An old man is dying and wishes to know if there is an afterlife. As his final act, he hires three people to spend a week in Hell House, a haunted house in rural Maine, to ultimately verify the existence of a world beyond ours. Two mediums, Florence Tanner and Benjamin Fischer, accompany physicist Lionel Barrett and his wife Edith as the four attempt to uncover the mystery of the spooky mansion.
Richard Matheson’s Hell House is considered one of the most frightening haunted house novels ever written. It’s hard for me to say one way or the other considering I am a novice when it comes to these stories. That said, this didn’t really scare the socks off of me. That isn’t to say it was bad, as I enjoyed a lot of the interplay between the four house guests. Matheson did a great job going tit-for-tat between belief on the part of the mediums and skepticism on the part of the physicist, even if it felt repetitive on a few occasions. But the majority of the book felt very tame compared to some of the other horror I’ve consumed over the years.
Where Hell House really shines is in its climax. I thought the final few scenes were excellent. Having already witnessed some horrific events, the guests get put through a ghastly grinder of gore where the house and the malevolent forces pulling the strings go full force. This completely blew me away. I guess Matheson was saving the best for last.
A huge influence on Stephen King, you’ve got to wonder if Hell House had a hand in King’s The Shining. For fans of King’s haunted hotel horror, you could do with a trip to Hell House if you crave more supernatural spooks.