A Richard Matheson film festival!

Vincent Price is THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) when a virus reduces the rest of humanity to shambling vampires; alone in a city of the undead he spends his days staking the vamps and stockpiling garlic and mirrors (“They can’t bear their own reflection.”), the nights holed up in his house as they try to attack. This is a virtual one-man show for Price for much of the running time and he makes the most of it; well worth catching. “Building any new society is never charming, nor pleasant.”
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) starts slow, but soon becomes gripping as Christian medium Pamela Franklin, skeptic parapsychologist Clive Revill (“It’s just mindless energy.”), wife Gayle Hunnicut and psychic survivor Roddy McDowell investigate “the Everest of haunted house” only to discover the resident ghost’s psychic and physical attacks may be more than they can handle. Excellent, though the explanation for the ghost’s fury is very much in the Cinema of Isolation mode (listing the man’s alcoholism as further proof of his monstrous ways is also a little odd). “There’s is not one single thing in the Bible, not one phenomenon, that is not seen today!”
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DUEL (1971) started out as a TV screenplay but when Matheson couldn’t get anyone to greenlight it, he turned it into a story (his last short story—he said it took the theme of Man vs. Overwhelming Odds so far he didn’t see the point in writing more), then turned back into this TV movie (Steven Spielberg’s first film credit after several TV shows). Dennis Weaver plays a businessman driving cross-country to an appointment only to engage in a game of who’ll-pass-who with a trucker—only the trucker takes Weaver passing him very personally and does his best to force him into a fatal crash. It’s to Matheson and Spielberg’s credit that they could take such a slight premise, stretch it to full length and not leave anything lagging; Weaver also gets credit for his excellent performance in what, like Last Man on Earth, is largely a one-man show. A period piece now (pay phones, gas station attendants who fill ‘er up, the push-button radio) but well worth watching; it would double bill well with Jaws (the driver being the landbound equivalent of a killer shark) or the Death Car portion of Grindhouse. “All of a sudden everything you thought you knew is hanging from strings.”
(While I didn’t watch the Trilogy of Terror anthology), based on Matheson’s short stories, I highly recommend it, if only for the third story, which turns up on a lot of “movie moments that most scared me” lists).
Moving on from Matheson, SAVED (2004) stars Jena Malone as a devout Christian teen whose unplanned pregnancy (the result of trying to cure her boyfriend’s gayness) turns her friends and teachers from loyal and supporting into judgmental creeps. I’d thought this would be right up my alley, but it doesn’t work for me at all; I think the problem is that under the Christian overlay, it’s a stock high school comedy about the outcasts winning over the cool kids. With Macauley Culkin as a paraplegic, Mandy Moore as the Alpha Christian and Mary-Louise Parker as Malone’s Mom. “Lord God, I know I’m not supposed to ask for specifics.”

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3 responses to “A Richard Matheson film festival!

  1. Pingback: In Memoriam: Richard Matheson | BIZZAM!!

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

  3. Pingback: Books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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