Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and PUMPKINHEAD on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Scream Factory - THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and PUMPKINHEAD on Blu-ray

Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers of all time. His I AM LEGEND is one of the greatest pieces of fiction every put to paper. Matheson is also the screenwriter of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE which is based on his own novel. This novel was called "one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th century" by the great Stephen King, who was a gigantic fan of Matheson and often cited him as one of the greatest influences on him as a writer. Matheson was responsible for many great stories over the years and many of them were made into movies and TV shows with good reason. Though the material he wrote was not explicitly "R-rated", I have sometimes felt he could have benefitted from film adaptations that were. There were not many of them though and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a good example of what his material can do even without an R-rating (it was rated PG). I certainly enjoy a good haunted house film now and again, but few of them truly freak me out. There are only four that have left a truly lasting impression on me. They are THE HAUNTING ('63), THE INNOCENTS, THE UNINVITED and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. The advantage HELL HOUSE may have over those others is its freedom to be more intense and scary just by virtue of the fact that it came out a little later and was aloud to be more intense. The neat thing that Hough does with HELL HOUSE is that he alludes to a lot of horror without actually showing it. It is a fairly well-known method of scaring people to leave as much to their own imaginations as possible. The human mind has a tendency to fill in the gaps with stuff that is much more terrifying than most filmmakers could ever capture. I've always admired the skill with which certain directors can lead a viewer to believe they saw something or to create a horrifying image merely through the power of suggestion via editing and other filmmaking techniques like sound design. 
As new-agey as it might sound, I have this strange belief in energy that exists out in the world. When I imagine the amazing power behind the life force of a human being, it's hard for me to conceive of it completely ever going away. Sometimes, it would seem a fair assumption that it just "hangs out" in a place. That said, there are also people and places that just seem to have a "bad energy" about them. I know I must sound like a complete hippie here, but suffice it to say that I like the idea of places in movies that are inherently evil. Whether it be because mass murders were committed there or some horrible rituals were performed or whatever it might have been, I am intrigued by the presence of these "evil places" in films. The haunted house in this movie (known as Belasco House) has the reputation of being the "Mount Everest of haunted houses". A physicist (Clive Revill) is called upon to investigate amyhr house and brings his wife and two mediums (Roddy McDowall and Pamela Franklin) along with to aid in the task. It's kinda like a "guys on a mission" movie (or in this case "guys and gals") with a very evil house. That premise alone should intrigue to want to check it out if you haven't. John Hough makes it especially memorable by way of the film's wonderfully creepy atmosphere. Would make a lovely double feature with the previously mentioned THE HAUNTING (1963). Among my favorite British horror films.

Special Features:
This good-looking Scream Factory Blu-ray has a couple nice extras:
--"The Story of Hell House" - (28 mins) A New Interview with Director John Hough wherein he discusses various aspects of the production (lens tricks, handheld camerawork, & working with actors) along with other films that influenced it (Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING being chief among them). He says, "It's not what you see, it's what you don't see...", which is a great philosophy to have in regards to a film like this. 
--the disc also has A new audio commentary with Actress Pamela Franklin. As with most actor commentaries she talks about how she got involved with the film and her scene specific memories throughout. Commentary a touch sparse, but nonetheless interesting.
Here are a few clips from THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE via Scream Factory's Youtube channel:

Short Bonus - Director Interview - I'm a pretty big fan of John Hough as a director. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is probably my favorite of his movies, but I am also a really big fan of another of his horror film THE INCUBUS (1982). Hough also did several films for Disney (all of which I like very much) including ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) and THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980). I came across this interview with him from 2007 wherein in he touches mostly on his film TWINS OF EVIL, but also touches on some of his other movies and working with actors like Roddy McDowall. He also talks about LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE and how he did his best to leave much to the viewers' imaginations:

