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Hell House by Richard Matheson

Hell House (original 1971; edition 1971)

by Richard Matheson

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1,190566,740 (3.6)107
Title:Hell House
Authors:Richard Matheson
Info:New York, Viking Press [1971]
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, SFF, 1970s, American, Northeast, horror, ghost stories, sense of place, read in 2003

Work details

Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)

  1. 90
    The Shining by Stephen King (angelikat)
  2. 00
    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (sturlington)
    sturlington: Inspired by The Haunting of Hill House.
  3. 00
    The Medusa In The Shield (Dark Descent) by David G. Hartwell (cammykitty)
  4. 00
    The Supernaturals by David L. Golemon (Scottneumann)
  5. 46
    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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Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Hell House's ending totally surprised me. I wondered just how much Richard Matheson may have waffled with that black-and-white, cut-and-dried, definitive ending. Because ghost stories generally don't end that well. Though, granted, two of the four people who entered Belasco House lost their lives, but rarely have I ever read a "ghostly" novel that ended so unequivocally. In wondering if Matheson maybe was intentionally going against the grain of the ghost story genre, leaving it purposely free of ambiguity, free of any doubt, I found an interview in which Matheson indeed confessed how unsatisfied he was by two of the endings in classics of the genre -- Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House -- and predetermined that Hell House's ending would be clear cut, devoid of equivocation. Even with his ending finished before he began writing his book, I believe he pulled the ending off without it feeling contrived, but rather following its own unforgettable, frightening course to its utterly surprising climax that served also a s kind of Matheson manifesto on the origins of evil.

Hell House is a first rate horror novel no matter how it ended. It gave me the chills -- gave me goosebumps -- in a piping hot bathtub the night I finished it. I enjoyed Hell House's pitting science versus faith (albeit faith in the paranormal/occult); empiricism versus mysticism; and how both science -- as evinced in the physicist Dr. Barrett's life's work, the "Reversor" -- and the supernatural, in the mediums Florence and Fischer, were instrumental in combatting the mansion's predilection for psychological torture and murder.

The Reversor was a clunky contraption of dials and knobs that must have resembled a large generator -- a large metaphysical generator. Dr. Barrett believed the power it generated would produce enough negative electromagnetic radiation (EMR) to eliminate any residual energy, or "positive EMR", still inhabiting the house from its previous deceased occupants. This positive EMR, in Dr. Barrett's strictly empirical eyes, was the real culprit for the mansion's unexplained paranormal activity. I enjoyed how Matheson set Dr. Barrett's scientific worldview in sharp contrast against the frankly bizarre beliefs of the passionate proponents of the paranormal in the mediums Florence and Fischer. Their snarky dialogue provided, at critical junctures of crises, fleeting doses of much needed relief from the nuclear cauldron of nearly constant intensifying pressure ongoing inside that hellacious house. Reading Hell House has made me want to read more haunted house/ghost stories, in order to see how they've evolved in literature over the years. I suspect few have relied as much on science as Hell House.

I suspect also, after reading Hell House, that some alleged "haunted houses" in literature are a trifle more haunted than others. Belasco House, the "Hell House" of the novel's title, as it was commonly called by the mediums and other ghost-pros who dared entering it, was considered the "Mt. Everest of haunted mansions". However, comparing Hell House to Mt. Everest doesn't do Hell House justice when one considers that of all the mountaineers who've ever attempted to climb Mt. Everest, only about ten percent have died; whereas, conversely, only ten percent of the people who've ever entered Hell House and spent the night there have left the house alive. Exceedingly more deadly, based on the statistical rates of failure recounted in Hell House, spending the night there than attempting to climb Mt. Everest. I doubt even El Chapo could escape from Hell House alive.

