Author: Richard Matheson
First Published: 1971
Page Count: 301
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Fans of classic haunted house stories will love this dark, edgier tale that is reminiscent of “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson.
* Chilling Setting/ Backstory
*Vile/ Disturbing Hauntings
“It hadn’t been called Hell House without reason.” Four people, Edith and her husband, Lionel Barrett, a medium named Florence, and another medium named Ben Fischer, have each been offered one hundred thousand dollars to stay the week in an abode that has been aptly named: Hell House. Also known as the Belasco House, this manor has a very sordid history where every manner of evil was committed before finding itself empty. Years before the four characters of our story find themselves in the house, another investigation was led in the home that ended gravely. Ben Fischer, one of our four, was part of that investigation and the only one to come out relatively unscathed. What will the next team of investigators find in Hell House and will they be able to finally bring the property peace?
This was supposed to be posted as a Halloween review, but my photographer finally sent me my wedding photos and, needless to say, I lost my reading momentum for a day or two. However, this is definitely the perfect Halloween pick or a great choice if you just want to read a scary story in general. It’s not outright scary, but you get so entranced by what is happening to the four investigators that you shouldn’t be surprised when sounds in your home unpleasantly jolt you out of your reverie. My husband did this to me more than once while he was on too much Halloween candy. I’d be deep in my reading and something horrifying would be happening to the characters but he had decided to start humming (a byproduct of his sugar high) which caused me to jump in my seat from the unexpected noise. The author really drags out the feeling of impending doom and gloom while you experience this hellish house with the characters. This lull that Matheson puts you in as you get sucked into the story is deceiving. You don’t feel that the book is necessarily terrifying until something in reality shocks you out of the reading zone you were in. You realize your heart was pounding and you were progressively turning the pages faster and faster trying to figure out if Hell House is really haunted or a figment of active imaginations. The house and its back story are just creepy, mysterious, and vile enough to make it the perfect setting for a great haunted house story.
While this book is very similar to the classic story The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and in my opinion better because it goes deeper into the house’s past, it was still not a perfect ghost story for me. Jackson’s book is a bit tame for my liking and I was truly enjoying Matheson’s book more because it took bigger risks with the intensity of the paranormal events. But not all those risks paid off for me. There are a lot of very sexually explicit scenes that are just so disgusting that it take things a bit over my personal line. Nothing revolutionary is happening in the actual acts but because it has to do with the demonic, it makes the scenes feel even more violating. I’m fine with that every once and awhile but it happened so often, I think it really turned the tone of the book too dark by the end.
The one negative I had with the book is not enough to turn me away from it entirely because it has so many redeeming qualities and I was so quickly and deeply drawn into the ghost story. It’s hard to find ghost stories that really freak me out or that I find very disturbing so I’d rather have something that takes me out of my comfort zone rather than plays it safe and ultimately bores me. Fear is a bit subjective, but I think most people will find this book sufficiently engaging and just creepy enough to induce goosebumps.
*Film Adaptation: (Starring Pamela Franklin 1973)