The graphic novel adaptation of Richard Matheson's "Hell House" is good and by-and-large faithful to its source. The artwork in here is really fantastic and I think they were right to limit the thing to black-and-white. There is a tiny bit - or, rather, a big bit - of self-censorship here. Readers of the original novel will know exactly what I mean. I mean, this is an open society - or so they'd have us believe. I suppose the makers of the graphic novel didn't want to get into the wrong sort of controversy. It's not a major point with me. Whether you have read the original novel or not, this is a pretty fine graphic novel. Read it - and, by God, read Richard Matheson. He's as every bit a part of our cultural memory as Poe....Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada
I suspect that the majority of you reading this have not heard of the author Richard Matheson. Despite producing two of the best horror novels of the last century ('I am Legend' and 'The Shrinking man'), Matheson is still not as familiar a name as Stephen King or James Herbert. And yet you are probably more familiar with some of Matheson's work (or to be precise, products based upon his work) than you know. Have you seen Steven Spielberg's directorial debut 'Duel' about the gripping battle on the road between a travelling salesman and a truck driver? It is based on a Matheson short story. A more recent example is the 1998 film 'What dreams may come' starring Robin Williams - it is based on Matheson's novel of the same name. I've been trying to get hold of 'Hell House' for some time. A haunted house story from the author of the brilliant vampire novel 'I am Legend'? A book that Stephen King describes as 'the scariest haunted house novel ever written'? If that doesn't whet the appetite then nothing will! 'Hell House' was written in 1971 and I actually think that it is out now of print in this country, which would explain why I was unsuccessful in tracking it down in libraries and high-street bookshops. I eventually bought a U.S edition through Amazon. I tend to borrow books rather than buy them for the simple reason that once I have finished a book I have no further use for it, but the only way I was going to get to read this book was by purchasing it so I did! It cost just under £10, which I felt was rather expensive for a paperback, hence the 'average' rating in the 'value for money' category below, although I must say this American edition is nice and glossy with a good cover illustration! THE PREMISE The story takes place at the end of the year 1970. Decrepit millionaire Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is eighty-seven years old and obsessed
with the question about whether there is life after death. He employs the services of parapsychologist Dr. Lionel Barrett, telling him that he wants the definitive answer within a week. When Barrett asks him where on earth he could go to find the evidence, Deutsch replies to the 'only place on earth where survival (after death) has yet to be refuted' - the Belasco house in Maine, commonly known as 'Hell House.' In its time, the walls of 'Hell House' had bore witness to countless acts of unspeakable horror and depravity, all under the machinations of its infamous owner Emeric Belasco. Now referred to as the 'Mount Everest of haunted houses', the place has stood cold and deserted since the disappearance of Belasco in 1929. Two previous expeditions (in 1931 and 1940) which attempted to solve the mystery of the house ended with dire consequences - most of the participants ending up dead or driven to insanity. Accompanying Dr.Barrett on this latest investigation are his wife Edith, Florence Tanner (a spiritualist medium) and Benjamin Franklin Fischer (the only survivor of the disastrous 1940 investigation). Aside for a small fee of hundred thousand dollars each for their trouble, each has different motivations for agreeing to participate. Barrett does not believe in the supernatural and is relishing the opportunity to prove categorically that parapyschology is just as 'respectable' a science as any other. Tanner is a devoted spiritualist and is intent on getting to the bottom of the secret behind 'Hell House'. And Fischer is determined to 'defeat' the house and purge the place of what it was that nearly killed him on his last visit when he was but a teenager. Once Deutsch's men chauffeur them all to the house, the four are left alone in the huge and eerie mansion, with a week to try and prove (or disprove) that death really is not the end. REVIEW As always
, Matheson is very readable, especially with regard to the (at times riveting) dialogues between the four main characters - you can see why Matheson is such a good screenplay writer as well as novelist. But this book is generally something of a disappointment. And for one specific reason - it is not as frightening as I thought it would be. And in turn, there are two particular reasons for this. The first is that the supernatural elements are introduced a bit too quickly. The first 100 or so pages create a real sense of foreboding as Matheson expertly sets the scene - we learn all about the characters and the history behind the notorious house. However, when the action actually moves to within the walls of the house, I felt that bringing in the paranormal stuff a touch more gradually would have been a lot more effective. The second reason is that what usually makes Matheson such a good read (and does indeed here for the most part) ironically sometimes creates the reverse of the effect Matheson is hoping for. Matheson books genuinely are 'intelligent' works - he treats his material with practically no sense of irony. So there are some instances here that, because they are written in such a 'matter of fact' way, are simply not frightening! My expectations were probably high from enjoying 'I am Legend' so much plus by Stephen King's comment that 'Hell House' is 'the scariest haunted house novel ever written'. I disagree - I was more unnerved by Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting of Hill House'. Matheson's book has a curious effect. There are scenes that DO cause the hairs to prick up on the back of your neck interspersed with scenes that cause little reaction at all. Jackson's novel is more 'consistently' frightening. 'Hell House' was filmed in 1974 as 'The Legend of Hell House', starring Roddy McDowall (as Fischer) amongst others, to quite eerie and
frightening effect. Interestingly enough, it was a British production, the story set in England instead of America. Matheson wrote the screenplay, adapting it from his own novel. I saw the film a few years ago, and while I couldn't remember much about it, I did of course remember the ending. Therefore, because I read the book knowing in advance what the 'secret' of Hell House was, it might be why I wasn't as impressed with the story as I might have been. Having said that, another reviewer (who gives no indication that he has seen the film) at a different web-site said that he found the ending disappointing anyway! RECOMMENDED? My advice is that (if you don't mind paying the more expensive than average paperback price) you go ahead and read the novel and make up your own minds! You may not necessarily find it as frightening as you hoped, but it certainly reads well a 'mystery' novel. A SIDETRACK I did notice that there are a number of sequences in the novel that never made it into the movie, for whatever reason (running time, money, lack of special effect technology?). Thirty years on, now that special effects have advanced so much, and provided the right director is selected for the job (i.e. one that can go for understatement rather than overstatement), I'd love to see 'Hell House' filmed again. If only to see a movie that is, while not necessarily superior to the original film, more faithful to the novel. How about it Mr. Matheson?
Haunted house novel from the author of 'I am Legend'.