Hell House, if you'll pardon the momentary longeur, is so adept at sending anyone who'd spent a night there straight to an early, grisly grave, it's practically as effective an executioner as capital punishment is here in The States. A pity that capital punishers could never be allowed to sentence its vilest criminal offenders to Hell House to die (assuming, of course, Hell House were real). Such an unorthodox Hell House Death Sentence, unfortunately, would probably constitute cruel and unusual punishment; too cruel, no doubt, for even pedophiles and serial killers. And too unusual because it usually took too long to die there, up to four days and nights in some instances, as was the case for one of the mediums who entered the house with Dr. Barrett. And one of those nights was a gruesome night of necrophilia, and that's necrophilia of the unexpected reverse kind initiated by the dead upon the living. Yuck! Christ, even when an an execution goes awry in a state sanctioned house of horrors, as was recently the case in the botched lethal injection of Joseph R. Wood in Arizona, his death still lasted for only one hour and forty minutes. Hardly the type of slow tortuous death that goes on for days inside Hell House.

While Biblical passages loom large a couple times in Hell House, particularly Matthew 5:29 (though I think John 8:32 could've rung just as true in Matheson's narrative contexts as well), there's nary a hint of Catholic subtext in Hell House (thank God) until we enter its chapel and find a perverted (though not inverted), life-sized, and shall we say, wooden, crucifixion; the blasphemous imagery obviously borrowed from Anton LaVey's own borrowed depictions of the Black Mass then en vogue at the time of Hell House's 1971 publication. The chapel gets more intriguing when its secret gothic chamber and the pathetic power for so long concealed there is revealed in a denouement that's more akin to Julien Gracq's stylized "Chapel of the Abyss" chapter in Chateau d'Argol than any of the lurid and absurd schlock ripped off by that carnival clown, Anton Lavey. For the genesis of evil, as Richard Matheson envisioned it, and as he empowered it in Hell House, while allowing spacious room, yes, for the supernatural (or the paranormal or whatever the hell one might wish calling the eerie shit -- and forgive me if I momentarily risk giving away too much), was at least as much if not more the result of the malignant manifestation of a human ego gone superbad, a la Hitler, than that of lost or angry spirits, whom, being somehow stuck in their carryover of negative emotions after death, go berserk on the other side to such an extreme their unearthly echoes of outrage can be heard by those psychics attuned to hear them. Even for the most gifted psychics, however, such as Florence or Fischer, opening themselves up to hear them doesn't always mean they'll automatically receive illumination, but rather madness, or much worse. . . .

Some novels can so possess you they literally scare the hell into you. The Exorcist is one example. Hell House, another. ( )
4 vote EnriqueFreeque | Jul 14, 2015 |
people have compared this to The Shining. i don’t see that at all. at its core, however, it is a complete ripoff of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House but it goes much further in its description and treatment of the characters and themes. unlike Hill House, Matheson’s book can’t keep itself from delving into the realm of realistic descriptions of gore and sex, using them to shock and put readers off balance. Like the scenes in The Exorcist where the girl is demanding certain lewd acts be performed.

i nearly stopped reading this before i had gotten past the first chapter. i am still wondering how no one has commented on the almost exact similarities between this and Hill House. i don’t want to write them all out because they are too numerous but to name just a few: a scholarly type, his wife, a psychic, a survivor from a previous adventure in the house, a house that has a monstrous reputation, it’s secluded, two people supply them with food and service but never, ever stay, flirtation with lesbianism, a bog or tarn in which people die, a deranged owner/builder of the house orchestrated lots of depraved acts within its walls, etc., etc., etc.

Matheson did nothing but rewrite Jackson’s book with a much less subtle hand. while much of the prose and dialogue in Jackson’s book annoyed me numb, Matheson’s did not. nevertheless, it’s the same story but with more graphic details and a more conclusive ending.

i cannot give it any more than one star and that because the writing isn’t terrible and it puts forward some interesting ideas about the “paranormal.” more than that, it is so close to plagiarism that i cannot understand how it remains on any list of best horror books.
( )
  keebrook | Mar 10, 2015 |
Dated, especially in the portrayal of women, but an entertaining tale. Weird ending (not in a good way). We read this for my book club as our "Halloween" read and it fit that theme nicely. ( )
  sparemethecensor | Oct 25, 2014 |
This was a very scary book! could have done with a lot less sexual situations though. ( )
  hredwards | Oct 8, 2014 |
Read for my American Gothic class. I found it strangely exploitative, and it made me uncomfortable. ( )
  danlai | Sep 1, 2014 |
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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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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:46 -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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