Book Review: HELL HOUSE

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Book Review HELL HOUSERichard Matheson
Tor
1971

For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

One of the books that seems to be on everybody’s list of Top (ENTER NUMBER HERE) List of Horror Novels, not only from regular horror literary geeks, but from some of the bigger names in horror fiction. Notably, I read Stephen King refer to it as “one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th Century…”. That carries a bit of weight for me, as far as recommendations on what to snuggle up with on a dark and chilly night, to tantalize my imagination. Which also had the adverse effect of being a bit daunting to actually pick up and read. Not because it would be “too scary”, but like every other thing I’m hesitant to read, what if it turns out to be not as good as my brain hyped it up to be?

Fortunately, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Hell House and reading it. My copy, with the cover art itself in the upper part of this review, is one of the many reprints that have been made of this, in case you’re some how curious about things like what was on the cover printing. I wouldn’t know why, but I’m sure there are people like that out there. Anyway…

As far as haunted house stories go, I have to admit that I agree that Hell House is one of the better ones written. If you’re familiar with Richard Matheson’s style of writing, then you know that he doesn’t necessarily write straight horror stories. He has said as much himself. They are horror, yes, but there’s also a heavy dose of science fiction that ties it down a bit more to earth rather than the supernatural. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot to cause my skin to crawl and want to turn on more than just one lamp while reading this, mind you. Such is Matheson’s style.

The story of Hell House involves a very old, very rich man hiring four people in different specified areas of research to investigate an old mansion that is rumored to be the site of many depraved orgies and debaucheries and death, and is now considered one of the most famous of haunted houses in the world. The old man wants to find out, once and for all, whether the nicknamed Hell House really is haunted, and if so by what, or if there’s actually a rational scientific reason behind the failed investigations done decades prior. To this end, he has hired a scientist and his wife to assist, a spiritualist, and a survivor of a previous investigation into the house that ended in a deadly disaster, who is tormented by his psychic abilities. Together they will stay inside the house for several days, attempting to determine if there really is something sinister behind the building’s facade, or if it’s something else with foundationally speaking. See what I did, there? I made architectural jokes. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, things start going wacky pretty much on the first day they arrive at the house, and everyone struggles to keep from going mad while sorting out the mystery behind the house itself. Or, you know, try not to die doing so.

This being written in the very early 1970s, there’s a bit more of, shall we say, an adult orientation to the story. And by that, I mean there’s a rather violent scene featuring necrophilia at one point, as well as some squeamish descriptions of possession and poltergeist manifestations going on. Add in some rather effective dark Gothic imagery with the house, and you really do have a spine-chilling supernaturally-tinged Gothic ghost story mystery that doesn’t end on a very up note.

I understand that there’s a movie adaptation made of this. I haven’t seen the movie, or even sought it out. But, I am glad I got around to reading Hell House, and seeing why everyone seems to hold it in high esteem. Recommended reading, my fellow horror hounds.

HALLOWEEN’ING 2016: Day 18 – The Turn Of The Screw

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Spooky Reads:

turn-of-the-screw

TURN OF THE SCREW (Henry James)

In the pantheon of Gothic liturature (I’m talking actual Gothic literature, not those YA novels with the vampires and the supernatural teen angst and the sparkles), Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw can usually be found in the Top 10 lists of many genre aficionados. If not the Top 5. This is because The Turn of the Screw is not your typical Victorian era ghost story.

Sure, on the surface, this may seem like your standard late-19th Century tale of a haunting of a governess and her two charges; but James didn’t like the standard stereotypes of the ghost story genre, and wrote The Turn of the Screw to…well, screw with the reader’s mind. You’re never really sure if the ghosts were real, or if everything was just the result of a mental breakdown. And that’s never really answered, leaving the reader to continually chew over everything after finishing.

