When I read a novel and like it, I almost look for other works of that author thinking it will be as good. Over the years there has been some disappointing ones but the habit has stayed with me. So when I read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, I immediately searched for his other books and saved them up for future use.
Last week, I began reading Hell House without any idea about the book except that the title was catchy. As it turned out, the story revolves around 4 people hired by a dying millionaire to enter the most haunted house in the world, solve the mystery, and uncover the possibility of life after death.
I like how the four characters have different beliefs as to the real cause of the supernormal events surrounding the house (a scientific man, his wife, a spiritualist, and a physical medium who was the sole survivor in the same expedition 30 years prior). However, this post is not a book review, rather, it is about a subplot that struck me the most, that is, how Emeric Belasco’s mansion became Hell House.
Emeric Belasco was a bastard to an American Arms dealer (from whom he inherited millions of dollars in the early 1900s) and as early as five years old, he had killed a cat to see if it would live again until it used up all its 9 lives. When the animal remained dead, young Emeric was so furious he chopped it to pieces. You see, aside from being morally unstable, he is very curious and has a brilliant mind (which supports the theory that brilliant people have a higher tendency to be evil).
Emeric believed that the human mind is capable of a vast power and when one knows how to use it, he could influence those around him. His dream was to study “evil” and the extent to which it could continue so he bought a grand mansion as a setting for his plan.
Belasco’s house became so popular because of his legendary generosity as a host. People came from all over the country to stay at his mansion for a weekend or two. In the beginning, there was nothing outrageous about the parties. Then Emeric began corrupting his visitors. First there were only an exchange of stories. Then Belasco used these conversations to implant imaginations into his guests’ minds, imaginations about profanity and other whatnots so strong it turned into actions. The descent into sinfulness was so smooth the visitors didn’t know what hit them. Gluttony, the casual use of drugs, casual sex, and others with the word “casual” attached as if it would change the nature of these actions. People went and never left because they loved the lifestyle too much.
At one point, Belasco removed law and order in his house, both natural and man-made. It’s like a society where nothing governs the inhabitants, where they could do anything they wanted to anyone without being subjected to retributions, their imagination being the only limit. Of course such a society wouldn’t thrive. Matheson described the place as a literal translation of De Sade’s 120 days of Sodom but I think it was worse. Everyone had sex publicly, drugs were used 24/7, the maids and cooks became part of the visitors and the place became unkempt, no one did the laundry nor cooked, everyone was naked until in came to a point where they just resorted to cannibalism. Within 10 years, their society crumbled and when the prisoners’ relatives came looking for them, the police finally raided the house. Everyone was dead. Social experiment is the light term. Carnage is more fitting.
That was just a rough representation of the one described in the book and it still made the hairs on the back of my head stand. Sometimes we feel too trapped with all the do’s and don’t’s of the society we are in (come to think of it, most of them were made for our own good) so we long for a place or an idea where law could be bent based on our wants (or in hell house’s case, be removed altogether). What’s scarier is that it happens today and some of us are like Emeric’s visitors, clueless that we are descending into a pit of hell.
I started reading 120 Days of Sodom before but couldn’t get past 150 pages. I know it’s literature and one should be open minded when reading but I also have to accept the fact that I am not yet strong enough. I’ll probably read it again in the future when I’m ready.
Do I believe that humans are evil? No but I believe in our capacity to do evil. We are humans, not animals. Most especially not monsters but we are able to act like one more than animals can. That’s why we need to be governed by something or someone (see what happened to the boys in The Lord of the Flies). Sadly, we are hard headed creatures, we want to do what we want just because we want to (see how many times “want” was used?).
I don’t really know how other people’s minds work. Heck, my own even surprises me sometimes. I guess we just have to ask ourselves who lords over us. Whose rules would we follow? To whom do we submit to? To Money? To society? To our own selves? Or to God?