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He is Legend
June 24, 2013 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Writer Richard Matheson has died. One of the most prolific and adapted American authors of the last half of the Twentieth Century is gone.

Born in 1926 in New Jersey to Norwegian immigrants, Matheson started writing after serving in the infantry in WWII and earning a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. He sold his first story Born of Man and Woman in 1950, and never looked back. His first big success was I Am Legend, a novel that has been brought to the screen no less than three times. Matheson himself adapted his next novel, The Shrinking Man into The Incredible Shrinking Man, which launched his career in film and television, the scope of which is truly awe inspiring.

You know that episode of the Twilight Zone where William Shatner sees a gremlin on a plane? Matheson.
That Star Trek episode with good and evil Kirk? Matheson.
Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut? Matheson.
The movie that launched the series Kolchack: The Night Stalker? Matheson.
Trilogy of Terror? All Matheson.
Jaws 3-D? Matheson. (Hey, everyone has off moments.)
Somewhere in Time? Matheson.
What Dreams May Come? Matheson.
Stir of Echoes? Matheson.
An episode of Family Guy that’s actually funny? Matheson.

Watch Matheson give a half hour interview about his life's work, or if you just want the abridged version, Cracked(!) has you covered.
posted by dortmunder (108 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
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Come out, Neville.
posted by Artw at 3:36 PM on June 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Incredible Shrinking Man and Hell House also. (The former of which is a pretty transparent reaction against feminism.)
posted by DU at 3:38 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by ryecatcher at 3:39 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by stenseng at 3:39 PM on June 24, 2013


. Legend is such a great book, not sure why it's impossible to make a good movie out of it.
posted by octothorpe at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


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posted by vibrotronica at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2013


You know how everything is zombies right now? I Am Legend invented that shit. Without Matheson none of that happens.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on June 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


. The passing of a Master of the craft of storytelling.
posted by Renoroc at 3:42 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by brennen at 3:44 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by magstheaxe at 3:45 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by nicebookrack at 3:46 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by andraste at 3:47 PM on June 24, 2013


Truly one of the Masters of Speculative Fiction, the world is a less creative place without him
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posted by zombieflanders at 3:49 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Last Man On Earth is an excellent adaptation of I Am Legend. If you have ever wanted to see Vincent Price lumber about in polyester cloths, acting almost exclusively with his eyebrows, you have to watch it.

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posted by munchingzombie at 3:49 PM on June 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


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All his material stands up very well - I read a collection of his last year and it was as good as ever.

(Oh, and this is a strong FPP, congrats...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:50 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, he was really one of the guys who kept with the short story format over the years.

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posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:51 PM on June 24, 2013


(Oh, and this is a strong FPP, congrats...)

Excellent FPP, excellent title.
posted by Artw at 3:52 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by smoothvirus at 3:53 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by mikurski at 3:54 PM on June 24, 2013


I loved his short story "Blood Son" so much that I made a student film based on it. Needless to say, my work did not do justice to the source material. Going to read it again now.

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posted by queensissy at 3:55 PM on June 24, 2013


In honor of his memory we should each stalk a random motorist with a huge truck.
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


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posted by cazoo at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2013


          I
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(That's supposed to be a dot on the wing of a plane. I don't think it really comes across, though.)
posted by brundlefly at 3:59 PM on June 24, 2013 [21 favorites]


One of the all-time greats. I'm not sad; if anything, the notion of such a full life that impacts and inspires so many people is wonderful. Way to go, Mister Matheson- you were awesome.

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posted by Pope Guilty at 4:05 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


RIP, you gave us so much, and inspired many authors after you.
posted by asfuller at 4:06 PM on June 24, 2013


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This death fuckery just has to end.
It's taking so much.
posted by Mezentian at 4:07 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


*8-E

(Zuni fetish doll)
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on June 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


Thanks for the nightmares, Mr Matheson.

