Hell House

Richard Matheson
Hell House Cover

Hell House


When Emeric Belasco built his huge mansion in 1919 in a remote unhealthy valley, he systematically debauched friends over several years to the utmost reaches of deravity. He blocked the windows and locked the doors, till the horrible frenzy of degradation and every sort of vileness ended with 27 people were dead, though Belasco's body was never found. Now alcohol abuse, drugs, rape, incest, sexual abuse of every variety, suicide, cannabalism, starvation and murder are imprinted on the house. Various psychic investigations over the years have always ended in death, suicide or madness.

Now a dying owner of the house wants an investigation to probe the possibility of life after death, and offers a team $100,000 each to brave the dangerous house to eradicate the evil.

The team is very disparate. Atheist Dr Barrett is convinced that some form of electomagnetism , a physical force, emanates from any medium. He has invented a machine which he believes can suck away all the haunted house phenomena. He is accompanied by his faithful wife, Edith, staid, and rather repressed, as helper and to support his weakened aging body, partly crippled by polio.

Diametrically opposite is Florence Tanner, a devout Christian mental medium who believes the house is haunted by spirits desperately seeking help to be laid to rest, and firmly believes laying the ghosts will clean the house. Barrett and Florence are always at loggerheads.

Ben Fischer is a physical medium, the only person from an investigation 20 years ago to survive, because he ran from the house. Now he returns only for the mooney, determined to keep his very strong natural shields up and passively sit out the required week to collect. He well knows the dangers of opening his mind to whatever is in that house.

So begins a week of terror in Belasco House as little by little the psychic incidents become more insidiously mentally damaging and physically vicious, as their weaknesses are progressively exploited, and the situation becomes grim. Not all will escape from this house with their lives.

In the end the secrets of the house are discovered. The end was a bit abrupt, and even slightly ludicrous as Fischer finally sorts things out in a rather barely credible simplistic way which I found disappointing, and not worthy of what went before.

One thing that was a surprise to me was the sexual content, quite graphic in a way for 1971, as the females are targeted in unpleasant ways, quite explicit and disturbing for a female reader. Again, the genteel ladies end up using coarse and strong language, so unexpected- not what I had seen in THe Shrinking Man, or I Am Lgend!

All in all, I can see why Stephen King was heavily influenced by Matheson, as this book has the triad of terror, horror, and grossout King famously claimed as the factors he used to evoke emotions in his readers

This was an engrossing, compulsive page turner, though tailing off a bit at the end. I can see why it is regarded as a classic of the haunted house genre, though much coarser and more physical than that other classic, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House