This weekend is Halloween, the bestest, most greatest holiday of them all. I thought I’d suggest two of my favorite haunted house movies to help keep you creeped out after the Trick-or-Treaters have finished their pilfering on your candy bowl. Both are available to stream through YouTube; one for free, the other for a mere $2.99.
I will avoid spoilers.
First up is the 1980 MGM release, The Changling starring George C Scott and Trish Van Devere. Scott plays John Russell, a music composer and professor who, early in the film, suffers a terrible tragedy. When Russell begins his life over again, he accepts a position as a music professor and lecturer at a college in Seattle. He takes up residence in a huge, historical mansion that hasn’t been lived in for years.
Soon after he moves in, Russell begins to experience strange sounds and visions that lead him to investigate the house and its history. He finds a hidden room high in the house, in which there is a sad, tiny wheelchair meant for a child. He also finds a music box and soon realizes that something in that house is trying to communicate with him and is compelling him to solve a mystery.
A mystery that involves an elder, well-respected Senator played by Melvyn Douglas. What is the dark secret that ties the Senator to the spirit in that house?
My favorite sequence in the film involves a seance, in which a psychic attempts to communicate with the spirit of the house, and its aftermath, in which Russell discovers something very important and frightening.
Or perhaps you’d like something a little creepier and sexier?
If so, my next suggestion is 20th Century Fox’s 1973 release The Legend of Hell House. It stars Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, and Gayle Hunnicutt as a team of investigators charged with the task of finding evidence of life after death. And the answer is thought to be able to be found in the Belasco House – Hell House. “It is the Mount Everest of haunted houses.”
The house had been owned by the very wealthy and very strange Emeric Belasco. Belasco would hold parties that would last for days, in which all manner of hedonistic pleasures were pursued. The last party had ended tragically as, after concerned family members had the house broken into, it was discovered that all the guests were dead. But missing from the dead was Belasco himself. He was never found.
The evilness of Belasco and his debauchery had saturated the house with a malevolent (and sexual) energy that continues to haunt the mansion, long after the disappearance of its enigmatic owner. This haunting threatened the very lives and sanity of any who dared enter it. Previous investigations into the house resulted in horrible tragedies, one of which McDowall’s character, Benjamin Fischer, was the sole survivor.
This movie has lots of great moments. One of my favorites takes place early on as the investigators, having just arrived at the house, discover a phonograph with a record containing a message of greetings from Belasco himself (voiced by Michael Gough, who goes uncredited). When the message plays out, Fischer, a psychic himself, makes an observation that is very eerie. It fits the tone of the whole movie.
Both films use very little in the way of special effects. They rely on the atmosphere created by the setting and the actors and, especially in Hell House’s case, the musical score.