Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hell House

I read I Am Legend, but that's about all I had of Richard Matheson. Reading Elsewhere merely made me thirsty for more haunted houses, so I decided to go with the novel that some people call the best (or second best), ie Hell House. I devoured the novel in one sitting.

A parapsychologist, a mental medium and a physical medium are hired to investigate the famed Belasco mansion. It seems the rich man who purchased it wants proof of either normality or supernormality.The parapsychologist brings his young wife, and the four of them attempt to stay in the house for 5 nights.

This wasn't as good as I thought it was going to be. I enjoyed it, and liked its approach, which was similar to I Am Legend - an attempt to rationalize supernatural events by science. It's a clever method, and Matheson's science is plausible (but incorrect). However, all this explanation serves to lengthen exposition. There's pages upon pages of infodumping.

But is it scary? Not really. Matheson goes for brute force style scares rather than slow atmospheric. The result is not modern enough to scare the modern reader. Unfortunately, this novel suffers if only because it's a little out of date. Stephen King did this same thing with his short story 1408 and produced far more efficient results.

Although, I admit I read it in one sitting, so it can't possibly be bad. I enjoyed it, but perhaps my tastes run closer to Lovecraftian style horror rather than rationally based horror. I would have preferred a much more ambiguous ending to the novel, rather than the solution to the mystery that's laboriously explained by a surviving character.

While I enjoyed Hell House, I think my disappointment was a matter of Matheson and I having different tastes. The plot moves as a brisk pace, and it held my attention the entire time. His efforts at brute force scares are commendable, and was certainly pushing the envelope in his time, but unfortunately Hell House just isn't as good as it was back in the day. 

I'm still working on Clara Callan, which I think is as far from Hell House as possible, and I'm thinking of trying some Nabokov. I'll keep you in the loop.

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