Hell House: A short, enjoyable read

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Richard Matheson’s short novel Hell House (1971) follows a group of four experts with various supernatural-related backgrounds who seek to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts in a super-creepy home that’s become known as Hell House. And a hellish house it is indeed.

The roots of the story are built on a foundation of gothic horror, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of H.P. Lovecraft’s very heavy and mythic language throughout Matheson’s story.

They all stared through the windows at the curling fog. It was as though they rode inside a submarine, slowly navigating downward through a sea of curdled milk.

The following exposition describes what the group sees as they approach the house for the first time:

It had been raining hard since five o’clock that morning. Brontean weather, Dr. Barrett thought. He repressed a smile. He felt rather like a character in some latter-day Gothic romance.

It also appears that the SAW movie series paid homage to this classic short novel in its structure around the ever-disembodied presence of Jigsaw. Emeric Belasco was the owner of Hell House and his voice is heard on a record, started by an unknown force…

Think of me as your unseen host and believe that, during your stay here, I shall be with you in spirit.

Matheson builds plausible reasons why these supernatural phenomena happen: two of the three characters believe without a doubt in the existence of ghosts and otherworldly supernatural beings. One believes that the phenomena are real, but projected through the living, not the dead. This conflict creates a good bit of dramatic tension, though not enough to drive the story and characters on its own.

Hell House is an enjoyable read and it’s short. It left me, a few times, taking a peek behind my back in my darkened bedroom, though I feel the story had much greater potential. I liked it, but didn’t love it.

Hell House — (1971) Publisher: 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.

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for reviewing this. Although I’ve seen a couple of the movies adapted from it, I’ve never read his novel, and we have it at the bookstore. If it’s still there after the first of the year I might take a look at it.

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