A well written horror is probably my favorite thing to read and also the toughest thing to find, so when I find one I like, but the author selfishly didn’t feel like writing six sequels for it, I start scouring the net for readalikes, even though I often find them to be a massive let down. I’d been hunting around for a copy of Hell House for ever after reading that it’s really quite up there on the list of horrifying horrors.
Much like Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, Richard Matheson writes of a group of paranormal investigators who are employed to go and stay at the infamous Balesco (Hell) House to unravel its secrets. Our protagonist is a scientist who believes that even when a haunting actually is paranormal, that it can always be explained by physical, scientific causes and set out to prove that Hell House is no exception, taking with him a machine of his own invention that detects and ultimately destroys all of the energies that make a house appear to be haunted. He takes along his wife, as well as a famous actress turned medium, and another physic, a man who had visited the house as a boy and was the only survivor of its failed previous investigation. But of course the house can’t be defeated so easily, corrupting all those who stay within its walls with the evil that had been allowed to form and ferment there by the original owner of the house, the despicable Emeric Balesco.
This is horror at it’s finest, being only kind of story that can and needs to use the cliches that make other genres boring because the cliches are what define our collective fears. I didn’t find it to be as scary as I found Jackson’s story to be, but I think that’s because her haunting was more psychological, while this is more visual. It’s gorey, and grotesque and I loved every page of it.