Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hell House, by Richard Matheson

(hb; 1971)

From the inside flap:

"For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. A venerable mansion with shadowed walls, it has witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate met with complete disaster, as the participants were destroyed by murder, suicide or insanity.

"Now a new investigation has been mounted, bring four strangers to the ominous house. Each has their own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?"


This is one of the most shivery haunted house novels I've ever read.

Matheson's prose is, as usual, straightforward, with chilling, oozing and often sexual going-ons plaguing the four researchers who take up residence in the notorious abode. Philosophical, psychological, metaphysical, religious and sexual dialogue make up much of this fun, atmospheric read.

Wow-worthy twists also highlight Hell House, as do Matheson's fully-developed characters, whose neuroses decide what forms the hauntings, individual and collective, take.

One nit: near the end, the characters sum up what they think is troubling the mansion, based on what they've experienced. (Is it psychic manifestations, born of the living neuroses of those who enter the house? Is it Emeric Belasco, the Aleister Crowley-like previous owner of the house, whose body was never found? Or are there other ghosts in the mansion?)

These character summations are fine the first time around; but the characters restate their beliefs two, even three times, bogging down the action for a short (approximately twenty page) stretch.

That said, this is a landmark haunted house book, with an ending that's sad, light and ironic.


This was released stateside as a film, The Legend of Hell House, on June 15, 1973.

Pamela Franklin played Florence Tanner. Roddy McDowall played Benjamin Franklin Fischer. Clive Revill played Mr. (Lionel) Barrett. Gayle Hunnicutt played Ann Barrett.

John Hough directed, from a script by book author Matheson.

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