2019 marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of a number of classic, and ever-popular, Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, including Steve Jackson's House of Hell.
For almost thirty years following its initial release back in 1984, House of Hell remained unique; it was the only FF adventure to have a wholly ‘contemporary’ setting. It was not a futuristic, superhero sci-fi yarn, or a post-apocalyptic adventure, but was Fighting Fantasy’s one and only specifically horror-themed adventure. That was until Blood of the Zombies was published in 2012.
House of Hell is the sort of nightmare you could imagine yourself ending up in if your car broke down on a lonely country road in a thunderstorm only for you to discover that you were in a mobile phone dead spot.
Other than the fact that there’s no mention of mobile phones, the plot of the book hasn’t dated in the intervening decades. As a result of the aforementioned breakdown and thunderstorm, the hero takes refuge in an old house, but it’s a decision that turns out to be the worst mistake of his life, since the house is home to a cult of devil-worshippers and their demonic Master.
The late games designer Alan Bligh was interviewed about the influence of the gamebook back in 2013: “Speaking as a kid who stayed up late to watch old Hammer movies, which I loved, I was absolutely there in my imagination, and that strange Ian Miller cover? Fantastic.”
Although his artwork later appeared on the cover for The Citadel of Chaos, House of Hell was Ian Miller’s first work for the Fighting Fantasy series.
“I got the job through the art agency Young Artists, which is now known as Arena,” Miller told Alex Ballingall when he was interviewed for the Fighting Fantazine in 2012. “I did a series of roughs, four I think, and Steve chose the version he liked best. It was an easy process.
“When I did cover work (I’m not often asked these days), I worked maybe one or two up on the published book size. The image would be pencilled in, then inked and coloured. I used illustration board for the most part… I always read the books I did covers for. It made sense in my opinion… I think the first, House of Hell, was the best of the bunch.”
Steve Jackson was so impressed by Miller’s work on House of Hell that he purchased the original painting.
House of Hell is available again, in a new edition, courtesy of Scholastic Books, with cover art by Rob Ball, and can be picked up here.