When looking for something “light” to read, I picked up Richard Matheson’s Hell House. Like most people, I’ve been familiar with Matheson since childhood and long appreciated the many adaptations of his works, from Charleton Heston or Will Smith.
Hell House comes later in Matheson’s career and explores similar themes to his other works. It falls neatly between Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and King’s The Shining. It’s clear to see the influence of the former and the influence on the latter.
Lots of head hopping in this book, which isn’t unusual for horror books, but Matheson introduces so many characters so quickly that it becomes confusing at first. I had to keep flipping back to the beginning to make sure I had each character correct in my head.
The book had the potential to be scary, or if not immediately frightening, one that haunts the reader. Instead, I walked away disappointed. For a book written in the middle of the Sexual Revolution, it surprisingly falls into the trap of sex=bad and sex=evil. If I were a psychoanalytic critic, I’d have a field day diving into Matheson’s psyche.
Fortunately, I’m not because that would be squicky, very squicky.
I will say this much: apparently he has issues with sexually liberated women and lesbians because he focused on them and made them the weakest links in the investigation of the haunting. What’s worse is that most of the ersatz sex scenes were awful in pacing and verbiage. Granted, they weren’t meant to be titillating (I don’t think. If so, he failed miserably.), but they didn’t have to be so bad. There was one that had potential–the one with the demon and the mirror–but it ended up as a ham fisted attempt at sex=evil.
Anyway, lest I seem too negative, Matheson can create atmosphere and establish a frightening mood. He just can’t deliver on either, at least not in Hell House.