Hell House, by Richard Matheson

My Copy: 9780312868857 (image from aintitcoolnews.com)

Just one more day until Halloween…muahahahaha! Another book blogger put this book on my radar with her top 10 scariest books list. I hadn’t heard of Hell House, but when I heard Stephen King praise it as the “scariest haunted house novel ever written,” then I had to take a peek, and break my “no-buy” vow and my piggy bank wide open.

“Hell House” is just as it sounds, a place where Hell would most likely have its gateway on Earth, if human actions could bring forth a “Hellmouth,” ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer or something. The house is really named Belasco House after the mysterious owner who disappeared even as concerned authorities came to find several dozen people dead in the early 1920s. Two groups of investigators tried to probe the secrets of the house and the man, and things did not go well for any of them.

Hell House focuses on the third expedition, which includes Dr. Lionel Barrett, a parapsychologist who thinks he can get rid of evil with science, his wife and occasional assistant Edith, a spiritualist medium named Florence, and a physical medium that survived the last expedition in 1940 named Fischer. They all have different theories regarding the paranormal events and deaths that occurred in the last half century.  However, once in the house, as they get to know each other better, it seems the house is getting to know them, too. As time goes on, whatever the house contains starts to affect the investigators, and you wonder if all or any of them will last the allotted week.

The diverse group is an interesting cast of characters, and I became thoughtful and frustrated with each in turns. Matheson wrote with great insight into their actions and feelings. I was never confused about any characters’ actions (except maybe in the end, when it’s expected) and knew enough about them that I could understand why a character acted a certain way or chose a mode of thought. And again, sometimes it made me frustrated with the characters just as if I’d been frustrated by someone stubborn that I knew personally (especially Dr. Barrett),

I’ve never read Richard Matheson before, so I can’t determine whether or not this is similar to his other works in style. All I know is that even while fighting a sinus infection and exhaustion, I ended up reading this book in less than a day. I couldn’t put it down until the last page was done at about 2:30 am.

Hell House is scary, but that’s putting it lightly. It’s downright disturbing, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, a dangerous game that makes you wonder if anyone will get out alive. Descriptions and language are graphic, and the shock value is immense. I had to pause to think about what I’d read, and this book was originally published in 1971.

Heavens, I can only imagine what contemporary readers thought when it came out!

Think of a sin, an intrusion, a vulnerability, and watch it get worked on in these pages. Hell House is definitely the scariest fiction book I’ve read so far…and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it.

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