Hell House by Richard Matheson
Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is going die. But when Deutsch, a wealthy magazine and newspaper publisher, starts thinking seriously about his impending death, he offers to pay a physicist and two mediums, one physical and one mental, $100,000 each to establish the facts of life after death.
Dr. Lionel Barrett, the physicist, accompanied by the mediums, travel to the Belasco House in Maine, which has been abandoned and sealed since 1949 after a decade of drug addiction, alcoholism, and debauchery. For one night, Barrett and his colleagues investigate the Belasco House and learn exactly why the townsfolk refer to it as the Hell House.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I was so excited to start reading Hell House because of its rave reviews and reputation for being the scariest haunted house novel. I think the praise actually worked against it because I felt a little let down. Granted this book was written in the 70s so by the standards of the day it was ridiculously horrific and controversial. However, I just read The Exorcist, also written in the 70s, and I felt that lived up to every bit of my expectations. Each character has a different perspective on why the house is “haunted,” from scientific to paranormal. The atmosphere of the novel worked for me but the characters did not.
I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere and startling visuals. The descriptions of the Belasco mansion as the characters first enter sets an ominous vibe, feeling heavy and watched. The mansion is surrounded by a tarn known as “Bastard Bog” due to the amounts of illegitimate children of the Belasco visitors thrown to their deaths. Haunted house combined with spooky bog equals perfect scene setting. One of my favorite scare moments is when one of the mediums feels a presence in the room. She tosses a bed sheet into the air and it lands as if draped over a human form. That is terrifying. The way Matheson describes this and other moments is especially creepy. Be aware that Hell House contains some explicit and sacrilegious content.
One thing I hated about this novel was the characters. I could relate to none of them. I found them to be self-righteous, irritating, and stubborn. You know when you are in a scary movie and you yell in y our mind “don’t go in the scary basement!” or “that’s a bad idea!”? I had that feeling for the whole novel but not in a way that I was invested in the characters and wanted nothing to happen to them. It was more like, “Wow, you are dumb!” As the house played with their minds and bodies, I was apathetic and kind of felt like they had it coming. I am not sure what type of person this makes me.
I found that the beginning of the novel really grabbed my attention and the end of the novel (for the most part) re-interested me. The middle dragged on for what felt like years! The characters bicker and spend large amounts of time musing on what they believe to be causing the paranormal phenomena. Hell House started to pick up at the end again but even then it left much to be desired. Without giving too much away, the physical evidence found for the hauntings and atrocities was ridiculous in the best way! But the way the spirits and phenomena were ended let me down. Like really? After years of investigations by previous experts leaving them dead, missing, or raving mad, that is how the malevolence ends? Mmkay.
- Spooky atmosphere
- Startling visuals
- Terrifying descriptions
The Not So Good
- Irritating characters
- Disappointing ending
- Explicit and sacrilegious content (as a disclaimer)
I still would recommend this book to any horror fan. It is regarded as a classic in the genre. The scares and descriptions are fabulous! The characters just irritated me. I read this book over a couple of days with interruptions which may have contributed to why they middle felt as if it dragged on. I would suggest reading this in one or two sittings to get the best spooky effect!