“Hell House,” by Richard Matheson, which I should have read long ago

Unlike many haunted house tales, which typically offer a slow burn and a build-up to the horrors, this one moves at a headlong pace, with weird happenings right away and an escalation to orgies of violence and fear.

It can be compared the Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” in terms of plot. A home is reputed to be haunted, a small group of people assembles to investigate, bad things happen. Whereas Jackson’s book is more of a psychological horror tale, this one has more of an action vibe, with full-scale poltergeist events, numerous ghost sightings and a house that is actively trying to kill the inhabitants.

The storytelling is lean, as Matheson’s focus is on plot and character, and this one at times reads almost like a detective novel when compared to the richer prose of other ghost books.

Each of the characters has strong reasons to remain on the scene despite the obvious dangers. Characters come at the house from different angles, spiritual or scientific. And it all goes very badly, of course.

The book contains strong scenes of sexual violence and rape, so be warned. It also contains scenes certain to offend the religious sensibilities of many readers, so note that as well.

But horror novels are supposed to be disturbing, right? If the caveats above don’t bother you, this book offers some truly twisted and disturbing happenings.

There is a reason it is often mentioned along with Jackson’s classic and Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

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