My copy, as you can see in the above picture, is part of an omnibus collection published through Barnes & Noble classics line. After nearly 120 years after it was first published, The Turn of the Screw remains required reading for any dark Gothic fiction enthusiasts, and its many adaptations prove it’s importance isn’t waning any time soon. Also, it’s a good ghost story to be reading this Halloween season…or any season…

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Book Review: The WHOLE MAN

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john brunner the whole man
John Brunner
Ballantine Books
1964

Gerald Howson didn’t look powerful. His body was deformed at birth, leaving him with a face so ugly people didn’t want to look at him, and crippled legs that would never let him be as other men. But his mind was one in a billion – gifted with the ability to send and receive thoughts more powerfully than any other person on the face of the globe. At first Howson thought his peculiar ability was odd, and then he thought he might be able to get a little extra money by snooping on people. But when his ability finally was discovered by others, he became so powerful that he could use his gift to heal the minds of those who suffered from terrible emotional or psychological trauma…or he could withdraw into a phatasmagoric wonderland of psychic imagining, never to emerge into the real world of human experience again. Whichever decision he made, his life and the lives of countless others would never be the same again.

It’s funny how sometimes you happen across something by accident, and have it turn out to be a pleasant one (for once). For instance, I initially came across this particular book back in the later part of the Aughts, while visiting my then-girlfriend. In the basement of her apartment complex, along with the soda machines and washer/dryer machines, was a table that was set up for the residents to put stuff they didn’t want, but didn’t feel like hauling off to whatever approximate facsimile of a Goodwill they had in Abaline, Kansas. One afternoon, as I was down there to get a couple of cans of soda, I noticed a couple of mass paperback books that looked like they were published in the 60s, including The Whole Man by John Brunner. Inscribed inside the front cover of this book, in pencil, was DIDN’T READ IT, DON’T WANT TO in perhaps the more shaky cursive I’ve seen since my own in grade school. So, being the way I am, I went and adopted these two books, including this one that’s the subject of this review, to live with me.

That’s the way I am. Most people adopt pets or children; I adopt books. They’re my children. My therapist tells me I’m making good progress.

The Whole Man tells the tale of Gerald Howson, born in a military hospital in the middle of a civil war, to a mother who didn’t really want him to begin with, his father a revolutionary that was shot dead long before he was born. Add to this the massive physical deformities he had, including a slightly shorter leg, an asymmetrical face and, later on in his development, the inability to mature and grow beyond a few feet and never losing his “baby face”, while still maintaining his high-pitched childlike voice. Nevertheless, Gerald manages to make an existence for himself, however much of a pittance it is; until, one evening after a series of (for lack of a better word) events, he discovers that he’s not only a telepath, but a very powerful one at that. Which prompts a government agency of sorts to come in and take him to their facility where they specialize in helping telepaths and others of similar psychic phenomena to develop their talents without becoming a vegetable or turning others in their general vicinity into vegetables as well. Over time, Gerald becomes a very talented doctor, helping many others to develop their talents; but despite all of this, he still wrestles with the existential quandary of becoming a “whole man”. This leads to a soul-searching walkabout of sorts. And without letting on as to how it ends specifically, let’s just say he finds what he’s looking for. The end.

Yeah, it’s as much an ambiguous description as I can get, without spoiling things with a detailed description. But, for the most part, The Whole Man fairly decent. It’s kind of an exploration of the human desire to be loved and accepted in a society that at best pitys them, and at worst fears them to the point of persecution. Maybe not X-Men levels here, but in this book’s world telepaths are known to exist, but are given a nice positive spin thanks to popular action movies featuring very prominent telepathic protagonists. The way that this existential quandary is handled is surprisingly potent, while maintaining a rather easy narrative that seems to have existed back in the 1950s and 1960s. Real meat and potatoes kind of sci-fi writing.

Overall, The Whole Man was a rather good read, leading me to wonder what kind of person would get this book and not want to read it any way. The ending was maybe a bit too uplifting for my tastes, but that’s because I’m a hard jaded fan of nihilistic endings in my science fiction. If you come across this, check it out.

