Written by: Matt Molgaard
Brilliant minds seem few and far between. There are a lot of powerful thinkers out there in the world, but few with the drive, determination and consistent showings of talent to earn the term legendary. Richard Matheson was one of the really rare individuals who not only deserved, but totally and completely earned that title. The man was absolutely brilliant, one of the strongest minds to ever dip his hands in the pot.
If you haven’t followed Matheson’s work over the years, you’ve been missing something truly special. Then again, if you’ve never read or seen any of Matheson’s material, maybe you’re anti-entertainment, in which case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this to begin with. Richard ruled the world of printed fiction for years, and he took that talent right to the screen. Big and small alike, Matheson wrote some amazing tales. His work on Rod Serling’s, Twilight Zone is some of his earlier, but finest output. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is still terrifying today. Hell, “Nick of Time” and “Night Call” still crawl under the skin as well.
And that’s not to say that Matheson worried, in any way, about limiting himself to the Twilight Zone. He also penned episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Star Trek and Amazing Stories. He handled some stellar made-for-television projects as well, including Duel, The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror. The man was all over the place, spreading infectious works of fiction through any medium available.
Quite a few of his novels have been adapted for film. And as you might guess, the novels that were indeed transferred to celluloid, are absolutely riveting. I Am Legend remains one of the most impressive pieces of vampire fiction ever written, and it’s widely recognized as such. The novel has been adapted thrice over for the big screen (under the titles, The Last Man on Earth – starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man – starring Charlton Heston – and the recently released I Am Legend – starring Will Smith), that’s just how powerful that story is. The Legend of Hell House (written under the title Hell House) likely stands as Matheson’s second most famous transfer. It’s an oft-paralyzing ghost chiller with a gnarly twist. While the novel summoned a slew of comparisons to Shirley Jackson’s, The Haunting of Hill House, it’s a piece that stands comfortably on its own two, bringing a measure of physical violence that Jackson’s classic left untouched. And, while we’re discussing major transfers of Matheson’s work, it feels mandatory to mention A Stir of Echoes. The film, which hit the market in 1999 is a strong adaptation of a genuinely haunting work of fiction. A Stir of Echoes is also one of those intermittent treasures that actually works to frighten readers (and viewers), it’s genuinely scary, for more than a single reason. Matheson, as I noted, was truly a master of the page, the small and the big screen alike.
My fondest Matheson memories will always rest with I Am Legend, Hell House, Stir of Echoes, The Shrinking Man and What Dreams May Come. These were novels that meant something. They didn’t slip from the memory bank once the final page turned, they stuck, like glue. They’re each magnificent works in their own right, and while they all differ from one another greatly, it’s still a rather significant challenge in deeming one superior to the other. That’s how Richard Matheson functioned, he turned out amazing work on a regular basis.
Though Richard passed away on Sunday, his legacy will forever live on. The world will never forget the man or his complex mind. He gave us iconic works, tales of fiction that yanked readers and viewers into his world, and refused to let us escape. He offered us a new view on science fiction and horror, and he did so religiously. The world may have seen a great depart, but fans will see his body of work as an endless mine to be excavated on a daily basis.
Richard Matheson was 87 years old at the time of his death. As unsettling as it is to see news of this nature surface, we know that the man lived… he really lived. Inside his head a whirlwind of creative beauty carved notches in his imagination that he shared with the world, and outside, he achieved everything a brilliant mind could hope to achieve. I Am Legend? Yes, Mr. Matheson, you will always be a legend.
Matheson’s daughter Ali took to Facebook in the wake of her father’s death. She shared the following words: “My beloved father passed away yesterday at home surrounded by the people and things he loved…he was funny, brilliant, loving, generous, kind, creative, and the most wonderful father ever…I miss you and love you forever Pop and I know you are now happy and healthy in a beautiful place full of love and joy you always knew was there…”