Richarad Matheson’s Hell House is one of those horror novels that readers proclaim as brilliant or completely dreadful. Rarely do we hear anyone who kinda liked reading Hell House. In today’s blog, we take a deeper look at the novel Hell House and its shadowy influence on readers.
This article is part of the Scariest Horror Novels of All Time series. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.
“Welcome to my house, I’m delighted you could come. I am certain you will find your stay here most illuminating. It is regrettable I cannot be with you, but I had to leave before your arrival. Do not let my physical absence disturb you, however. Think of me as your unseen host and believe that, during your stay here, I shall be with you in spirit.” ~
Rolf Rudolph Deutsch, a skeletal, 87 year old millionaire on death’s doorstep, wants to know if life exists after death. Deutsch believes the answer can be found at the Belasco House in Main, dubbed Hell House due to its history of blasphemy and perversion under its owner, Emeric Belasco, and now regarded as the most haunted house in the world and. He hires a crack team of investigators:
Dr. Lionel Barrett – a physicist with an intense and lifelong interest in parapsychology
Florence Tanner – a spiritualist and mental medium
Benjamin Franklin Fischer – a physical medium and the only survivor of a failed investigation attempt thirty years earlier.
Dr. Barrett’s wife, Edith, accompanies the trio to assist Barrett in the week long investigation.
Upon settling inside Hell House, the team battles dark influences that prey upon their personal weaknesses. Edith, in particular, is victimized via insecurity and sexual emptiness. We learn that Hell House’s power comes from its apparent ability to corrupt and destroy those who enter its walls. The supernatural horror escalates causing the characters to question their own sanity until the conclusion.
A Few Thoughts on Hell House:
Horror has always been an evolving genre. Published in 1971, this particular horror novel is entirely – and heart fully – a product of its time. Part of Hell House’s intrinsic charm is that it hails from an earlier decade when talk of perversion was much less acceptable. One must step into the mindset of that era when reading this classic horror novel – or risk being greatly disappointed.
Hell’s House characters are developed to the extent that the plot requires. The fictional people who visit Belasco House are not so flesh-and-bone that you’ll carry them with you after closing the book. Readers who expect an intimate relationship with the cast won’t be happy in the dark halls of Hell House.
Likewise, Matheson’s shifts in POV from one character to another may be jarring. No doubt, the shifts were a deliberate choice designed to replicate the disconcerting sensations of being in the house. However, readers that are used to chapters or at least blank space signaling the transition from one character’s view to another may be taken aback by the abrupt changes.
Regardless, Hell House is a novel that sits on a timeless thematic foundation. Through the characters, especially the arrogant Barrett, Matheson compares science and superstition through the lens of our human frailties. Hell House, at its heart is much more about our fragile nature and flaws than an actual haunting.
Our need to know what death holds for us and our desire to believe that it offers something are as part of us as our own bones. We year for these answers just as badly as the millionaire Deutsch who found his fortune to be of no comfort when facing the unknown. Perhaps this is what makes Hell House an enduring classic.
Thanks for reading.