I've tried to read Hell House numerous times. The writing seemed a little too... simplistic, I guess would be the word, for my tastes. It's also, at times, annoyingly repetitive, and had my buddy Thomas Strömquist (sorry I still haven't figured out how to link to other people on this site) hadn't accepted my buddy read proposal, I probably wouldn't have ever finished it. I couldn't understand, for the life of me, why everyone suggested I read it. "It's a horror classic!" and "It's soooooooo scary" don't usually push me into reading a book because what I find scary normally isn't what other people find scary. But this book hit me at just the right time, while I was in the mood for a creepy read. And that's pretty much why I liked it as much as I did. Horror is so subjective. It depends on a reader's mood, as well. If you don't want to be scared, you're likely going to shrug this one off and DNF before you get to the truly unsettling parts. Because this isn't your average possession story or haunted house book. This motherfucker has teeth.
I cannot imagine how much controversy this book created when it was first released. You have scenes of lesbian lust, group orgies, one ghost running around wielding his overgrown penis, and a sexual assault scene unlike anything else I've ever read. It fucked me up so badly that I had to stop reading for a minute. And I am notoriously hard to disturb. But that's what horror is. It's meant to leave you shaken. To that end, Hell House delivers.
Where this book succeeds is the unending sense of dread, the near-constant escalation of violent acts, and the invisible character development. I honestly have no idea how Matheson made each of these characters feel like separate individuals. Other than Barrett's polio, none of them really stand out, but I saw each of them clearly from very early on, and never once was confused as to whose head I was in. That's damn impressive, especially given such simple writing.
In summation: If you're looking for a scary read and can forgive the repetition of words like "started", which was used at least twice per page, or so it seemed, you should dig this one. It takes a while to get going, but once it does, it doesn't let up.
Final Judgment: Filled with dread.