Boy, I tell ya, keeping the titles of these movies straight is hard work. Today I watched the 1999 movie The Haunting of Hell House, based on the Henry James short story The Ghostly Rental. Now don't you go getting this flick confused with The Legend of Hell House, The Haunting, The Haunting of Hill House (the book upon which that last movie was based), The House on Haunted Hill, the documentary Hell House, or even Elvira's Haunted Hills. Sweet baby Charles Nelson Reilly, is it really so difficult to come up with a somewhat original title for a haunted house movie?!
I used to love watching Elvira and totally miss her show....just thought you should know.
A long, long time ago (around the turn of the 20th century) in a land far, far away ("New" England), a boy named James and a girl named Sarah traveled by horse-drawn carriage to a creepy abandoned house to participate in the time-honored horror movie tradition known as Doin' It. After the bodices have been ripped and the sighs sighed, Sarah tells James she's so in love with him and wouldn't it be just lovely if they bought this creepy old house and lived in bliss together, ripping bodices and heaving their chests for all eternity? James replies, in essence, "Yeah, sure baby, that sounds swell. Thing is, see, I'm a college student who's in line to become manager of the family flax mill. You're a lowly wench. It'll never work, baby- never." Sarah then utters the line that's best uttered at the least opportune time: "I'm pregnant". Maybe I shouldn't quote that; it is basically what she says, but she says it all Henry James ye olde timey fancy-like.
Faster than you can say "Ye olde timey expletive!", James rushes Sarah to a back-alley abortionist. She's oddly terrified of the whole thing...maybe it's because the surly dude who's going to perform the "procedure" says to her "You can call me doctor if it makes you feel better." Who knows...women are so emotional.
Surprisingly, the operation is NOT a raging success and Sarah leaves the clinic bleeding all over the place. James kindly dumps her upstairs in a tavern, tells her he's going to fetch help...and splits. When he returns the next day bearing flowers- how sweet!- he finds out that Sarah died at some time during the night.
Almost immediately James is beset by horrible visions and dreams of a bloody Sarah, bloody tables, bloody tools, and bloody blood. Lots of blood. It's like Ye Olde Shining!
The creepy abandoned house is owned by a strange man who teaches "metaphysics" classes late at night at James's school. Professor Ambrose (Michael York, sporting some crazy-ass Scrooge-meets-Einstein sideburns) tells his students that death is just another level of existence, man, a different form of being, dig? James, increasingly disturbed by his violent visions, seeks out Professor Ambrose to get some advice. It turns out that the two of them have quite alot in common as Ambrose reveals his own haunted past. His beloved wife died in childbirth and so he was left to raise their daughter Lucy on his own. One night Ambrose came home from giving a lecture to find Lucy making out with the man she intended to marry. Ambrose flew into a rage and cursed the both of them, telling Lucy "You're dead to me!". Months later, he chilled out and decided to reconcile with his only daughter...but he found out that she died in the interim. She simply lost the will to live.
Ambrose eventually tried to rent out the creepy house, but the spirit of his daughter wouldn't allow it- she kept scaring them off. In a gesture of good- or is it eeeevil?- will, the spirit makes a deal with Ambrose. She'll be his ghostly tenant! Once a week, he must swing by the house, pick up a bag full of coins for rent, and drink a glass of wine. The poor dude has been doing this for a long time now, and the house (or the spirit!) is killing him slowly.
Meanwhile, the police are actually investigating Sarah's death (despite the fact that she was but a lowly wench) and they're closing in fast on James. He decides to meet Sarah at the creepy house to put an end to all of this- it's what she wants, after all. Despite the pleas from Ambrose to just forget the past, James goes to meet his destiny- and he encounters a big fat twist ending that I didn't see coming but ultimately made sense. I'm not going to ruin it for you, but I will say that for some reason the house ends up exploding, which made absolutely no sense.
The Haunting of Hell House wasn't a bad little movie, really. I read some scathing reviews online, which I pretty much disagree with. The acting is above average, the settings are well-done and atmospheric, and the story kept me intrigued and guessing to the end. It's not particularly scary, but there are some creepy images and a surprising amount of blood. The story is really about how guilt can haunt your soul far more than any ghostly apparitions can- it'll leave you all tore up inside, man, so be good! All in all, this was a nice change of pace from your ordinary haunted house flick, and I'll give it 6 out of 10 Olde Timey Crazy Ass Flyaway Sideburns.
Yeah, I'm bringing back the ratings system...I don't know why I stopped with it in the first place.