive loss of blood.

KOLCHAK: Is it possible that he killed these women by biting them in the throat for the express purpose of drinking their blood?

SHERIFF: Kolchak, now you’re here by the mutual suffrage of us all!

KOLCHAK: It’s sufferance.

SHERIFF: What?

KOLCHAK: It’s sufferance, sheriff.

SHERIFF: Whatever it is! Just shut up!

And later:

KOLCHAK: Now, I was at the hospital yesterday, and a lot of things were happening that you just simply cannot explain away. Sheriff, your own men shot at him, some at point blank range. How come it didn’t even slow him down? How come a man over 70 years old can outrun a police car? How come this same man when slugged in the head doesn’t even bleed?

How come, indeed! If you haven’t seen THE NIGHT STALKER, you’re missing one of the best horror movies of all time. Check it out!

Don’t believe me? Well, don’t take my word for it. Listen to Kolchak himself as he speaks into his cassette recorder, telling the story of THE NIGHT STALKER:

KOLCHAK: Judge for yourself its believability and then try to tell yourself, wherever you may be, it couldn’t happen here.

Thanks for reading!
—Michael