Richard Matheson: The Literature You Know–the Author You Don’t

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Featured Horror Books

It happens so often within horror culture that we become familiar with a cinematic franchise that has been based on the original work of a talented writer whose life’s work revolves around their creativity. When it comes down to it, hit movies, such as I Am Legend (2007), are born from books that we are generally unaware of. Kind of crazy, right? One such famous author that you probably have never heard of, is Richard Matheson–after career that spanned nearly seven decades, he passed away in 2013 as a bestselling author as recognized by The New York Times for works such as I Am Legend (1954), Hell House (1971), Somewhere in Time (1975), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1956), and many others. He has been cited by Stephen King as being the biggest influence on his own work, but he has also brought the spine-tingling fear into the lives of his fans.

The Twilight Zone

[Matheson is] the author who influenced me most as a writer.”

– Stephen King

Recognized and appreciated by some enormously famous modern authors and stars of their own right, Richard Matheson was named a Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention and even received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. Other notable times where he was recognized as a writer, was when he won the Edgar, The Spur, the Writer’s Guild Awards–and just three years before his death, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Unsurprisingly, a legend of his quality was also a writer of several screenplays for movies and television series–his most famous job in this respect was as a contributing writer to the original The Twilight Zone.

Richard Matheson’s ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories . . . For me, he is in the same category as Bradbury and Asimov.

– Steven Spielberg

The Literature of Matheson

Since the first Matheson story was published in 1950, nearly every major writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy has derived some type of inspiration from him–Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Joe Hill are amongst the most renowned writers. He revolutionized the gothic horror genre that was imagined initially by Bram Stoker and removed it from the traditional Gothic castles and strange otherworldly settings to the modern, more realistic world that we can better associate with. Along with the change of setting, Matheson allows the supernatural, paranormal, and dark examination of the human soul to permeate his stories. What’s more, is Matheson also somehow brought in the existential dread that made the cosmic horror genre so captivating.

Matheson’s first actual novel, Hunger and Thirst (2000), actually went unpublished for several decades, while it was ready in 1950 his published told him that it was much too long for publication–so it sat in his desk for fifty years.

So what exactly did Matheson write that we’ve heard of, even if we haven’t heard of him? Well–we named a couple of them above, but here are a few in more depth, we’re sure you’ll be familiar with at least some of these.

He was a giant, and YOU KNOW HIS STORIES, even if you think you don’t.

– Neil Gaiman

I Am Legend (1954)

I Am Legend (1954) Book Cover

Set in the future of 1976, the year after a deadly plague has swept the world and killed nearly every human being on earth–after dying, the world’s humans rise from the grave as vampires–sensitive to light, garlic, and mirrors. Since they are dormant during the day and impervious to bullets, Robert Neville, the one remaining human, has managed to survive by fortifying himself in his house at night and slaying vampires by day. Over time he begins to experiment on the vampires, he kidnaps them while they’re sleeping and begins to see how they react to different stimuli. We see the stereotypes of vampire lore challenged here, including when Neville begins to work on isolating the vampire germ.

The moral of the story is that sometimes the monsters are who we least expect them to be.

I Am Legend on GoodReads

Hell House (1971)

Hell House (1971) Book Cover

Four people–a physicist, his wife and two mediums–have been hired by a dying millionaire to investigate the possibility of life after death with only a week to investigate the infamous Belasco House in Maine, which is regarded as the most haunted house in the world. The Belasco House has been thusly dubbed as “Hell House” due to the horrible acts of blasphemy and perversion that occurred there under the influence of Emeric Belasco. Murder mystery, as well as the puzzle of why the majority of people who enter Hell House end up dead before they can leave, make up the spiraling tale of Matheson’s Hell House.

Hell House on GoodReads

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet from the anthology Alone by Night (1961)

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2002) Book Cover

Often hailed as one of Matheson’s best-known works, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is the tale of an airline passenger who experiences feelings of insanity–to the point of doubting whether or not he was seeing reality when only he sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane, damaging one of the engines.

