By Richard Matheson
Background: First published in 1971 by the author of I Am Legend, this book is known as the quintissential haunted house novel. Matheson, a well-known name in the horror genre, wrote many short stories and novels, as well as the screenplays for film adaptations and episodes of The Twilight Zone.
What it’s about: Hell House is an infamous house of horrors built on a remote, foggy piece of land beside a tarn. A wealthy but ill man, Deutsch, sends four people into the house to determine if there is an afterlife as he nears his own demise, including Dr. Barrett, a scientist; his wife, Edith; Florence Tanner, a spiritualist and mental medium; and Benjamin Fischer, a medium who was the only survivor of a previous journey into Hell House.
While Tanner becomes entangled with the sex-crazed ghosts, Dr. Barrett works on a machine that he believes will reverse the electromagnetic energy that is making the house appear haunted. As the danger increases, Edith comes to believe that there is more than science at play here, and Fischer must open himself up to the horrors that he once escaped many years ago.
The four different people all come together to try and learn the mystery of Hell House… but overpowering the deadly house is more than any of them bargained for.
Why it will keep you up at night: I admit, for the majority of the book I wasn’t terribly impressed. There were great moments of violence and creepiness, but the overemphasis on sexual debauchery, the point-of-view changes, and the one-dimensional characters fell a little flat for me.
However, the ending brought together these wandering elements and finally introduced some real horror into what was otherwise a rather lackluster haunted house. There is some great imagery and real mystery at the end, answering questions that were lost, or even unasked, in the first 200-some pages.
While a killer ending (no pun intended) can never make up for a meandering middle, I was entertained by the classic book nonetheless. The legend of Hell House lives on…