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The Legend of Hell House

Theatrical poster
Directed by John Hough
Produced by Albert Fennell
Norman T. Herman
James H. Nicholson (executive)
Susan Hart (executive)
Written by Novel & screenplay:
Richard Matheson
Starring Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver, Peter Bowles
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Release date(s) 1973
Running time 95 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Legend of Hell House is a 1973 British horror film by Academy Pictures. It was directed by John Hough and stars Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, and Gayle Hunnicutt. The screenplay was written by Richard Matheson based on his own novel Hell House.



Physicist Lionel Barrett is enlisted by an eccentric millionaire, Mr Deutsch, to make an investigation into "survival after death" in "the one place where it has yet to be refuted". This is the Belasco House: the "Mount Everest of haunted houses," originally owned by the notorious "Roaring Giant" Emeric Belasco, a six-foot-five perverted millionaire and supposed murderer, who disappeared soon after a massacre at his home. The house is believed to be haunted by numerous spirits; the victims of Belasco's strange desires.

Accompanying Barrett are his wife, Ann, as well as two mediums: a mental medium and Spiritualist minister, Florence Tanner, and a physical medium, Ben Fischer, who is also the sole survivor of an earlier investigation. The rationalist Barrett is rudely skeptical of Tanner's Christian faith and spiritual beliefs, asserting that there is nothing but unfocused electromagnetic energy in the house. Barrett brings a machine he has developed, which he believes will rid the house of any paranormal presence or force.

Though not a physical medium, Tanner begins to manifest physical phenomena inside the house. When, after a quarrel with Tanner, Barrett is attacked by an invisible force, he suspects that Tanner may be using the house's energy against him. Meanwhile Fischer remains aloof, with his mind closed to the house's influence, and is only there to collect the generous pay offered him to return.

Ann Barrett is subjected to erotic visions late at night, which seem linked to her lackluster sex life. She goes downstairs and, in a seeming trance, disrobes and demands sex from Fischer. He instead strikes her, snapping her out of the trance, and she returns to herself, horrified and ashamed. Her husband arrives a moment later, and is resentful.

Tanner, convinced that one of the "surviving personalities" is Belasco's tormented son Daniel, finds a human skeleton, chained behind a wall. Believing it to be Daniel's, Tanner and Fischer bury the bones outside the house, and Tanner performs a funeral. Despite this, Daniel's personality continues to haunt Tanner; she is scratched violently by a possessed cat and Barrett, seeing the scratches, suspects that Tanner may be mutilating herself. In an attempt to put the supposed Daniel to rest, Tanner gives herself to the entity sexually, and later appears to be possessed herself, temporarily.

Barrett's machine is assembled. Tanner attempts to destroy it, thinking that it will harm the spirits in the house, but is prevented. She enters the chapel, the unholy heart of the house, in an attempt to warn the spirits, and is crushed by a falling crucifix. (During her dying moments, she leaves a clue written in her own blood, to the true source of the haunting, which she now knows.) Barrett meanwhile activates his machine, which seems to be effective. Finally activating his psychic abilities as he wanders in the house, Fischer declares the place "completely clear!" in astonishment. However, soon afterwards, violent psychic activity resumes and Barrett is killed.

Fischer decides finally to confront the house, with Ann accompanying him despite her misgivings. In the chapel, a confrontation ensues: Fischer deduces that Belasco is the sole entity haunting the house, masquerading as many. He taunts Belasco, declaring him a "son of a whore", and that he was no "roaring giant", but likely a "funny little dried-up bastard" who fooled everyone about his alleged height. Even as objects begin to hurl themselves at Fischer, he continues to defy the entity, until all becomes still, and a portion of the chapel wall shatters, revealing a hidden door.

Going inside, Fischer and Ann discover a lead-lined room, containing Belasco's preserved body seated in a chair. Pulling out a pocketknife, Fischer rips open Belasco's trouser leg, discovering his final secret: a pair of prosthetic legs. Fischer and Ann realize Belasco had had his own stunted legs amputated, and used the prosthetics in a grotesque attempt to appear imposing. Belasco had built the room specially, in the event of his death, to preserve his spirit, afraid of what may happen otherwise.

With the room now open, Fischer activates Barrett's machine a second time, and he and Ann leave the house, expressing hopes that Barrett and Tanner will guide Belasco to the afterlife without fear.


Production began on 23 October 1972. The Legend of Hell House is one of only two productions of James H. Nicholson after his departure from American International Pictures — a company he had run, along with Samuel Z. Arkoff, since 1954. Nicholson died of a brain tumour in December 1972, before the film's release in June 1973. The external shots of the house were filmed at Wykehurst Park, East Sussex. Nicholson's company, Academy Pictures Corporation, also released Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry through Twentieth Century Fox in 1974.

Matheson's screenplay drastically reduced some of the more extreme elements of the novel, particularly the sexuality.


The film features an electronic music score and sound effects created by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson recorded at Hodgson's Electrophon studio in London. The soundtrack is currently unavailable commercially.


  • In the original novel, the house was located in Maine, in the United States, and the investigative team is composed of Americans.
  • Belasco was played by an uncredited Michael Gough, familiar to modern audiences from his role as Alfred Pennyworth in the Tim Burton movie Batman. His role consisted of a couple of recorded lines and an on-camera appearance as an embalmed corpse seated upright in a chair.
  • The books that Ann Barrett sees standing the cabinet are titled, from left to right; Obsessive Acts And Religious Practices by Sigmund Freud, The Worship of Priapus by Richard Payne Knight, The Psychology (?) of Sex (?) by H. H. Elliot (?), Sin And Sex, Conation Volition, Sex And Celibacy by T. Long, The Anatomy of Abuses by Philip Stubbs, Phallic Worship and Autoerotic Phenomena In Adolescence by K. Menzies.
  • Scenes from the film have been parodied by Scary Movie 2, such as when the main character Cindy is attacked by a cat. In another scene, she is possessed which causes her to put on a red dress and demand sex. Another character, Alex, also has sex with the ghost in the house.


  • Rigby, Jonathan, (2000). English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-01-3.  

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