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posted by Athanassiel at 4:10 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I came to realize recently how many characters from childhood I fashioned myself after came from horror and speculative fiction. Gomez Addams was a big one. So was Carl Kolchak from the Night Stalker, who owes his existence to Matheson. I was also quite keen on Charleton Heston in the Omega Man, although I would have had to be a sociopath to style myself after him (really dig his house, though.) And I was crazy about Roddy McDowall's performance in Hell House.

He contributed mightily to my childhood, and a sense of the fantastic, and an understanding that the fantastic can be a place fraught with horrors. I appreciate that, and RIP.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:12 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Halloween Jack at 4:13 PM on June 24, 2013


I Am Legend, a novel that has been brought to the screen no less than three times

At least four. Thanks, Asylum now.

I love I Am Legend so much I willingly watched an Asylum movie.
Learn from my mistakes.
It's easily the worst.
posted by Mezentian at 4:15 PM on June 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by /\/\/\/ at 4:16 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by dbiedny at 4:16 PM on June 24, 2013


Oh, wow. An ex girlfriend with otherwise fairly questionable taste - so it took me a while to fully realize she was on to something - turned me on to him when I was a bit younger. Matheson unleashed a lot of wonderfully inventive ideas into the mainstream world in that subversive way that could've only happened around a half century ago. A great mind, he.
posted by item at 4:17 PM on June 24, 2013


Weird. Just last night we were explaining to someone (who had just seen World War Z) how Matheson basically invented the modern zombie genre, in the mass-infection, society-wide sense. And how deeply linked the zombie and vampire genres were given that origin. And how even then he was about six steps ahead of more recent derivatives, inasmuch as that first novel was already presenting the remaining human as the monster, stalking everyone else as they slept. Strange how little his name is known compared to, say, PKD these days. Hopefully we can fix that.
posted by chortly at 4:18 PM on June 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


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Those of us who wish we could write like Matheson
would like to thank whatever gods may be
for being part of his living audience instead.
posted by Twang at 4:34 PM on June 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


What a career, wow.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:35 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by cjorgensen at 4:37 PM on June 24, 2013


While I would love to see a movie where Mark Dacascos just goes around destroying zombies with capoeira moves, I have a sneaking suspicion that is not something that I Am Omega delivers.
posted by ckape at 4:38 PM on June 24, 2013


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Very sad. I love Matheson. Really and truly love him. I've read nearly everything he's written, and I often recommend his under-recognized Shadow on the Sun, a sort of Old West horror novella. Buy it used from Amazon for 7 cents. You shan't regret it.
posted by ORthey at 4:43 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Incredible Shrinking man had one of the ballsiest ending of a horror movie. (sixty year old spoiler).
posted by octothorpe at 4:44 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by R343L at 4:46 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by Kitteh at 4:48 PM on June 24, 2013


The Incredible Shrinking man had one of the ballsiest ending of a horror movie

"I CAN STILL SEE".... has to compete too. And the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
They don't seem to write 'em like that anymore.
(This is where I will bitch about I Am Legend's happy ending in the Will Smith version).

I like the book and the film versions of Shrinking Man, but they are different beasts in many respects. I seem to recall Scott Carey is not an especially likeable character in the book.


I'm just on Book Depository looking, there seem to be Richard Matheson: Collected Stories: Volume 1-3 which contain his complete short works. That doesn't seem to be enough. Anyone know? My credit card stands ready.
posted by Mezentian at 4:49 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


He was Legend.

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posted by New England Cultist at 4:49 PM on June 24, 2013


So sad to hear this. I Am Legend was one of the best pieces of American fiction I ever read. The title and ending tie together so wonderfully. He was a very clever and witty man.
posted by samuelcramer at 4:50 PM on June 24, 2013


Damn. Bad day today.
posted by jonmc at 4:55 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quiet is here and all in me.

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posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:57 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by drezdn at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by QueerAngel28 at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2013


I just found this Matheson playlist on Youtube, so I'm gonna drop it in here.
posted by dortmunder at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by webmutant at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by localroger at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2013


Oh, and I found The Night Stalker movie, which I could not for the life of me find when I was looking for links for this post.
posted by dortmunder at 5:11 PM on June 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was walking past one of my book shelves last night and his name jumped out at me. I was having one of those moments where I couldn’t place the name since it was a book I didn’t know, "The Beardless Warriors", and I haven’t read as much of his work as I’ve seen his name in the credits. I stopped and looked through the book and realized it was that Richard Matheson and I really need to read more of his books. Life is weird sometimes.
posted by bongo_x at 5:18 PM on June 24, 2013


It's true, I've never heard of him by name, but he's written television episodes I've thoroughly enjoyed. I guess I have some books to read!

