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Cinema and Television Inspired by Horror Author Richard Matheson

Many of Richard Matheson’s works went from page to screen pretty successfully–perhaps that’s part of the reason why so many people are familiar with work that he originally penned, but are unaware of the source of the story. After such a long career, one might hope that people would come to recognize your name, but it didn’t seem to bother Matheson, who seemed to only write for the love of writing.

The Films Based on Matheson’s Novels

I Am Legend (1954) is Richard Matheson’s most talked-about novel–it was such a success and inspiration to creatives everywhere that it was even adapted to film three separate times. The Last Man On Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007) all wonderful movies in their own right, just never seemed to capture the concept behind the original novel.

The Last Man On Earth (1964)

The Last Man On Earth (1964) Movie Poster

The dark tale of The Last Man On Earth takes place in a post-epidemic nightmare world, where a scientist by the name of Robert Morgan–played by Vincent Price–is the only man immune to a vampire plague which has transformed the entire population on Earth. This vampire society comes to fear Morgan, as he turns into a monster slayer. As a scientist, he studies the plague and ends up being able to cure one of them, by transfusing his blood into her. This upsets the vampire race and they end up killing him for what he has done to Ruth.

The Last Man On Earth on IMDB

The Omega Man (1971)

The Omega Man (1971) Movie Poster

Considered the second adaptation of I Am Legend to film, Charlton Heston plays Robert Neville, a man who is the only recipient of a serum that made him immune to the germ warfare between Russia and China. This caused him to be the only known normal human left alive and he lives in a gaudy, antique-decorated penthouse in Los Angeles where he roams the vacant city by day and fends off bloodthirsty (read: vampire) mutant scavengers. Eventually, Neville comes across a young group of healthy non-vampires, which destroys the idea of him being the last remaining normal human being.

The Omega Man on IMDB

I Am Legend (2007)

I Am Legend (2007) Movie Poster

The third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, this attempt at the film follows Robert Neville–played by Will Smith–as the last man on Earth struggling to survive and fend off the infected victims of the vampiric plague. He’s a brilliant scientist who is meant to find the cure to a highly contagious superbug–something he is inexplicably immune to, as we find out later in the film. By day, Neville searches high and low for supplies, sends out desperate radio messages with the hope to find other survivors, and by night he hunkers down in his fortress of a home while attempting to find the cure to the virus by using his own blood in experiments on vampires he has captured. The horde of vampires is more intelligent than Neville realizes, however, and they take vengeance upon him after he captures a vampire woman who the alpha vampire is bonded to.

I Am Legend on IMDB

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

The Legend of Hell House (1973) Movie Poster




Adapted from Hell House by Matheson, into a screenplay by Matheson himself, four people with supposed extrasensory powers are hired to spend the weekend in a haunted house in order to gather evidence of the haunting.

The Legend of Hell House on IMDB



Stir of Echoes (1999)

Stir of Echoes (1999) Movie Poster

Tom Witzky lives a fairly normal life, he works in Chicago and lives with his wife and son, not believing in anything out of the ordinary. One night, while at a party, Tom and his sister-in-law, Lisa, get into a verbal debate about psychic communication and the power of hypnosis–he challenges Lisa to hypnotize him, so she does. She plants a post-hypnotic suggestion for Tom to be more open-minded and things begin to happen.

A Stir of Echoes on IMDB

Television Shows Inspired by Matheson

Matheson wrote several screenplays, including sixteen episodes of The Twilight Zone, where he could simply pitch an idea and spur an entire episode.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2002)

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963) Screenshot

A salesman is traveling via plane after a recent nervous breakdown–after being told that he’s recovered from his issues–while flying, he begins to believe he’s seeing a monster climbing on the wing of the plane and damaging the engine. The only problem is, is that he’s the only one who sees it.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet from The Twilight Zone on IMDB

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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.

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Featured Horror Books

The Life and Death of Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson has been aptly described as, “the most famous horror writer that you’ve never heard of,” meaning that you know his body of work, you just never knew the face behind it. So here’s your chance to learn about one of the most prolific writers of the genre, with a career that spanned nearly seven decades.

The Early Years

Born in Allendale, New Jersey on February 20, 1926, Richard Matheson was the child of Norwegian parents and was raised in Brooklyn, New York. As a child he had his heart set on a musical career, but he stumbled upon his love of fantasy that sparked his creativity and imagination—by the time he was eight years old his stories had already appeared in a local newspaper called The Brooklyn Eagle. Transfixed by the earliest examples of Dracula on the big screen, he already had his idea for the vampire story I Am Legend (1954).

Introduction to Adulthood: His Time in World War II

Matheson graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943, during the late years of World War II, he was a hardworking student who planned to continue on his education in the field of engineering. Due to the timing of his graduation, he enlisted in Army Specialized Training at Cornell in order to go into the military as an engineer instead of being enlisted as an infantry soldier—as luck would have it, the program was canceled and he ended up in the infantry anyway. According to biographical sources, Matheson served in the Eight-Seventh Division of the U.S. Infantry—known as The Golden Acorn Division—in France and Germany until nearly the end of the war when he was medically discharged due to trench foot. In 1960 he published The Beardless Warriors which described his experiences through the eyes of a common soldier and was the first known instance where his style was captured—first-person narratives from male characters who were confused in ambiguous situations.

A Formal Education

Following his return from the war, Matheson lived with his mother while he sought advice on how to proceed with his career in life—a guidance counselor suggested the journalism program at the University of Missouri. By 1949, Matheson had earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and also published his first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” in the third issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from which he earned $25. Matheson often sent stories into this publication after reading the first issue and feeling as if it were one-of-a-kind, something that appealed to his eclectic writing style. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1949, he moved to the west coast where he met his future wife, Ruth Ann Woodson on a beach in Santa Monica. They were married by 1952.

When his first story appeared in the summer of 1950, he was immediately contacted by an agent. In Richard Matheson’s Monsters: Gender in the Stories, Scripts, Novels, and Twilight Zone Episodes it was said that Matheson would regularly submit his stories to newer publications, to maximize his exposure, since he knew the importance of working with them. Later, when Matheson was ready to publish his first story collection, he dedicated it to William Peden at the University of Missouri, a man who had been his professor and someone who Matheson had considered his mentor.

A Literary Career

There are very few authors who, when truly recognized for their work in the horror and fantasy genre of the twentieth century, would be considered greater than Richard Matheson—while he’s known for many of his novels, such as I Am Legend as well as his work in television with sixteen of the original Twilight Zone episodes, and made-for-TV movie The Night Stalker, it’s only usually his work that is recognized and not his name. It’s truly a shame though, as he was a major influence on nearly every major writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy—including the greats like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, Joe Hill as well as filmmakers such as Stephen Spielberg and J.J. Abrams.

With the type of legacy that Richard Matheson has left behind, it’s wonderful to know that he was around long enough for people to take notice of his talent–and this particular video was made for aspiring writers who would appreciate any advice from someone they might look up to.

His Final Years

Matheson passed away in June 2013 at the age of eighty-seven. As of this posting, it has been seven full years since Richard Burton Matheson passed away, but this prolific American writer of fantasy, horror, science fiction left behind a legacy of work that helped to shape the horror culture that we have today.