This short story debuted in the anthology Alone by Night (1961) and has been reprinted numerous times–it has even been realized on both the original series of The Twilight Zone as well as the more modern reboot as well as inspiring several scenes in other television shows.

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet on GoodReads

A Stir of Echoes (1958)

A Stir of Echoes (1958) Book Cover

A typical and ordinary life is something that Tom Wallace takes advantage of without realizing it–he scoffs at the idea that there is anything more to the world than what meets the eye, that is until by random chance an event awakens the psychic abilities that he never could have imagined possessing. Tom’s existence turns into a waking nightmare as he begins hearing the private thoughts of the people who surround him on a daily basis and he learns secrets that he never wanted to know. Eventually things escalate to the point where Tom begins to receive messages from beyond the grave.

A Stir of Echoes on GoodReads

As can be seen within the body of work of Richard Matheson, we see the trademark characters that he developed, one of which is the solitary, bewildered man.

Now that author Richard Matheson has passed away, it’s wonderful to be able to hear his own words directly from the horse’s mouth.

Rise of the Goatman – Your Typical Night in the Woods

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Best Of Best of Comics Comics and Graphic Novels Featured Horror Books Reviews

Rise of the Goatman (2020) feels like a teaser for a compelling slasher series that explores the Maryland-based legend of Goatman. This book has a plot as bare bones as they come, providing just enough intrigue and dread to make you salivate. It’s all guts and no filler. There is no exploration of character or why Goatman is hellbent on splitting-up and splitting apart couples. It’s no different from finding yourself at Camp Crystal Lake on Friday the 13th: You’re simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Art from Rise of the Goatman featuring a man and a woman dricing a car

For those who are new to the urban legend of this ax-wielding man-beast, Goatman was a creature that preyed upon the local lover’s lane in Fletchertown Road, Maryland or at least that was the tale that the teenagers spun. His origin can also be traced to a sinister experiment conducted on goats that took place in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Supposedly, this terrible act transformed one of these poor creatures into a vengeful, predatory beast that terrorized the wilds in the surrounding area.

This account builds off of the legend and follows a family that decided to spend their vacation in a seedy cabin in the woods. When they arrive at the cabin they are greeted with a plethora of signs signaling that maybe they should pack up and return home, but vacations only come every once and awhile so why waste it? Unfortunately, their decision has grisly consequences as they discover the Goatman, who’s sure to ruin their plans.

This simple story is perfectly paired with minimalistic art that is full of dark spaces and cinematic imagery. The illustrations reminded me a lot of the cel animation from A Scanner Darkly (2006) executing a fine balance between realism and minimalism. With the identity of a slasher, it doesn’t actually rely on gratuitous violence and instead employs a Hitchcockian approach by leaving a lot of the kills up to the reader’s imagination. While it works for the most part, there is a brutality to Goatman that goes missing in its simplicity. 

For a short comic in a single setting, we are treated to an extensive cast of characters that only serve as mincemeat for the sinister satyr. However, once the bodies start dropping and the titular villain takes the stage, the ride becomes all too brief as it speeds through kill after kill. 

Rise of the Goatman horror comic art featuring a man wit ha gun by a cabin

Goatman charges in full of sound and fury, but it’s curtains before you notice he was ever there. If the goal was to wet your appetite for more of this sinister Billy, then this one definitely hits the nail. You can’t call it in an origin story since this book adds little to no lore about this horned villain, but it serves as more of an introduction of the havoc that is to come. He’s been unleashed and I can’t imagine that this is the last we have seen of him. This book is very much a catalyst to a larger series that can potentially give this horror legend the spotlight it deserves as it leaves a messy trail of lads and lassies who should have just canceled their vacation plans.

Rise of Goatman is available now digitally from Afterlight Comics.

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