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Writemare at 20,000 feet
January 4, 2011 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Richard Matheson—Storyteller - To mark the publication of a book of tribute stories writer and editor Richard Bradley has been blogging about the author's 60 year writing career- covering I Am Legend, Duel, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, not to mention Somewhere in Time (full index here). Of course Matheson is probably most famous for his contributions to the Twilight Zone, being one of it's three major writers and scripting Nightmare at 20,000 feet. Twice.
posted by Artw (25 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
For a terrifying instant, I thought this was an obituary. Richard Matheson is one of the all-time greats of science fiction and horror, and an inspiration to me and millions of others. One of the best gifts I ever received was all three volumes of his collected stories.

And not only do I have a copy of He is Legend, but I was among the first to pre-order the limited edition hardback as soon as it was announced. It's a magnificent tribute.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:37 PM on January 4, 2011


Also the creator, in a fashion, of The Night Stalker; it's his conception of Carl Kolchak that we know, rather than original author Jeffery Grant Rice's.

I would guess at the moment he's probably best known for the recent version of I Am Legend, thanks to Will Smith.

I've always thought "Poltergeist" was heavily influenced by his "Little Girl Lost."

And for those of us really dedicated to Matheson, I'll just say: Zuni fetish doll.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:43 PM on January 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes. Zuni fetish doll.

Another good post Artw.
posted by marxchivist at 6:46 PM on January 4, 2011


Weirdly though he's responsible for so much instantly recognisable pop culture people don't tend to associate them with him or with each other, so I'll say "Oh! What Dreams May Come! That's based on a Richard Matheson story!" and just get blank looks from people who would recognise a bunch of other stories by him if you mentioned them by name.

Course, maybe that's not a bad thing in the case of What Dreams May Come, on acount of Robin Williams...
posted by Artw at 6:52 PM on January 4, 2011


Let that be the last time we mention that abomination in this thread.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:56 PM on January 4, 2011


One thing you can say about Matheson is that he ain't Harlan Ellison, which is high praise indeed. He and Robert Bloch helped make the Twilight Zone the show it was, and also wrote some great novels along the way. If you're only familiar with the Charlton Heston or Will Smith versions of I Am Legend, read the book.
posted by dortmunder at 6:58 PM on January 4, 2011


The Vincent Price version catches some of the indelible sadness of "I Am Legend." None of them catch the real punchline to the book, though -- that the narrator has become the monster.

What I liked best about "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is that it finally exposed the truth of cats: That no matter how much you might think your cat loves you, if you get small enough it will attack you and toy with you exactly as though you were a mouse.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:01 PM on January 4, 2011


I was thinking of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and not the Twilight Zone when I mentioned Bloch. Got the two shows confused.
posted by dortmunder at 7:06 PM on January 4, 2011


I don't remember why I watched Omega Man a few years ago, but it inspired me to read I Am Legend. Which made me realize Matheson existed, so I also read The Incredible Shrinking Man. Wow, what a misogynistic novel that is. It seems to pretty clearly be about the shrinking role/power of men in a world where women are getting the rights they were missing for so long. The protagonist really hates women. (There's also a pretty creepy chapter involving a lost little boy, IIRC, which brings a whole new level into it.)

What I wonder is if Matheson realizes that major theme...
posted by DU at 7:07 PM on January 4, 2011


Now that I think about it, women were an evil temptation in Legend too. Not that I'm going to diagnose a person based on two books, especially from A Certain Time.
posted by DU at 7:25 PM on January 4, 2011


Weirdly though he's responsible for so much instantly recognisable pop culture people don't tend to associate them with him or with each other, so I'll say "Oh! What Dreams May Come! That's based on a Richard Matheson story!" and just get blank looks from people who would recognise a bunch of other stories by him if you mentioned them by name.

