Before I started reading this book, I voiced my concern in the introduction that my fond memories of this book were probably going to be destroyed by the experience my now more learned self was going to have with it. Thankfully, these concerns did not have any grounds in reality as I had a really great time with this one. Of all the books I’ve read so far I haven’t explored any in the detail I did this one, and that’s simply because I had no choice! Without reaching for a walk-through or encountering spectacular luck, completing House of Hell requires a lot of exploration. It truly feels like a totally non-linear experience, more-so than any of the books so far. I’ll be honest that the setting was what made this a palatable thing, this claustrophobic old house was something I wanted to search, a less interesting environment might have led me to say ‘screw this’ and ended the adventure prematurely. Remember my experiences with Scorpion Swamp? Ultimately, barely a cupboard or dresser went unexplored…
I realise that scrawl probably makes little sense, but it’s all you’re getting.
Despite getting through the book off my own trial and error, I did have to guess my way through the password to obtain the Kris knife. The letter I had read was a red-herring, and I had wrongly assumed that the detail about ‘Shekou’ knowing the password was the false information. Shekou actually was able to tell me what the password was, Pravemi had been the password at one point, but it had been changed again it seems. Shekou was in-fact the hunchback jailer that I met after falling through the trap-door having pressed the button in the drawing room, who you can see here being played by Timothy Spall.
My mistake came from not having met him previously, had I entered the house through the front door from the beginning I would have met Shekou and when I then met him a 2nd time in the cellars and plied him with some brandy, further dialogue would have revealed that the password was similar to the name of the house. ‘Drumer’ is an anagram of ‘murder’ and so through my decision to sneak in the back, the very first decision I made, the solution to that problem evaded me.
One thing I didn’t think worked very well was the Fear system. For a book that requires so much exploration and witnessing so many different encounters, you sure rack up Fear points at a rate of knots and to me it felt a little unbalanced. Even with a near maximum Fear allowance, I should have died of fright a couple of times over. Doesn’t really increase the fun of playing, one of Mr. Jacksons less successful experiments I’d argue. Combat is generally pretty easy in this book though, there aren’t many high-Skill opponents and the main challenge is finding your way around, which I think is the most enjoyable element of a Fighting Fantasy book.
I touched upon the grisly nature of some the art, which I generally thought was of a pretty good standard, but when we look at the image that was removed from early editions, it’s pretty amazing to see what they thought was perfectly ok for kids to see.
Hanging corpses, tumbling bodies, blood-drooling goat-headed men… all fine. Not to mention the blood-frenzied description of the sacrifice, which even as a 32 year old I found a little unsettling. A bit of naked flesh? Good god no! Are you insane?
Anyway, I won’t waste anymore time raging against a 25 year old piece of censorship, I’ll end this here stating that when House of Hell the movie eventually does surface, the old ‘book is better than the film’ way of thinking will remain unchallenged.