Sunday A’La Carte – October 12, 2014

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pumkin spiceWhat a week, what a week. Outside of the usual daily grind of work-eat-sleep-repeat, I’ve been listening to a lot of Demon Hunter. One of the few modern metal bands I actually enjoy on a frequent basis, really. In this case, I’ve been feeling a rather odd mix of misanthropic loathing and deeply introspective melancholy, and the style of \,,/METAL\,,/ that Demon Hunter, I’ve found, complements this psychological dichotomy of mine perfectly, hence using them as a soundtrack throughout the week. I’m listening to them right now, as I pound this out on my lappy-top. The new one, Extremist, as a matter of fact. Not too bad, really. On to other things, then…

hate jarI’ve started transcribing the (de)composition notebook that I’ve been jotting down my unplugged brain droppings into, aptly titled Death Is The Only Happy Ending. I’m thinking, as I gather the entirety of 2014’s journal entries in the various forms they’ve taken, I will stick with that as the title. It’s been a rather rough year, as I’ve mentioned many, many times so far. And I see no reason to change the title, really. It fits not only with my disposition and where I find myself at this point of my journey, but it reflects perfectly my mantra as a Christian as well. It’s not easy having me as a fellow believer and humble servant of Christ Jesus. But, there we are.

On Wednesday evening, I spoke a bit to my youth group about my journey so far as a Christian, touching on my own bit of psychological affliction (for lack of a better word, really…I’ve found I can have some fun with it as well). One of the things I iterated to the group was that, despite everything they may be going through, or will be going through, I understand what it is to find the simple act of living as painful and crushing for no reason whatsoever. Such is the nature of depression. Then I find this particular blog post, by way of The Church Of No People, and I really should have pointed this out as well. Oh, well. But it bears repeating: My mental affliction is not what defines me. To rip off Fight Club, I am not my depression. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. I get that. It’s just that, some days I’d rather sit in the dark and not go outside and play with others. This year, more so.

Speaking of other blog posts that I discovered via The Church Of No People (you should really check that blog out, it’s pretty cool): This one that points out that saying things like, “Love God, Love People” can be misconstrued by Christians far too often, and comes off as particularly pointless to outsiders, and this one from The American Jesus that points out the glaringly obvious irony of the doctrines of Fundamentalist churches. I’ve personally been rather fortunate to never to have gotten involved in a straight-on Fundamentalist church, but I have attended more than a few that had some Fundamentalist tendencies. And not the positive qualities, either. And yes, I am letting on that I think there are some positives to be gleaned from Fundamental church bodies, no matter how wacky they may be.

follow your blissThis morning at church, as I was waiting for the Sanctified Hipster Band to get on stage and do the weekly morning Pep Rally for Jesus, the pre-show music mix (I don’t know if they were just using someone’s pre-loaded media player or what) of mediocre and non-threatening Alternative Contemporary had a song that started off with a drum lead that made me think, “Hey, that sounds suspiciously like they lifted that from Megadeth’s ‘Wake Up Dead’!” Yep, I’m a \,,/METAL\,,/ head. And in case you have no idea of what I’m speaking of, here you go. You’re welcome.

Alternatively, it’s been put forth that, perhaps my moodiness has something to do with the planet Mercury. Personally, I think it may has more to do with the fact that THEY KILLED SWEETS ON BONES. Jerks.

Also, while I’m on that rabbit trail for this second, the new (and from what I understand, final) season of Supernatural started this last week. Caught up with the episode on Friday night. Dark, yes, but quite frankly it’s nothing I haven’t been through with the Winchester boys–or the angels, for that matter–so many times these past five years. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times: They could have just stopped at the end of Season Five, and it would have been a very satisfying end to the series. Though, from another podcast I listened to over the weekend, I agree that they should bring back the “Third Winchester” as the orchestrator of all of the past couple of seasons. That would be a ballsy twist, indeed.

alien theme parkSTUFF I’VE WRITTEN: I listened to and reviewed the recent Flyleaf album, and reposted an album review by Drottnar, and third and fourth full-length releases by Disciple. In this week’s HALLOWEEN’ING series I’ve managed to keep going without petering out thus far, I wrote about the movie Trick R’ Treat, my love of H. P. Lovecraft‘s stories, the curious confections that are Halloween Peeps, the television special classic Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, the first Halloween episode from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, when and where I picked up my obsession with telling ghost stories (and writing in general, it seems), and shared this lovely YouTube video of a guy’s brilliant Alien-themed prank in fast food drive-thrus.

That’s it for this week. Hope you all have a decent week coming up. Hopefully, I’ll be able to hit a haunted house or two, seeing as how my knee is finally feeling better. This past week, I was feeling the fluoride sting of that little football injury of mine back in 1991. Anyway, I leave you with another YouTube video that was shared with me by one of my youth group kids. Cheers, all.

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