Hell House: book in review
Titles are tricky little beasts. As a self-proclaimed indie author myself, I too have struggled with the humdrum of finding the perfect catchy heading. Do you want something that is identifiable? Understandable? Do you want one that will give aim to readers? Something to cause pause, to hook, as they say? Or do you want something that speaks of the story? Or perhaps this is all for not. Yes, you want to be spiffy, but you also need to be honest to the story. Hell House is a whopper of a title. Not only does it roll off the tongue (if your into that sort of thing), but it is also very very very true to the story. Hell House is the story and I couldn’t imagine a better title.
Originally penned in 1971 by infamous late great Richard Matheson, who you may recall also sired I Am Legend (1954) and What Dreams May Come (1978), among others, Hell House stands as the pinnacle standard for haunted house tales. Even the master of danse macabre Stephen King critiqued Hell House as such, to paraphrase him, “all other ghost stories sit under its mountainous shade.” Big phrase, really. And if you’re a fan of King, then by admission, you ought to be a fan of Hell House. My journey to Hell House was actually born through our little series here, called Opus Questions. I find it somewhat sad that I had not read this delightfully haunting (no pun intended) book in my youth. But then again, there is a lot I have not read yet. In my younger years I was caught up with Goosebumps and King and various other classic tales, such as: Stinker from Space, Maniac Magee, and Lord of the Flies (to name a few). Be-that-as-it-may, Hell House is one classic I can now check off my list, though I have little doubt I’ll eventually find my way back to in the future, to take another precarious walk through Belasco House.
Hell House follows the tale of Dr. Lionel Barrett and company, including his wife Edith, spiritualist Florence Tanner, and medium Ben Fischer. Team Lionel find themselves at the behest of dying millionaire Deutsch who hires the Scooby gang to investigate the possibility of life after death. To do so, they will enter the infamous Belasco House in Maine (seriously, is there something going on up there in Maine or what?), which is regarded as the most spooktacular house in the world. Its even got the nifty title, “Hell House” due to, according to the story, horrible acts, rumors really, of the worst kind of depravity imaginable, all under the keen tutelage of manic Emeric Belasco. Fischer also happens to be the only survivor of a failed investigation attempt in 1940. During the investigation, various influences begin to affect each character’s personal weaknesses: Florence through her belief in Spiritualism and her over-eagerness to rid the house of its evil and obsession in helping Daniel Belasco’s ghost. Barrett through his arrogant disregard for anything than his own beliefs in science and the rational. Edith is assaulted through her personal fears, insecurities, and pent-up sexual desires. Fischer through his deliberate caution, but can you really blame the guy? By the end, Hell House not only seeks to defeat those who enter its doors mentally, but physically and spiritually as well.
My Two Cents:
Honestly, before reading and finishing, I thought the book was going to be a bit childish. My opinion on this was solely based on the era of its release and having seen The Legend of Hell House, and oh-boy, how I was wrong! The book starts off very subtle, purposely you might say. Matheson tricks the reader into the easy to the read flow and gentle character descriptions, jumping carefully between perspectives without causing any kind of derailment. But its a trap! Much like Belasco, Matheson bids you to take a seat in the comfortable rocking chair — no worries, no troubles. Blandly he rocks you, back and forth, back and forth. You smile, drifting comfortably in the summer breeze. Enjoying the slow mosey pace… and then BAM! Through intrinsically laid subtext and very choice descriptive words he weaves in the horror without much notice until it becomes overwhelming noticeable. What I found most striking was how sexually graphic some of the parts were. It wasn’t offensive, it was just like, ‘alright then!’ as they say. The plot twists were also equally tasty. I will not spoil for those who have not yet read, but let me say, its a solid classic twist. If you’ve seen the movie, don’t worry, its not going to ruin anything for you. In fact, as stated above, I had previously seen The Legend of Hell House and after reading the book I found the movie to be very banal compared to print. And another added side-effect from seeing the movie first, while reading, I gave all the characters English accents. I’m not complaining nor do I have any regrets.
My Rating: 5/5