PUMPKINHEAD (1988; Stan Winston)
Stan Winston got his start doing special effects mostly for TV and TV-movies in the early to mid 70s and worked his way up to being one of the most revered names in the business. Winston's legacy includes work on films like ALIENS, PREDATOR, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, TERMINATOR (1 & 2), BATMAN RETURNS, A.I., THE MONSTER SQUAD and many more.
PUMPKINHEAD is one of those rarer films that is directed by a special effects master himself. The other FX man turned director I can think of is John Carl Buechler (who directed TROLL, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII and GHOULIES III among others). Stan Winston only directed a few features in his long and prestigious career; PUMPKINHEAD and one called A GNOME NAMED GNORM (which has yet to hit DVD). I know that my immediate impression when I hear that a film is directed by someone from another discipline (special effects in this case of course) is one of trepidation. I guess I've seen enough mediocre films from folks who aren't directors by trade that I've become something of a skeptic. I do realize and wrestle with the idea (and truth) that it is damned hard to get a movie made at all (especially now) and have it be as good or better than the filmmakers had pictured. So when a craftsman like Stan Winston puts himself in the director's chair, oneigjt immediately assume that he may have become obsessed with the special effects side of things on his movie and been less concerned with things like story, acting, and camerawork. I was going to say lighting too, but an FX technician certainly has to be thinking of lighting and how their creations will look on camera. PUMPKINHEAD doesn't really fall prey to those transgressions though. There certainly is an emphasis on the creature, but not at the cost of totally sacrificing story. I think Winston and his collaborators started with an interesting story and were very determined not to make a standard "teenagers getting killed" kind of horror movie. What they ended up making was a fabled meditation on revenge which is pretty unique and memorable (and obviously successful on some level as it spawned a number of straight to video sequels). Winston called himself a "special effects character creator". He did so because he believed he and his crews were creating characters, not just monsters to be photographed. In PUMPKINHEAD, he certainly created a distinct monster that was also character. I feel like that sensibility is missing a bit from movie monster creators today and it saddens me.

Special Features:
This PUMPKINHEAD Blu-ray is one of Scream Factory's special Collector's Editions so it has a solid set of supplements:
--An Audio Commentary with Co-screenwriter Gary Gerani and Creature & FX Creators Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis (moderated by filmmaker Scott Spiegel) - a pretty thorough and fascinating track covering a lot of informative ground.
----"Remembering the Monster Kid - A Tribute to Stan Winston" (49 mins)  featuring new interviews with actors Lance Henriksen and Brian Bremer, special effects artists Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Shannon Shea. All them talk about their first meetings with Stan Winston, their experiences working with him, how he inspired them and the legacy he left behind. They also talk a lot about making PUMPKINHEAD and how Stan Winston saw the material.

--"PUMPKINHEAD UNEARTHED" (1  hr. 4 mins) (now in HD) – a documentary on the making of PUMPKINHEAD featuring interviews with Co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, Producer Billy Blake, actors Lance Henriksen, Cynthia Bain, Brian Bremer, Florence Schauffler, Creature Effects designers Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. & Shannon Shea, Mechanical Effects designer Richard Landon, and Production Designer Cynthia Charette. As you'd guess from that list of folks, this doc is quite thorough and touches on the germ of the idea that led to the film, some production problems, the nuts and the bolts of design and preparation. Intermingled with the interviews is some vintage video footage of the shooting of the film.

-- a 7 min 'Behind the Scenes' featurette - this consists of costume and makeup design footage.
--"Night of the Demon with Richard Weinman" (17 mins) Producer Weinman runs through the roots and development of PUMPKINHEAD and the machinations of his working relationship with Stan Winston.
-- "The Redemption of Joel with John D'Aquino" (14 mins) actor D'Aquino talks about his character and experiences working on PUMPKINHEAD and his history and inspirations with acting.  
--"The Boy with the Glasses with Matthew Hurley" (15 mins) child actor Hurley recounts his memories of making the film from his point of view at the age he was when shooting.
--"Demonic Toys" Featurette (2 mins) Toy sculptor Jean St. Jean talks about the things he finds memorable about PUMPKINHEADas a film and what went into his process for working on the PUMPKINHEAD figure he designed.

Here are some clips from the Blu-ray via the Scream Factory Youtube Channel:

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory on 8/26, while PUMPKINHEAD releases on 9/9.

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