Richard Matheson reported dead
Richard Matheson’s work was never simple…but it was always accessible. The author could take the uncomplicated (but stunning) premise of a man slowly, inexorably shrinking, and use it to take us to a deeply philosophical exploration.
That’s part of what made Matheson’s work so adaptable to the screen (even when the screenwriting was done by someone else). The complex intellection was never there to keep readers out. It was, indeed, how many of us would react in those situations. We’re not all driven by blind athleticism, as is too often the case in “what if” stories…like Richard Matheson’s characters, we think about what is happening and what it means. The events, the plot, may have been visual and easily understood, which made them great for TV and movies…and they could stand without those self-conversations that were part of the novel or short story.
They worked both as literature and in the visual media…as did Richard Matheson.
This is a case where there are simply too many works to list them all. You can see Matheson’s contributions to geeky literature (starting with the science fiction magazines in 1950, and continuing through 2013) here:
and movie and TV credits (including both works Matheson wrote and adaptations, from 1955 to 2011) here:
Many of Matheson’s literary works are still available here:
Let me instead just mention some of the highlights in this remarkable career:
- I Am Legend (novel, 1954): this first novel would be enough to leave a legacy. It has been directly adapted into three feature movies (The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price ((my favorite of the three)), The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend with Will Smith). However, it has inspired many more. It gave a fantasy situation a scientific explanation, making it contemporary. Would we have had World War Z or Night of the Living Dead without I Am Legend?
- The Shrinking Man (novel, 1956): this became The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1957…with a screenplay by Matheson
- House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven (screenplays, 1960 -1963): Matheson adapted Edgar Allan Poe (and I haven’t listed all of the titles) for Roger Corman
- Twilight Zone (screenplays and adaptations, 1959-1964): some of the most memorable (and oddest) Twilight Zone episodes came from the mind of Richard Matheson, and that’s saying a lot, given the great writers who worked on that show. The Invaders (with Agnes Moorehead) is a story with almost no words, and a twist ending. Little Girl Lost is truly odd and creepy. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starred William Shatner, and was remade with John Lithgow for Twilight Zone: The Movie
- Star Trek (screenplay, 1966): While The Enemy Within may not be the best that the series had to offer, its splitting of Captain Kirk into two different personalities is memorable
- H*ll House (novel, 1971): Matheson adapted this horror novel into The Legend of H*ll House with Roddy McDowall in 1973
- The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler (screenplays, 1972 & 1973): these would become the Kolchak series
- The Martian Chronicles (screenplays, 1980): Matheson wrote three episodes of the Ray Bradbury adaptation starring Rock Hudson)
- Steel (short story, 1956): this robot boxing story (which was really more about humans were affected by the technology) became both an episode of Twilight Zone and the feature starring Hugh Jackman
Even with that listing, I may have omitted some people’s favorites and left off some other notables: What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes, Somewhere in Time, Trilogy of Terror, Dreamer of Oz (John Ritter as L. Frank Baum), Jaws 3-D, Amazing Stories, Night Gallery…
Richard Matheson told us that there is no escape: that the ancient horrors can still find us in our neat and orderly modern world. However, when that world becomes too safe and predictable, we need imaginations like Richard Matheson’s to show us that mundanity itself can be escaped, if we only use our minds.
Good-bye, Richard Matheson…the world is less clever without you.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.