You may not know his name, but you certainly know his work. Here’s 5 ways Richard Matheson changed science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Author Richard Matheson died June 23rd at age 87.
He wrote countless classic books, movies and television shows. He’s inspired many writers and filmmakers, and his movie adaptations made deep impressions into the public’s consciousness, (even if many aren’t familiar with his name). Here’s why:
5. The Terror of The Mundane…
Before Matheson, sci-fi and horror involved primarily outer space missions, or ancient haunted castles. These exotic locales made things less frightening or awe-inspiring, feeling too far removed from contemporary human experience.
His work injected the fantastical into the mundane life of the everyman. This more compelling and believable tone gave tales like The Incredible Shrinking Man a striking poignancy. And it was particularly effective in his Twilight Zone scripts (more on that in a bit.)
4. Stephen King
Author Stephen King has long acknowledged Matheson was his biggest influence, saying in an interview;
I think he was the first guy that I ever read as a teenager who seemed to be doing something that Lovecraft wasn’t doing. It wasn’t Eastern Europe — the horror could be in the 7-Eleven store down the block, or it could be just up the street. Something terrible could be going on even in a G.I. Bill–type ranch development near a college, it could be there as well. And to me, as a kid, that was a revelation, that was extremely exciting. He was putting the horror in places that I could relate to.
Given how King’s stories have changed the face of horror entertainment, no Matheson = no King, and the genre would be very different today.
Check out my Examiner.com article about Matheson’s Top 10 Horror Movies.
3. Steven Spielberg
Spielberg adapted Matheson’s short story Duel in a made-for-television movie in the early 70’s. This was the director’s first full length film. It remains an effective (if underrated) early example of Spielberg’s ability to wrangle tension and excitement from very rudimentary story elements. Matheson’s tale gave him the right tone to set his career into motion.
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2. The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone was Rod Serling’s baby, but Matheson wrote many of its most iconic episodes, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet and The Invaders. His tales were less preachy than Serling’s and gave the show a more diverse scope.
And also check out my Top 20 Twilight Zone Episodes, Why The Twilight Zone Is The Best Show Ever, and 7 Forgotten Twilight Zone Episodes.
1. Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Movies
Matheson’s 1954 novella I Am Legend is considered a classic, and has had a long relationship with cinema. The most popular adaptation remains the campy yet enjoyable movie The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston.
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The first filmed adaptation was actually Vincent Price’s The Last Man On Earth, and it’s stark black and white visuals and eerie feel was George Romero’s primary influence to make Night of The Living Dead. Romero also borrowed the concept of the undead condition as infectious disease.
The rest is history; post-apocalyptic zombie plague tales remain highly popular, as evidenced by the success of movies like 28 Days Later and shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead. It’s too bad that the 2007 movie I Am Legend was marred by shoddy CGI and muddled plotting. It deserved better.
*He Is Legend
This is just a sampling of Matheson’s legacy and influence. I’ve included Amazon links below to some of his best stories, and Twilight Zone Blu-ray collection and collectibles. For a full list of his work, check out his Wikipedia page.
R.I.P. Richard Matheson, 1926-2013