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
Beyond this door is another dimension. Another reality utterly unfathomable to the human mind. Real terror exists, I’m afraid. Its the same fear that pulls your eyes to the nearly shut closet, the over-consuming cawing of the mind, like some hellbound raven. The persistent thought that something indeed in hiding under your bed. Yes. Beyond this door leads to a world of unrestrained imagination. Of sight and sound. Of shadow and superstition. At the summit are the limits of knowledge. Below, are the pit are our fears. But on this highway we’ll find discovery and a wanton taste for delicacies untold. On this road we’ll discover the opus cravings writers of macabre crave most. For every wordsmith craves knowledge. So come, cross the threshold. What is there to fear, but fear itself?
Daniel Marc Chant:
When Thomas S. Flowers asked two books I’d recommend I was wracked with indecision and frustration. Each fleeting moment of thought made me focus on a book I’d read and consider it for inclusion, often the latest one that came to mind would replace the one before it, and so on. Like a mad carousel of interchanging novels my head spun round and round, unable to settle or decide on just one – let alone two.
It’s immediately obvious to those that know me I’m a massive fan of Lovecraft. I’ve had so many discussions on Lovecraft’s influence on not only my life but the lives of those more talented and verbose than I. So while I felt I could include any of his work in a ‘best of’ list his impact on me is no secret. I felt obliged to include other authors. I usually rely on two stock answers to questions – “My favourite author is H. P. Lovecraft and my favourite film is John Carpenter’s The Thing.”
Thanks to this challenge I cannot rely on these answers so will attempt to capture my adoration for the genre I now occupy, the one of the mysterious and the macabre.
These tales had a meaningful impact on me for various reasons and, if you haven’t read them, I’d strongly suggest you do.
After all there’s nothing like a good book. But there’s especially nothing like sharing a good book.
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Hell House is written by Richard Matheson, most of you probably know him by his little known work entitled I Am Legend.
While I Am Legend tends to steal the spotlight Hell House is equally as terrifying, personally I think a thousand times more. Small time indie author Stephen King once commented, “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”
First published in 1971 it tells the tale of Dr. Barrett and his wife Edith together with two mediums Florence Tanner and Benjamin Franklin Fischer. It’s a classic set up as millionaire William Reinhardt Deutsch, on his death bed and desperate for some form of immortality, hires the team to investigate the possibility of life after death. The group heads to Maine and stays at the notorious Belasco House, regarded as the most haunted house in the world.
It’s a wonderful premise and one that doesn’t fail to deliver throughout its brief 288 pages. The house was the site of ancient blasphemy and the walls of the titular Hell House now cause those within its walls to deteriorate into madness and insanity. There are some wonderful subtexts at play here as the house preys on each person’s weakness – each character serving as a vessel for wider societal issues with spirituality, arrogance, insecurity, pent up frustration and more all swiftly eviscerated, challenged or twisted by the malevolent house.
It’s because of this the book played on my mind, and still does. The book spends its first half carefully building tension, creaking doors but never slamming them, and the whole book is peppered with a bleakness and eeriness that I find lacking in a lot of horror. It’s all the more impressive given its age that it can still shock, still surprise and still offend those of a delicate nature.
It’s often described as a product of its time (aren’t all books that?) but I say silence the naysayers and pick a copy of this up. Dim the lights and light a candle and read undisturbed. I guarantee it will get inside your head. And it will stay there.
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is well known in literary circles and beyond. He’s a titan with a massive legacy. He’s given us Willy Wonka, James and a Giant Peach, The B. F. G. and more. Reading his books is a rite of passage for young readers.
First published in 1983, when I was a mere 5 years old, I can’t exactly recall when or how this book came into my possession. All I know is that I read it in a night. The words and Quentin Blake’s illustrations captured my young imagination like a trap and I didn’t so much read this book as experience it.
Witches have cropped up throughout society and literature for hundreds of years, most famously in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but in Dahl’s tale witches are trying to rid the world of children by turning them into mice because the smell they give off is odorous to witches. It’s down to a small Norwegian boy and his cunning grandmother try and save the world’s children from these hideous bald vultures.
It doesn’t pull any emotional punches despite the fact it’s a kids book. It’s dark, subversive (some have claimed it’s sexist and/or misogynistic) and has a genuinely sad and depressing ending (something the film adaptation chose to leave out).
Reading Roald Dahl’s books made me feel like he had respect for me as a reader, not as a child, but simply a young reader. I think Neil Gaimain is similarly capable of not pandering and talking down to young readers but instead challenging them and shocking them. I firmly believe that if you give children respect in fiction they will give fiction respect. It’s why Roald Dahl remains one of the best loved children’s authors of all time.
I want to thank Daniel Marc Chant for taking the time and telling us a bit about the two books that have influenced and shaped his tastes for the strange and unusual. Daniel Marc Chant is a delectably brilliant author who has recently released his debut work of horror fiction, Maldicion, available on both paperback or eBook. Daniel is also the mastermind of an upcoming horror anthology that has pooled together some amazingly talented indie writers, The Black Room Manuscripts. You can keep in touch in Daniel Marc Chant on his website or on Twitter.