Points Of Light Halloween Edition: Richard Matheson
Welcome back to the dark side. As promised, today’s entry will take us up several feet into terror, but also into a gigantic household world, the afterlife, the end times, and the outer limits of our imaginations. How? Because today’s entry is on one of the great American horror writers, the late Richard Matheson.
Who He Is
Richard Matheson began writing at eight years old, which is when he saw his first story published in the local papers. Since then, he created a legacy of entries in the fields of horror and science fiction genres, not only as an author, but often as a screenwriter. Some of his best work were the many stories he donated to the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone. These include ‘Steel’ (the story of a future robot boxing promotion, also adapted in the 2000’s film Real Steel) and his most well known episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in which William Shatner is terrorized by a monster on the wing of a plane (the story proved popular enough to be remade for the 1980’s Twilight Zone movie). Matheson also wrote the screenplay for the ‘Little Girl Lost’ episode (about a girl lost in the fourth dimension).
On his own, Matheson also wrote countless short stores, ranging from suspense to science fiction and beyond. He also wrote many classic novels, including I Am Legend, about the last human left in a world of vampires (which has been adapted for the screen four times) and the metaphysical What Dreams May Come, a tale of a man experiencing the afterlife and rescuing his wife’s spirit from Hell (also adapted for film). Matheson was fortunate enough to write many of the screenplays for these films, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man, and even worked with famed horror director Roger Corman on a series of Edgar Allan Poe films.
What Writers Can Learn- The Basics and Best of Horror and Sci-Fi
Matheson’s contributions to these genres are invaluable; it is no surprise Stephen King refers to him as a great influence. His stories make up some of the best of horror and sci-fi, and are required reading for anyone looking to write in those genres. Matheson’s work utilizes suspense and drama, knowing how to build a story to heighten tension and grab the reader by the throat. He also understood the use of ambiguity, as many of his stories use paranoia to help throw the reader off track (even in 20,000 Feet, the original text never makes it clear whether the monster is real or the hero is mad). However, Matheson can also add unexpected elements- in Legend, the protagonist spends time trying to scientifically understand the vampire- why garlic and the cross are repellant, for example. And finally, Matheson understands the use of the twist ending- check out Legend for arguably the greatest one he produced.
The works mentioned above are really the best primer for Matheson’s work, and there are many collections of his stores in print or available digitally. His filmwork is generally well received, though The Last Man On Earth is perhaps the best of the four Legend films.
Come back next week, as we head to upstate New York and see if we can withstand the terror without losing our heads…