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posted by droplet at 5:23 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


:( .
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:24 PM on June 24, 2013


Richard Matheson was a writer's writer. Once you've finished (re)reading all of his stories and novels, pick up He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson. It's a perfect illustration of just how influential and beloved his fiction is.

,,*,,

(That's a multi-limbed . clinging to the ceiling and dripping green all over.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:26 PM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Last Man On Earth, featuring Vincent Price. 1964.
posted by timsteil at 5:28 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by immlass at 5:36 PM on June 24, 2013


One of my favorite Matheson works, "Button, Button", was later adapted to become a segment of the new Twilight Zone TV show (he didn't care for the plot twist, and thought it cheapened his short story). That segment gave rise to The Box, a deeply strange 2009 movie. Not to mention a short film that also examined the moral quandry at the heart of Matheson's short story.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 5:52 PM on June 24, 2013


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I Am Legend is my favorite vampire/zombie/whatever book, and I love his Twilight Zone episodes. The only thing I didn't like was What Dreams May Come, but hopefully he believed what he wrote in that book and it gave him some comfort.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:54 PM on June 24, 2013


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The weird voice on the radio in the first part of "Duel" was the LA DJ I spent a year sidekicking for. So I'm two degrees of separation from Matheson, Spielberg and Dennis Weaver. But most proud of the connection to Matheson.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:58 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a reason every third TV show or film with a horror/fantasy/sci-fi slant has a character named after him.

So long and thanks for all the zombies.

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posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:59 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Will Smith version isn't so bad. My problem is that I always confuse it with the Will Smith I, Robot.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:21 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by skycrashesdown at 6:30 PM on June 24, 2013


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I was 16 when I sat down with a copy of I Am Legend and finished it in about four hours. No other book since has consumed me so completely that I couldn't physically move before the end. When he was on, Richard Matheson could fucking write.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:31 PM on June 24, 2013


Oh, and I found The Night Stalker movie

Many thanks for including that little-known gem. For a made-for-TV movie, it ranks as one of the best vampire films of the 70s, due as much to Matheson's adaptation as Darren McGavin's performance as investigative reporter Carl Kolchak. It was so well received that ABC commissioned an original one from Matheson, The Night Strangler, and as always, he delivered.

Condolences to his fans, friends, and family (including his son, Richard, who's following in his father's literary footsteps, giant as they are).
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:33 PM on June 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Outside of Rod Serling, easily the best Twilight Zone writer.

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posted by dr_dank at 6:43 PM on June 24, 2013


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I remember being completely enthralled by I Am Legend when I read it as a young teen. Shortly after reading it, while I was still making my way through the short stories that followed the novella, I lost the book. I was devastated. (I had thought my mom had gotten rid of it because she disapproved of its cover.) When I found it several years later, it was like being reunited with a dear old friend.
posted by Maladroid at 6:49 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by drklahn at 7:01 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 7:01 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by Smart Dalek at 7:05 PM on June 24, 2013


His books are so good.

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posted by limeonaire at 7:07 PM on June 24, 2013


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I'd say Matheson was an even better TZ writer than Serling. His TV writing is so elegant in its pulpy way, so fast and smooth, but always humane.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:50 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by wobh at 7:51 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by LobsterMitten at 7:51 PM on June 24, 2013


One of those names where, wher you saw he was involved in a project you knew it was going to be good.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:17 PM on June 24, 2013


Condolences to his fans, friends, and family (including his son, Richard, who's following in his father's literary footsteps, giant as they are).

