RIP, Richard Matheson

(meant to put this up yesterday, but it was a busy day)
Richard Matheson’s work is much better known in the mainstream than most genre writers of his era (he began work in the 1950, and his peak years ran through the early 1970s—though his last novel Other Kingdoms, came out in 2011). Due to his long career in movies and TV, there are lots of people who’d recognize his stories, even if they don’t know his name.
I am Legend, filmed three times: Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price; Omega Man with Charlton Heston; I am Legend with Will Smith (stick with the Price version).
What Dreams May Come and The Box, two movies based on his short stories (the latter film has almost nothing to do with the source tale, “Button, Button”)
The Night Stalker, a TV movie based on the unpublished Jeff Rice novel, The Kolchak Papers.
•The Stephen Spielberg movie Duel, based on another Matheson short story.
•Multiple Twilight Zone episodes, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.
The Incredible Shrinking Man, based on Matheson’s novel of the same name (I love spiders but the spider in the book absolutely terrified me).
What makes Matheson’s work stand out is that he’s a master at putting supernatural/fantasy/SF elements into a real-world setting. And not just a decayed old town like Dunwich or Arkham but big cities and quiet suburbs. He certainly wasn’t unique in this (though it was less common back when he was writing than it is now) but he’s very good at it.
Take The Night Stalker. Here we have a vampire film set not merely in the present day but in Las Vegas’ garish world of casinos and neon (this was a much more dramatic idea before contemporary vampire fiction became so much more common). Or I Am Legend, which does the best job I’ve ever seen of presenting a pseudoscience rationale for vampires. Or the simple, terrifying threat of a road-rage filled sociopath driving his truck at you in Duel. Though Matheson could work just as easily in conventional horror settings, such as the psychics staying overnight in a haunted house in The Legend of Hell House.
He was a talented guy. I’m glad his work will be sticking around.

2 Comments

Filed under Movies, TV, Writing

2 responses to “RIP, Richard Matheson

  1. Pingback: Movies and Books (well, one of each) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Why do we return to the Twilight Zone? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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