Richard Matheson’s HELLHOUSE: An Audio Book Review

hellhouse
It was the film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN that did it, put the name Richard Matheson on my radar.

I don’t know if any writer can claim to be as hauntingly adapted to film as Richard Matheson. Sure there are more oft adapted writers (Stephen King- speaking of who, you can see a definite similarity between the two writers. Matheson a definite influence on King’s introspective style ), there are even better adapted writers (Cornell Woolrich), however there is something in the viewpoint of Matheson’s writing, in the nature of it, that lends itself to filmmakers and films, committed to making us ruminate long, and dig deep.

His I AM LEGEND in all its forms has been cinema gold. That lone THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN film remains a timeless masterpiece, a 50s scifi property of somehow existential dread and implications.

I mean what it is it about a Matheson property that sets it as clearly distinct from the herd? In the oft predictable genre field, Matheson’s work while not ignoring the cliches, somehow side-steps them, somehow is always intimate and personal dissections of us. If for Shakespeare the play was the thing, for Matheson it was the people. It was what they said of themselves, and what they said of us.

Despite the premise, it’s always character that carries the day in a Matheson property.

The character of people, even the character of a house.

Which brings us to… HELLHOUSE. HELLHOUSE in all its various forms captivates. The successful THE LEGEND OF HELLHOUSE starring Roddy McDowall being an example (which bares a striking similarity to the Robert Wise film/Shirley Jackson novel THE HAUNTING). The film is such an erudite genre film, informed and informative, and passionate about us, an atypical ghost story to be sure.

Which brings us to the audio book. Narrator Ray Porter does an excellent job of convincingly occupying the diverse cast of characters, creating for us a compelling world. However that said, Matheson’s main protagonist, the scientist Dr. Barrett, becomes so pig headed, and stupid, that by the third part of the 8 part audio drama, I couldn’t take it. I wanted to reach into the audio book, and kill the guy. UrrrrGGHHH!

To hold onto his preconceptions and prejudices in the face of staggering evidence to the contrary, what Barrett does, is not science. It is in many ways dogma, something very akin to religious mania, but just supplanting blind faith in a God, with blind faith in scientific process (God by another name). Dude is crippled, but in the head, rather than the body.

Seriously the guy was so frustrating, like these idiots in slasher films who stay in a haunted house, or makeout at a grave yard. You’re like… “yeah you’re too stupid to live.” So by the third chapter it was frustrating me too much to continue listening to it. I might try finishing it later, but any book that loses me in midstream like that, I can give you my take on now. Cause even if the remaining 5 chapters are brilliant, it is not going to help. Once I lose interest or concern or even compassion for the characters… I’m done.

So a well read book, Porter’s delivery is completely compelling, and it moves from scene to scene without padding, without fluff, but my praise of Matheson’s characters aside, it is the character of Dr. Barrett that loses me.

I can’t keep company with staggeringly pig headed people. Not even for the length of an audio book.

So definitely worth a listen, but if you have a temperament like mine, you may want to skip out on buying (especially if it is an encrypted WMA file. Screw that nonsense). Try it out at your library for free, or borrow it from a friend.

Upcoming Richard Matheson Audio Book reviews will be I AM LEGEND and DUEL.

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