My expertise is not in the horror genre. I don’t know that I can claim a genre in which I am an expertise or even well read in. I do enjoy stories that fall in to the horror genre though and always, always have. I like scary, spooky, deranged, eerie and all around victorious stories. Sure, in true horror stories, at least in my humble opinion, there is one victorious character that defeats the evil that so easily defeated all the victor’s allies. Hell House was no exception to this key component.
At the start there isn’t a clear protagonist. It’s a quartet. An ensemble of characters all tempted into their fates by the promise of payment. Sure, that wasn’t their only motivation. Barrett was focused on proving years of study and research. Edith was his dutiful partner, his support system. Florence, the eager, washed up actress perhaps trying to claim a deeper purpose for herself. And Fischer, the one soaking in denial of his true destiny. The longer they stayed in the house, the harder it was to hide their true thoughts, intentions and feelings.
Barrett, as a parapsychologist, was very interesting. He wasn’t refuting the nature of mediumship or psychic phenomenon, but merely working with a very scientific theory. And perhaps a touch of ego connected with his invention of the Reversor. It’s easy to hold neutral ground when you have a scientific mind, but it’s also hardest to refute what you see with your very own eyes. He never actually stopped believing in his theory until the very end and by then he wasn’t of right mind. Belasco had taken him.
Edith, his wife and true friend, only wanted reassurance. What she needed was to be heard. Throughout the novel you get glimpses into her life before Hell House. She was very much repressed and defiled, if only mentally, and I never got the sense that she talked about any of it. Was it because she didn’t want to or because no one would listen? Her role in the story was to survive. Whether she acknowledged it or not, she had always been a survivor: a fighter. Edith is by far the weakest of the four, not able to honestly think for herself, just to agree with Barrett. And by the end, she is arguably the strongest.
Florence Tanner embodied confidence. Probably the most self assured of the four (although, Barrett is a close, close second), Florence had the most of herself invested in life and certainly in Hell House. She encompassed what the other four refused or ignorantly dismissed. She tapped in to the most powerful weapon: love. Fischer had warned her that she was too open and that it would be the end of her. Somewhere deep down she knew that to be a possibility, but she had the unfortunate role of martyr to which is embraced, knowingly or not. Florence cared. Some might see this as her ultimate downfall, while I see it as her ultimate prize. She was true to herself, true to her nature. We can only do what we see as best in the situation in front of us and running the other way was never a true option for Florence, or any of the others. Florence was the maternal figure, the most willing to die for the relief of others.
Fischer is by far the most intricate component to this story. Even Belasco himself, with all this deceitful and sickening avenues of fun was no match for Fischer. And it wasn’t because Fischer was such a powerful psychic, it was because Fischer’s journey was to find himself. Did he know himself back in 1940 when he first entered Hell House? I don’t believe so. He was too self-righteous, too open, too cocky even. Of course, how can I have an accurate take on this when I didn’t witness it? I can’t, however, the Fischer we meet is the complete opposite of his so-called reputation. He’s said to be one of the most powerful mediums of his time and yet, he refuses to use his abilities. He sees no issue cohabitating with Hell House, much like the idea that a black widow will leave you alone if you leave it alone. Still, the black widow can wound you, perhaps kill you if it wants. The same can be said for you as the human though. It’s the survival instinct. The three souls entered Hell House, poking it with a stick and so what else would the house do, but poke back? Fischer understood this and thought if he stayed off to the side, he would escape without detection. Did he actually believe it? I don’t think he had a clear concept of what he was stepping into during his second stay.
Fischer was the smartest and naivest of the bunch. His faith in his ability was low, but his faith in human nature grew with each day. Somewhere in Florence, he saw himself and had the house not poked Fischer, Belasco may have continued his rue for years and years…maybe even eons more.
Hell House was an enjoyable read. It felt more like a horror story for me. The visuals were pungent and the underlying arcs for the characters were easy to root for. Of course it would have been nice if all four made it out alive, but that’s never the expectation for a horror story, is it?
Isn’t it always said that one gets away if only to tell the tale?