Friday, May 6, 2011

Hell House by Richard Matheson (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

”HellHell House
by Richard Matheson
narrated by Ray Porter

Copyright: 2008 Blackstone Audio
Duration: 9 hours 15 minutes unabridged
Genres: horror, paranormal
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews
Click the image to visit the publisher’s website.

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: For over 20 years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mt. Everest of haunted houses, its shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of unimaginable horror and depravity. All previous attempts to probe its mysteries have ended in murder, suicide, or insanity.

But now, a new investigation has been launched, bringing four strangers to Belasco House in search of the ultimate secrets of life and death. A wealthy publisher, brooding over his impending death, has paid a physicist and two mediums to establish the facts of life after death once and for all. For one night, they will investigate the Belasco House and learn exactly why the townsfolk refer to it as the Hell House.

Hell House, which inspired the 1973 film The Legend of Hell House, is Matheson's most frightening and shocking book, and an acknowledged classic of the genre.

©1999 Richard Matheson; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: When I think of audiobooks about haunted houses, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is the first one that comes to mind, and I inevitably compare all others to that masterpiece. It’s not really a fair comparison, I know, because The Haunting of Hill House sets the bar impossibly high; it’s like comparing other rock ballads to Kiss’ Beth. When I look at Hell House in that light, it too falls short of the mark, but if I really try to be objective about it, I have to admit that Richard Matheson did a pretty fine job.

Where Shirley Jackson is subtle, penetrating the layers of our minds with the precision of a scalpel, Matheson is more blunt, like a chainsaw. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger have very different methods, and who’s to say which one is more terrifying. When you get right down to it, it’s a little like comparing apples to oranges: both are fruits, sure, and both taste good, but how different they are.

Okay, enough with the fruity comparisons. I like the way Richard Matheson blends traditional horror elements with scientific theory, or put another way, the way he blends the supernatural with the natural. In his story I Am Legend, Matheson wrote about zombie/vampires. They were not typical zombie/vampires, however, their condition was the result of a plague. The hero of the story, Robert Neville, strove to develop a vaccine that would cure the effected and return them to normal. In Hell House, the character of Lionel Barrett proposes that hauntings are nothing more than a physical energy left behind by a deceased person, something that can be measured and controlled, similar to radioactive fallout. In both cases, the heroes seem to have come up with a solution to the problem, but we never quite get to find out for sure if they work.

Matheson’s hypotheses have an air of plausibility to them, an important factor that I always look for in any book. Knowing the theory behind a phenomenon will usually make that phenomenon less strange, or less scary, but somehow that is not the case with Matheson’s stories. Even after explaining how or why something works the way it does, he can still make you fear it, raising the suspense to a level that is nearly unbearable.

Hell House was my first experience with narrator Ray Porter. He impressed me right away. There are a lot of narrators that can do pretty good character voices, but ultimately they still sound like one person doing a lot of voices. My first impression of Porter was that his voices actually sounded like different people. Even his voices for the female characters were convincing, something that very few male narrators can pull off. Ray Porter is good, and I would like to hear more from him.

You’ll find only one haunted house story better than this one, as I have already mentioned. When you’ve finished that one and are ready for number two, Hell House will be waiting. Proceed with caution.

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The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Audiobook Review)
The Shining by Stephen King (Audiobook Review)
A Stir Of Echoes by Richard Matheson (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Blackstone Audio for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.

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