Don't forget his brother Chris, who co-wrote Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Which means my life has been changed by two generations of Mathesons.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:18 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't forget his brother Chris, who co-wrote Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Woah.
posted by Mezentian at 8:26 PM on June 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Will Smith version isn't so bad. My problem is that I always confuse it with the Will Smith I, Robot.


I, Robot, Am Legend.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:27 PM on June 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


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posted by tenpointwo at 8:42 PM on June 24, 2013


Here's to a hell of a run.

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posted by MissySedai at 8:59 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


. This man's body of work is one of my biggest influences. He got his stories out into the world, for which I am eternally grateful.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 9:22 PM on June 24, 2013


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Read his work many years ago; had no idea he was (until Sunday) still around. A tremendous influence not only on folks like us, but also on people like Stephen King, George Romero, Anne Rice, etc.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:18 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by ooga_booga at 10:24 PM on June 24, 2013


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He was friends with Marijane MeaKer ( M E Kerr, Vin Packer)
At U Missouri. She mentions this in ME ME ME.
posted by brujita at 10:29 PM on June 24, 2013


Matheson's collection of short stories, Third Rock From the Sun*, is still sitting on my bookshelf, having survived The Purge, the selling off of most of my sf collection because it was favourite. The title story is typical Matheson, being dark, sardonic and clever.

Thanks Richard, for making sf different for me.

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*Nothing to do with the TV series, but I suspect the producers used the name as a homage.
posted by arzakh at 10:34 PM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by eye of newt at 10:49 PM on June 24, 2013


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posted by Jilder at 11:28 PM on June 24, 2013


GODDOMOT, DOTH!
posted by Eideteker at 3:40 AM on June 25, 2013


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posted by lordrunningclam at 4:32 AM on June 25, 2013


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posted by lalochezia at 4:33 AM on June 25, 2013


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posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 5:24 AM on June 25, 2013


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He leaves behind a superb body of work. And Jaws 3D.
posted by Gelatin at 5:46 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by cass at 7:27 AM on June 25, 2013


I'm not easily scared but Matheson was one of the very few writers to scare the hell out of me. There was a 2nd Trilogy of Terror that I saw as a kid, and the episode "Bobby" ensured that I didn't sleep well for weeks.
RIP Mr. Matheson. Thanks for the scares and brilliance.
posted by nikitabot at 8:31 AM on June 25, 2013


He had been screenwriting and publishing since before I was born, and I have known him by name at least since the early eighties. I never considered him stellar, but always ranked him as a very, very solid craftsman and storyteller. Looking back on the pieces about him in the last couple of days, I am pleasantly surprised at his sheer ubiquity. There are name-brand, above the title authors like Stephen King who people know and have marked opinions on, but Matheson wrote so much and so widely that I am sure everyone who has not been in a coma for a half century has read some of his work and seen some of his stories on screen without ever connecting them all to one writer. He was the literary equivalent of one of those songwriters who few know by name, but everyone can sing along with a dozen songs that they have heard on the radio a thousand times.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:03 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by JoanArkham at 9:20 AM on June 25, 2013


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posted by gauche at 10:12 AM on June 25, 2013


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posted by snottydick at 11:22 AM on June 25, 2013


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posted by jlbartosa at 12:04 PM on June 25, 2013


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A really inventive, and as someone said above, humane writer.

A story that has stayed with me for years is, I'm sure, one of his. In one scene, parents paint terrifying faces in luminous paint on their son's bedroom walls and then wake him in the night. Don't suppose anyone can name it?
posted by reynir at 2:05 PM on June 25, 2013


I'm remembering a Richard Matheson story about this college student who murders all these people, but the story is told from the murderer's point of view in a series of letters that refer to "you know who." The murder never explicitly states he kills anybody, but it's implied (e.g., somebody gets "poisoned," a girlfriend "commits suicide," a dorm burns down).
posted by jonp72 at 4:18 PM on June 25, 2013


And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!

The Shrinking Man. Imagine this: I wept at the end of a giant spider movie.
posted by SPrintF at 9:05 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's... something in my eye.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:10 AM on June 26, 2013


jonp72, that sounds like "Julie" from Trilogy of Terror.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:42 AM on July 5, 2013


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