Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hell House: Ode to Richard Matheson

As part of my scary education, I've been reading the classic novels in horror literature. First up  is Hell House by Richard Matheson, the New York Times best-selling author of  I Am Legend, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, and What Dreams May Come as well as many screenplays for movies and TV. He died last June 2013, at the age of 87.

"Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills." --Stephen King

Written in 1971, Hell House concerns a physicist, his wife, and two mediums who are hired by a millionaire to investigate the infamous Belasco House in Maine. The novel combines a mix of horror, the supernatural, and mystery as the foursome try to solve the riddle at the center of the haunting. Along the way we encounter grotesque scenes of blasphemy and perversion that I've never encountered before. I will freely admit that I was shocked by some of the passages in this book, but it did take a bit of effort to swallow the overall setting that's not old enough to be a period piece but a bit too dated to connect with modern audiences. However, I did enjoy hearing the list of parapsychology terms like somnambulist, ectoplasm, and physical mediums that you just don't hear anymore.

Overall, this novel along with Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (1959) have served as inspiration for every haunted house movie I've ever seen. It was adapted in 1973 (with a script by Richard Matheson) as The Legend of Hell House and starred genre favorite Roddy McDowell. While it followed the same notes as the book, it really missed the core depravity that made Hell House, well, hell. In 2004, it was adapted as a very dark comic mini-series that made the side stories in the book quite visually disturbing. Rumors of a remake have persisted for years, although I hope it will be an indie/arthouse production and not a mainstream film. The sexual overtones would be enough to earn this movie a hard-R, and it needs a seriously bleak tone.





UPDATE
Two days after publishing this post, Dread Central reported that 20th Century Fox has been trying to get the remake of The Legend of Hell House off the ground since 2007. With the success of The Conjuring, interest in the film has been renewed. Is an announcement forthcoming?!?


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