First published back in 1971, US author Richard Matheson’s novel ‘Hell House’ followed on from a line of well received and successful horror novels. The tale was later adapted into the film ‘The Legend Of Hell House’ (1973) which was directed by John Hough and starred Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall.
Eighty-seven-year-old millionaire Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is dying. Age is finally catching up with him and he’s scared of what lies beyond the expiration of the human body. He needs answers to the possibility of life after death. And in order to do so, he orchestrates a plan for a scientific investigation to take place into the possible reality of an existence after death.
Offering a generous sum of money so that it would be difficult to refuse, Deutsch sets to hiring the services of four key individuals to undergo the investigation into finding proof of any supernatural presences or indeed firm evidence of a haunting within the infamous Belasco House located in the US State of Maine.
The investigatory party consists of Dr Lionel Barrat (a parapsychology expert), his wife Edith Barrat, Florence Tanner (another well respected spiritualist and medium) and Benjamin Franklin Fischer (a highly revered medium and the sole survivor of a previous investigation in the house).
Belasco House has for a long time been regarded as the most haunted house in the world. Two previous investigations into the possibility of a spiritual presence in the house resulted in a series of horrendous deaths, suicides or madness, which left just Fischer as the sole survivor.
Now, twenty years since the last investigation into the horrors contained within the walls of the house, these four experts in the field of the paranormal will move in to the premises, together with their various instruments and gadgets, to see what evidence of any spiritual presence they can capture.
But Belasco House has a dark and evil past. Within the once luxurious expanse of the mansion, horrendous blasphemies were performed by the evil and Satan worshipping Emeric Belasco . Ritual murder and sadistic perversions were once as much a part of the building as the very bricks it was constructed from. An evil that has seeped into the very walls of the house. An evil that is waiting to corrupt once again...
From the very beginning of the novel, the reader is thrown into the eerie premise of a classic haunted house plot with a much darker and more twisted past than is usually adopted. Many of the early pages of the novel seem to tread along a similar path to that of Shirley Jackson’s classic haunted house novel ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ (1959). Indeed, the very feel of Belasco House during these early exploratory pages of the novel sing a very similar tune to the creeping eeriness that builds in Jackson’s tale.
However, where Jackson finished off, Matheson just keeps on going by pilling on the horror and visceral images of sadistic torture and sexual perversion. Matheson doesn’t hold back one bit as he unleashes all he’s got into a barrage of monstrous displays establishing the blasphemous evil that resides within the great mansion.
Sheer unrelenting terror is projected through the novel with sudden explosive scenes of horror, each of which burst out of the pages with such ferociousness that it leaves the reader gasping for breath. Atmosphere is initially very claustrophobic and almost palpable in its tense undertones. However, once Matheson begins to unleash his all-out onslaught of hell, the once clinging atmosphere of the house that had been so masterfully built upon, is quickly replaced by a frantic beating terror that feels utterly oppressive in its unrelenting barrage of horror.
The characters are all remarkably cliqued, with obvious clashes in personality causing much predicable merriment for the reader from early on. Whilst the tale progresses onwards with the gradual submerging of the four paranormal investigators into the creepy inner-surroundings of Belasco House, the professional and personal conflicts between the characters becomes more and more dominant in the storyline, until a major shift in the strength of the supernatural presence sends the reader totally off guard with its impactful suddenness.
Corruption is the key within the tale. Matheson picks up on the ingrained terror that can be exploited by ones descent into madness, and plays with this notion via the purposeful and individual corruption of each one of the characters. Matheson homes in on their personal fears, toying with the four characters as if they are just puppets in his grand scheme of resurrecting a monumental vision of hell.
Matheson’s vivid descriptions of the Emeric Belasco’s final house-party, that descends into an all-out hell, with mass slaughter, perverted orgies, blasphemous rituals and horrendous depictions of sadistic murder, is nothing short of breathtaking. There’s no subtlety in why this massive house is haunted. Matheson instead goes for the option of hammering in scene after scene of jaw-dropping horror, sexual depravation and gore to bring about the simplistic reasoning.
Like with James Herbert’s novel ‘Haunted’ (1988), the novel is split into two distinct halves. For the first half, the author plays with atmosphere, tension and creepy clinging suspense. For the second half of the tale, the novel throws out a barrage of impactful images of horror – cutting through the atmosphere with the sudden very real threat that is upon the characters.
All in all Matheson’s ‘Hell House’ is a magnificent descent into hell, with barrels of atmosphere and suspense that are later overshadowed somewhat by monumental displays of horror, torture, sexual deviancy and gore. The oppressive atmosphere of questionable sanity that follows the storyline throughout is truly superb. The intensity of Matheson’s finale is incredible. This is well and truly a horror novel that will grip and thrill the reader from start to finish.
The novel runs for a total of 288 pages.
© DLS Reviews