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Hell House (1971)
by Richard Matheson
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Do you remember this very insightful meme?
It was written for books like this one
I wrote a review of a different edition last year. I just had to reread it for a paper I'm writing. Same reaction this time, but this time I felt even more exasperation from some really annoying plot choices.
I have a weird history with this book but I only just read it for the first time. Or rather, I have a weird history with the movie based on this book, The Legend of Hell House, which for some unknown reason was on daytime TV some time when I was around 7 or 8. Certain imagery was burned into my too-young brain, but I had no idea what movie I had seen. To complicate matters, it wasn't the only Saturday Afternoon horror movie that my inattentive father let us accidentally encounter and for a while I thought the scary cat/body in the wall/dazed naked lady stuff had come from one of the many Vincent Price movies that I also happened to see at this time (which actually makes sense because a lot of those movies were based on Poe and the things that I remembered were straight up Poe elements --but I'd only make that connection ... today).
Anyway, hooray, eventually, for the internet, and for a vague memory of Roddy McDowall -- when I decided to seek it out as an adult those things helped me find it. It still freaked me out, though I don't know how scary it would seem to someone without that same experience. It was interesting to see how faithfully my brain had retained the scary bits. I was shocked to see it had been written by Matheson. I was also shocked by the ending, which is ... kinda silly.
That ending is slightly less silly in the novel, but it's still a bit silly. So much of the novel made it to the screen, plotwise that is (the murder cannibalism sex stuff not so much). I finally sought out the book because I'm doing a PhD on Shirley Jackson and looking at some of the overlap between these two authors I came across Matheson commenting on his reaction to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House on pages 187-188 of this book: [b:Twilight and Other Zones|5215929|Twilight and Other Zones|Stanley Wiater|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1347482460l/5215929._SY75_.jpg|5283169] "'I never liked the idea that you never really knew what did it,'" he says of the supposed haunting, primarily of the adaptation but the same holds true for the novel. So, this book is partially his response, Matheson very much showing and telling what did it.
I think that makes this a much less effective and less interesting book. I've been a fan of Richard Matheson since I happened upon The Twilight Zone, probably at about the same time I accidentally saw The Legend of Hell House (we were obviously raised by TV). Matheson wrote many episodes of The Twilight Zone, often based on his short stories. Unfailingly, the short stories are much darker and more mysterious than what ended up on TV, and they usually turn on just that lack of information or resolution that he complains about in Hill House. I feel like this novel is like its scientist character, Barrett, looking at the paranormal too closely, and with preconceived notions.
I usually always recommend Richard Matheson, but this is the first time I just can't, unless you're interested in meditations on belief and the afterlife, or on fragile masculinity and scientific hubris, or if you're interested in sexual assault by ghost or a really racist Native American spirit guide (to be fair, one of the other characters comments on the inappropriate stereotype, but only in his mind and long after the offending scene). Skip it and read some of Matheson's short stories, or his fantastic novel I am Legend.
Welcome to Hell House and be prepared to be scared!
Would you enter Hell House for a sum of $100,000? Dr. Barrett a physicist along with two mediums are offered the chance to enter the house in the sum of $100,000 each to see what they can find in terms of a possible haunting.
Dr. Barrett not only takes the mediums with him, but he ends up taking his wife along as she didn't want to be left alone as he was going to be gone a few days.
Hell House has been closed down since 1949 as seedy and despicable things went on within its walls. The team is there to try and find answers to what happened to the house.
Is Hell House haunted? Definitely! The doctor and mediums soon find out what the word "haunted" really means as all kinds of manifestations take place in the house.
This was a scary romp into the mind of author, Richard Matheson as I found myself jumping at sounds in my own house as I was reading this book.
I have been wanting to read this book for a long time and I am happy that I finally got around to reading it! Giving this one four "Ride Into Hell" stars.
For more thoughts on this review, please see my blog:
I haven't got a clue how to rate this book. There are too many things I found either funny or plain bad. I even waited for a day or so to think about it. On the one hand, I like haunted house theme (half a star for the theme). On the other, there are tons of things which I really didn't like. First, it isn't scary. At all. Sure, there are a few moments that should have been scary, but for me they were plain flat - as if I was watching from above.
Second, I didn't like the characters or how they were presented. Barret, the self appointed unofficial leader of the group of people who were hired to spend a few days in that house, is the worst with his constant patronizing chuckle and calmness.
Simply put: I didn't like this story. The ending is hilarious. I think this story might probably be better as a film. I really thought I'd like this book more.
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For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Its shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide or insanity. Now a new investigation brings four strangers to the forbidding mansion who are determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her 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?
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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At first, I hung on wanting the smug scientist, Lionel, to be proven wrong, and hoped that he lived long enough to realize that he was completely wrong and everything he had worked for was a waste. But then I just wanted it to end. And the longer it went, the more I thought, "How is the book not finished yet?!"
There were a few good creepy parts, but overall, this wasn't my cup of tea. ( )