A Review: Hell House
|+|Before starting the review I need to make it incredibly clear that this book has a plethora of triggers in it, including but certainly not limited to suicide, insanity, possession, and rape. I do address some of topics within my review.|+|
"Think of me as your unseen host and believe that, during your stay here, I shall be with you in spirit" - Beleasco (Hell House)
Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror (haunted house)
Summary: For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide or insanity.
Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?
My Humble Opinion: Horror, the bane and love of readers and writers world wide. Each book, each tale, no matter how short or long either is the dreaded spider in the shoe, or a lovely, harmless pet tarantula. Some people hate spiders, others keep them as pets.
This book did not scare me in the slightest, which was incredibly disappointing, seeing that I read the book to be terrified. This book could most certainly be my pet tarantula.
Yet Belasco house makes for a wonderful atmosphere. It truly is a character in the book, instead of just a place. It’s a wonderful talent to have as a writer, and it’s a pleasure to read. It was one of the elements that kept me reading this book.
The characters, aside from the house, are…interesting. I felt like Florance and Edith were sidelined until the end of the book. Florance is one of the most fascinating characters in the book in my view, and ultimately she does lead the group in the right direction. Yet she is very sexualized and looked down upon by all characters, and in turn that makes the readers more likely to look down on her as well. Edith was one of the most flat characters I have ever read, which was also disappointing. I really feel as if the author felt like he had to keep the book gender balanced and forgot that women could actually do stuff and be powerful contributors. I felt that I would have enjoyed Dr. Barret and Fischer more if there was a balance of power.
I did enjoy the psychology and differing views in the book. The idea was that all ghostly phenomena could be explained through science (Dr. Barret), or that ghosts were ghosts, and science should be left to the scientists (Fischer). It was refreshing for a book to present both sides and to allow the reader to make up their mind.
But there is also some very disturbing elements of psychology in this. Rape, suicide and insanity are all mentioned and sometimes in great detail. I find some of this reasonable, simply because the most traumatic cases of paranormal activity reported have lead to insanity or suicide. Extreme trauma, emotional or physical, real or imagined, can have very real and very long lasting effects. It seemed like those situations were treated with more integrity than the sexual ones.
But I’m not ok with how rape and sexual interactions were portrayed. I felt like those elements were put in simply for the shock value. Because it is horrible and terrifying, no doubt about it. But book is not scary just because rape is in there, and to put sexual abuse of any kind in a book simply for shock value is degrading to the survivors. The way it was played in the book made it seem like everyone (especially women) wants sex and they want it despite if they realize it or not. That’s rape culture. That’s not ok.
I do understand that the Belasco house was a place of complete depravity and that terrible things happened there, and there are certainly many things that disturbed me within the book. Yet I felt as if the author relied far too much on the shock value of these events and happenings instead of creating something that would leave me sleeping with the lights on (not that it did much good for the people in the book).
This book had a wonderful setting and atmosphere. Not only was there the science/paranormal debate, there was this wonderful, layered mystery of the house. While the scares never came for me, the plot line was intreiguing enough to keep me going.
Did it have truly frightening elements in it? Sure…I think. But for me, no. It had some fun jump scares, but they never stuck with me. For others, many of my friends included, I’m sure that this truly is one of the most frightening books out there.
TL;DR: It was a very interesting read, and the mystery element(s) to it were wonderful. The psychology within the book really added a special layer to the plot and characters.
For die hard horror fans or anyone looking for the next big scare, this might not be it, then again, it might be. It’s considered a classic in the horror genre, so it makes for a fun read. For people looking for a new read and an interesting spin on haunted houses and know they are ok with the subjects within the book, go for it! For those that are testing the waters of the horror genre, start with something lighter and work your way up. This book isn’t named Hell House for nothing!