Hell House

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by Richard Matheson

Despite its high Amazon ratings and rave reviews from the likes of author Stephen King, I found this book neither good enough to enjoy nor bad enough to put down.

In 1970, a dying wealthy publisher hires a physicist and two mediums to spend a week in the infamous haunted Belasco House in Maine.  Their assignment is to discover whether there is life after death.

The physicist, Lionel Barrett, PhD., has spent his life researching parapsychology and believes he has invented a machine that will rid the house forever of its evil manifestations. He brings his young wife Edith; spiritualist and medium Florence Tanner; and psychic Benjamin Franklin Fischer. Fischer, who was a prodigy in his teens, is the only survivor of a 1940 attempt to study the house. The house has been closed up ever since.

Hell House has the standard haunted house horrors: murals of sexual depravity in the chapel; hidden pornographic pictures; unreliable electricity; sudden cold; a furtive, unfriendly couple who arrive only to leave meals and remove dirty dishes; perpetual mists; and a stinky swamp that draws visitor after visitor to its banks and near death.

The evil in the house manipulates each group member’s weaknesses. The lovely Miss Tanner believes that prayer and love will bring the evil to its end. Dr. Barrett, left weakened and limping by polio, believes he has all the answers; his timid, sparrow-like wife finds her repressed sexual desires fighting for expression; and Fischer steadfastly refuses to use his gifts, believing that if he doesn’t fight the evil in the house, it will not harm him.

For some reason, the action in this book takes place the week before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day.

There’s not a character among them I’d want to spend 24 hours with, much less a week in a gothic Victorian heap with a reputation for killing all who enter. Two members of the group have histories of alcohol abuse; both begin drinking under the pressure. Even the haunting presence Emeric Belasco himself seems a shallow and pathetic ghost once he’s unveiled.

Like many of Matheson’s stories, this book was turned into a movie that he wrote the script for: the 1973 film, “The Legend of Hell House,” starring Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall.

About the Author: Richard Matheson (1926 – 2013)

Richard Matheson, a novelist and screenwriter, published his first science fiction short story, “Born of Man and Woman” in 1950.

His novel I AM LEGEND was published in 1954 and turned into the 1964 movie “The Last Man on Earth,” the 1971 movie “The Omega Man,” starring Charlton Heston, and the 2007 movie “I Am Legend” starring Will Smith.

Matheson adapted his second science fiction novel, THE SHRINKING MAN into a script for the movie 1957 “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Other of his works were also turned into movies including the 1971 “Duel,” directed by Steven Spielberg and the 1998 “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams.
King has called him a major creative influence in his own work.
Matheson grew up in Brooklyn, served in World War II and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1949 before moving to California. He met his wife on a beach in Santa Monica.  They had four children, three of whom became writers.


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