I feel the same way about Philip K. Dick.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:27 PM on January 4, 2011


Mmmm, an em-dash on the front page. This is a gold star day.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:03 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


So much to say about Matheson, but given the lateness of the hour and that we've already gone and woken the Zuni Fetish Doll, it's funny to note that Matheson also wrote "The Invaders," a Twilight Zone episode that's pretty much the same story in science fiction drag. I give the slight edge to Trilogy just because of GRAGGGAGGHAGGH!GRAAAAA!GABBLEGABBLEGABBLEGABBLE!GRAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!, but to each his/her own, I figure.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:22 PM on January 4, 2011


Here's some footage of that little fucker from Trilogy of Terror.
posted by marxchivist at 8:26 PM on January 4, 2011


The postapocalyptic robo-slasher Hardware (previously) is rather infamous amongst 2000ad fans fro being adapted without permission from Shok!, and there was some legal kerfuffle because of it, but if you aks me Shok's cursed earth battle robot is pretty clearly a Zuni fetish doll in robo-drag.
posted by Artw at 8:41 PM on January 4, 2011


Which, in turn, was stolen from the short story "The Doll That Shouted GAHAGHAGAHAGAHMMMHAHAHAAH At The Heart of Karen Black" by Harlan Ellison.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:47 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hardware was terrible; Shok!, which I read in a 2000AD annual at the age of 9, gave me nightmares for years.

Funnily enough I came to Matheson only after picking up a book by his son, Scars, an anthology of short stories, which is very good. I only got around to reading I Am Legend a few years back, when it was being republished as part of a Gollancz collection of classic Sci-Fi. It's a horror novel, really, and a damn good one.
posted by rodgerd at 9:43 PM on January 4, 2011


I've always thought "Poltergeist" was heavily influenced by his "Little Girl Lost."

If you compare the scripts there's a huge chunk of dialogue lifted word for word from LGL.

Richard Matheson did feel that his "Little Girl Lost" was "borrowed" from ... In addition, it was later rumored (but not confirmed) that Matheson was hired to write the "Twilight Zone" movie partly in an effort to head off any potential suit over "Poltergeist."
posted by zarah at 1:09 AM on January 5, 2011


Now that I think about it, women were an evil temptation in Legend too.

Sure, but not especially so -- there was also the dog and Neville's neighbors turned vampire standing around on his lawn, trying to persuade him to come out and have a little chat.

If Matheson has a "thing" about women, then he also has one about people having pets and friends.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:35 AM on January 5, 2011


Legend's (possible) misogyny didn't leap out at me really, other than the typical 50s "women are temptresses". But in The Incredible Shrinking Man it is really, really, really obvious. However, that may be the point of the book, not an indication of Something About Matheson.
posted by DU at 6:57 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I Am Legend is basically responsible for modern horror; at least the zombie/vampire end of things. Vampirism as epidemiology, scientific approaches to curing (and causing) the outbreaks, and a large part of the man vs. society aspect of it; all came to us through Matheson.
posted by Eideteker at 7:57 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am Legend is indeed the ur-Romero. He admits it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:50 AM on January 5, 2011


Most people are unaware, but Matheson is adapted to screen as much, perhaps more than Philip K. Dick. Other Matheson adaptations include: Stir of Echoes (1999), The Box (2009) based on his "Button, Button" story and the upcoming Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman.

Stir of Echoes came out same time as Sixth Sense, and remains far superior in my humble opinion.
posted by asfuller at 11:34 AM on January 5, 2011


I am Legend is indeed the ur-Romero. He admits it.

Nice of him to give a hat-tip to Matheson's novel, but its first movie adaptation, the above-mentioned black-and-white Vincent Price vehicle The Last Man on Earth, predated Night of the Living Dead by four years. That movie's version of vampires move distinctly slowly compared to their predecessors, downright shambling at times. Similarly, there are the scenes of them swarming the hero's barricaded house (though both movies probably owe something to the cabin seige scene in Griffith's Birth of a Nation).

At any rate, The Last Man on Earth, with a screenplay co-written by Matheson himself, is worth a viewing and (like NotLD) can be found free for download on the Internet, e.g. at Archive.org.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:38 AM on January 5, 2011


Matheson is the only writer who has repeatedly scared me. I've read quite a bit of his work because a sick part of me likes being scared and I find it happens more and more infrequently.

There is one major creeper included with the short stories alongside the novella of I am Legend. I've also been unable to sleep after reading the The Legend of Hell House, the filmed version of which I'd seen as a child, starring the great Clive Revill and Roddy McDowall. The filmed versions of some of his other stories, starting with the Zuni Fetish Doll, the story of Bobby from Dead of Night, the Twilight Zone episodes , ie., Nightmare at 20,000 Feet are equally terrifying. Especially Bobby.
posted by nikitabot at 11:11 PM on January 5, 2011


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