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Featured Horror Books

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

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.

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Robert Bloch: The Man Who Brought Us Psycho (1959)

During his lifetime, Robert Bloch traveled through the horror subgenres in pursuit of any and all things strange, morbid, or macabre. He started his writing career by imitating his mentor H.P. Lovecraft and subsequently becoming Lovecraft’s peer when he began to expand upon the Cthulhu mythos. It’s fair to say that without the influence and encouragement of Lovecraft, Bloch may never have become the successful and prolific author of horror fiction.

The Wildly Successful Novel?

It’s true that “millions of people across the globe know Psycho very well,” (Hood and Szumskyj, 102) but the Pyscho that they know is the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation—to say that as many of them are familiar with the original novel by Robert Bloch would simply be false. Truth be told, however, without the masterful original inspiration, there would be no Psycho film franchise and massive following that it has had over the years.

All in all, Bloch himself was quite satisfied with how the movie adaptation came out, not to mention the fact that he regularly quoted Hitchcock when he reminded people that, “Psycho all came from Robert Bloch’s book. The scriptwriter, Joseph Stefano, a radio writer, he had been recommended by my agents MCA, contributed dialogue mostly, no ideas.” This apparently tickled Bloch so much that he even repeated it in his own unofficial biography Once Around the Bloch. He wanted everyone to know how much he endorsed the movie as a great representation of his book, this was a change in direction for Hitchcock, who had a history of taking artistic liberties when adapting other novels to the screen—consider, for example, the differences between Hitchcock’s The Birds (19363) and Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories.

Was Psycho (1959) Based on a True Story?

Bloch had a pretty obsessive fascination with psychopaths and serial killers in general, in fact, the inspiration for his masterful novel Psycho (1959) was loosely based on “the infamous real-life Wisconsin serial murderer Ed Gein” (Hood and Szumskyj, 104). In 1985, Bloch gave an interview to Ron Leming where he disclosed the fact that at the time Gein’s crimes were discovered, he had lived only twenty-nine miles away from where Gein had lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin. It was upon this discovery that Bloch became obsessed with the idea of this psychotic murderous person living in plain sight, perhaps even being the seemingly kind neighbor who would fly under the radar. Although Bloch didn’t intend for the novel to read like a biography of Gein’s life, he did take elements from his life as inspiration for his main character, Norman Bates. Ed Gein was, during his early years, a poor loner raised by troubled parents; his father was an alcoholic and his mother a domineering and fanatically religious woman who exerted her monstrously controlling influence upon Ed and his older brother Henry. It’s not terribly surprising that Henry ended up dying in a fire under suspicious circumstances in their family home.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Film Adaptation: Psycho (1960)

When Alfred Hitchcock purchased the rights of Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho (1959) for a meager $9,500 he did so anonymously—it wasn’t until closer to the release of the film that he came to find out. Hitchcock’s screenwriter Joseph Stefano remained incredibly true to the original story, altering the screenplay only minimally to fit the infamous director’s vision.


Hitchcock’s wildly successful film continues to dominate the public consciousness and, indeed, its dreams and nightmares: the stark, indelible black-and-white images, the characters, the suspense and horror of the storyline, the infamous shower scene, Norman Bates as masterfully portrayed by the unnerving Anthony Perkins, the ultimate unveiling of “Mrs. Bates,” the unforgettably desolate setting of the little neglected dark motel off the road far from the main highway and the house behind it—all this has, by the present day, become such a part and parcel of our culture that for many, Psycho is just one of Hitchcock’s most popular and shocking films, now as then upon its release in 1960.

Scott D. Briggs, “The Keys to the Bates Motel: Robert Bloch’s Psycho Trilogy” in The Man Who Collected Psychos (2009)

Psycho Movie Poster (1960)
Psycho (1960)

Trickery in the Theater

Hitchcock was possibly at the height of his showmanship when the 1960s thriller Psycho came out. Now, when we look back at how he maximized the attention of this legendary film’s release, we can see how blatant of a publicity stunt it really was.

Kudos to Hitchcock though, because he committed to it to such a degree that he made it abundantly clear that, in no uncertain terms, no one was allowed into the theater once the feature had begun.

Stationed outside each box office where the film was being featured was a five-foot-tall cardboard standee of Hitchcock himself, holding a sign that warned theater attendees of the following:

WE WON’T ALLOW YOU to cheat yourself! You must see PSYCHO from beginning to end to enjoy it fully.

Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture. We say no one – and we mean no one – not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!

– Alfred Hitchcock

Now, if you have seen this classic thriller, you’ll know exactly why Hitchcock didn’t want people to walk in late and spoil the movie for themselves, but if you don’t know why—consider the following:

The synopsis of the movie is that “a Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.” To go along with this, the theatrical trailer for the movie shows the star of the film as Janet Leigh—Leigh’s part in the movie, while substantial to the story, is tragic and short-lived. This was incredibly controversial and shocking to audience members who, having watched the trailer, expected her to be in the entire movie. Classic Hitchcock.

The Remake—Psycho (1998)

While the remake from 1998 didn’t add any content or context that enriched the movie from the original Bloch creation, it did come across as a reverential and faithful scene-by-scene retelling of the original movie. Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche play our main characters and do these classic scenes a decent amount of justice. Other than being a modernized version of the original film, there isn’t much that this movie brings to the table—I still personally enjoy watching it occasionally.

Work Cited

Bloch, Robert. Psycho. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 1959.

Hood, Robert, and Szumskyj, Benjamin. The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch. McFarland, 2009.

Sorene, Paul. “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rules for Watching Psycho And Behind The Scenes Photos (1960).” Flashbak, 30 Oct. 2017, flashbak.com/alfred-hitchcocks-rules-watching-psycho-behind-scenes-photos-1960-389260/.