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Hell House by Richard Matheson

Hell House (1971)

by Richard Matheson

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1,090447,745 (3.6)99
Recently added byprivate library, pixelbaron, Zetetes, ssimon2000, Ghostly1, JaredMcLaine
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    The Shining by Stephen King (angelikat)
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    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (sturlington)
    sturlington: Hell House was clearly inspired by The Haunting of Hill House.
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    The Medusa In The Shield (Dark Descent) by David G. Hartwell (cammykitty)
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    The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (Moomin_Mama)
    Moomin_Mama: Both very 70s, a bit dated, scary in places but unintentially funny in others... and both about haunted houses.

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The first descriptive phrase I thought of while reading this book was "Hill House on steroids," and I have yet to come up with a better explanation. If you enjoyed Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House but want a story with a little more danger and violence to it, Hell House would probably make for an excellent suggestion.

The plot is common to many haunted house stories: small group of intrepid researchers spend time inside a huge, abandoned mansion trying to document the paranormal phenomena inside the house. The house becomes a character in and of itself, many of the people inside worry that the house is deliberately playing with their sanity, and there is a lot of discussion about ghosts, spirits, science, reality, etc. It's a common theme, but it's common because when done properly, it works extremely well.

For me, I love how the house becomes a physical manifestation of evil and takes on a malignant personality all its own. There's something incredibly terrifying about how the common and the familiar can suddenly turn on us and become evil, and I think that's how this horror trope has become so popular.

But like I mentioned before, Hell House has a level of sex and violence that is definitively NOT found in The Haunting of Hill House, which made this story feel fresh. Hell House's history is also a history of the most savage and repugnant acts humans have inflicted upon each other: torture, violent orgies, death, cannibalism, and more. And even though Matheson (wisely, in my opinion) refrains from truly graphic descriptions, there's enough savagery to turn the average reader's stomach.

For horror aficionados and haunted house junkies, this is a must-read. Probably a little too graphic to suggest to most readers, but if the person in question is willing to try a little depravity, this would be a great suggestion.


The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson. This book rightly stands as one of the greatest haunted house stories of all time. The psychological terror is immensely effective, and Hill House could probably be considered one of the great evils in horror literature.

The Unseen - Alexandra Sokoloff. Although this novel has more in common with The Haunting of Hill House in terms of pacing and tone, it shares most of the same tropes with Hell House, minus the graphic content.

The Woman in Black - Susan Hill. A classic ghost/haunted house story that uses many of the same tried-and-true haunted house elements. Again, this novel is not quite as dark or graphic as Hell House, but it definitely has a similar tone.

House of Leaves - Mark Danielewski. A much more experimental haunted house novel that plays upon the idea of the mysteriously evil house. There are actually two stories being told here: the story of the original investigation, and the story of the young man who comes across the original documents and includes his own observations via footnotes.

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer - Joyce Reardon. A novel that blends the best of both worlds: a satisfying, chilling haunted house story that is told both through found documents (in this case, a historical journal), and the main character's annotations and footnotes. This book inspired the Stephen King miniseries, Rose Red. ( )
1 vote coloradogirl14 | May 28, 2014 |
I'm always nervous returning to a book read when I was younger, in this case, my early teens. How will the years have changed my relation to the text?

In this case, greatly.

I enjoyed the novel -- even more than the film version, which I occasionally rewatch, if only for to see Pamela Franklin again -- but I didn't have the sense of excitement I found all those years ago.

The book is a pseudo-scientific take on the haunted house genre (the "Mt. Everest of haunted houses" as the character Dr. Barrett notes) blended with an understanding of the haunted house as echo-chamber of the mind, in more senses than one. The characters are deftly written, and the action starts quickly and never disappoints. Matheson's writing style is lean and direct, and this suits the scientific nature of the encounter with Hell House.

While there are moments of extremity -- lust, horror, anger, take your pick -- the real enjoyment lies in seeing the motivations and mindsets of the characters battling against one another. It's not the sort of book meant to frighten, but to intrigue the mind. Matheson's dip into each character's personalities is done well and satisfies, and I enjoyed tracing out the trajectories of the differentiated characters within the confines of the house.

Still, the book didn't grab me as it had when I was younger. I would have loved more time spent on the characters and inside the character's minds. I felt the dictates of the plot dragged me out of the characters as the book marched towards its ending. Even with the steady pace of the plot, the book felt overlong near the end, a little too didactic towards the theories of the characters.

Two excellent comparison reads would be The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and, of course, The Shining by Stephen King.
( )
  Michael.McGuire | May 22, 2014 |
Not bad, not great. It's The Haunting of Hill House mashed up with The Exorcist, though I'd have to check the publication date of The Exorcist to see which influenced the other.

While not exactly a rip-off of Shirley Jackson's classic, it's pretty close. I guess it depends on what you're looking for in a haunted house novel as to what your preferences are. If you want sex, violence, blood and action Hell House is for you. If you prefer subtlety and to leave your novels with a sense of questioning, well, you might prefer to check out The Haunting of Hill House.

Ultimately I was satisfied with the end, but if you're looking for deep philosophical thoughts on life after death, I suggest Matheson's kinder, gentler work on the subject What Dreams May Come. ( )
1 vote steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
It was a good read. I expected more out of this book. It really picked up towards the end, but then kind of fell flat. There were many possibilities to amp up the horror effect. I felt like the author just got tired at the end and inserted a wtf ending that didn't make any sense. It was basically a watered down haunted house story. ( )
  mistybattle | Nov 27, 2013 |
Wow. Hell House stands the test of time. By far, the best haunted house story I’ve ever read. Matheson was at his peek and delivered a terrifying tale filled with realistic characters and shocking descriptions. Loved every page. So he nicked a lot from Shirley Jackson, but he did so with style. Easily one of the top ten horror novels ever written. ( )
  DrakeVaughn | Nov 7, 2013 |
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With love, for my daughters Bettina and Alison who have haunted my life so sweetly
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It had been raining hard since five o'clock that morning.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312868855, Paperback)

Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is going die. But when Deutsch, a wealthy magazine and newpaper 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 townfolks refer to it as the Hell House.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:29 -0400)

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A group of four people enter Belasco House, known as the "Mount Everest of haunted houses."

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