Hell House: Come on over!

I LOVE Halloween.  Love it!  I don’t know if it’s part of the fact that I love fall, love all things pumpkin, look great in orange or what, but it is one of my favorite occasions.  I respond strongly to the siren call of All Hallow’s Eve. Therefore, I decided to inject a little Halloween spirit to my reading by checking out some books that fit the season.

Hell House by Richard Matheson was a good, quick read and not a house I would like to visit.  Yes, I can talk a good game but wimp out very quickly when it comes to putting myself in scary situations (I think my shriek of terror may still be echoing in that vault in Edinburgh that a friend and I toured –cockily I might add–on a ghost tour. How mortifying).

A scientist, his wife, and two mediums (sounds like a bad joke)–one of whom was the only survivor of a previous attempt to study the house–agree to a wealthy publisher’s offer to spend a week studying the phenomena there.  Each person has his or her own motives. The publisher, near death, hopes to have confirmation of life after death.   The scientist wants to prove his theory about parapsychology being simply energy and nothing paranormal.  Ben, the lone survivor from the last attempt, wants to survive the house and give it another go and trying to figure out its mystery.  Florence, the spiritual medium, sees it as her opportunity to free restless souls and earn money for her church.  And the scientist’s wife can’t live without her husband.  

The house in question is officially named the Belasco House but is referred to by all as Hell House.  It isn’t just any haunted house.  Emeric Belasco, the former owner, created a culture of debauchery and violence in the house that led to many deaths.  Previous attempts to study the house have led to more death and madness.  Who is haunting the house?  How many are haunting the house?  Is it being haunted at all or are the manifestations in the house created by the mediums themselves?  Settle in and find out the answers!

I can tell a horror novel/ghost story is getting to me when I can’t read it too late in the night.  I felt a little uneasy reading it at 1am and had to put it down, and after I cut out the lights, I was afraid I would see something nasty staring back at me through the window.  So right there, that response elevated this novel above the run of the mill horror story for me.  It’s not a perfect book.  I’m still a little unclear about what happened at the end, and some of the events seemed written so vaguely that it was difficult to tell whether it was a dream/nightmare or really happening.  The pace was a little slow at times, too.  I felt like Matheson left a lot unsaid and unexplained in the story and characters which probably helped (even as it frustrates) because it allowed the reader to use her own imagination.  It’s a good technique for a horror story since it amps up the scariness.  And yeah, the group of people getting together to study a haunted house is a cliche in the horror genre.

I worried the book would be a trifling confection with nothing more than a ghost going “boo” once or twice, but there were some genuinely shocking scenes and plot developments.  Sexuality and horror seem to go hand in hand.  This was my first encounter with Matheson, and I was unaware of how much he had written that I recognized (from their film versions anyway).  I’m going to have to read more of him.  It’s rare that you can find an enjoyable, genuinely scary, fairly well-written horror story.

I’ll have to think of some good, scary books to recommend for Halloween.  What are your favorite horror stories?

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