It might sound strange, but it’s only recently that I’ve come to appreciate the full extent of the influence Richard Matheson has had on me. His was a name which was always there (usually mentioned alongside I am Legend), and yet I can trace a connection with Matheson way, way back to my early days.
I think it was The Omega Man first of all. Recorded by my dad on our monstrous, box-like Betamax video recorder, I watched it again and again until the tape was virtually worn out, transfixed not just by the groovy seventies stylings and the crazy afro-sporting vampires, but by the real, tangible pain of the last man on Earth.
Later, I discovered the Twilight Zone through late night re-runs on TV. Though there were countless classics to be found there, unbeknownst to me it was Matheson’s work again which really struck home: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Steel, Little Girl Lost, A World of His Own…
And when, in those horror-starved 1980s teenage years, I stayed up late at weekends to watch the horror double-bills shown on BBC2 just before shutdown, The Devil Rides Out and The Pit and the Pendulum both stuck out amongst the comparatively tame Hammer, Amicus and Universal movies the BBC used to regularly screen. Again, Matheson wrote the screenplays.
Later still, when my tastes started to become more eclectic, I developed a fascination with black and white B movies – ‘so bad they’re good’, if you know what I mean. Sandwiched between The Wasp Woman, Brain from Planet Aros, The Day the World Ended and countless other great sounding but ultimately forgettable features, I discovered Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth and the terrible sounding but unforgettably powerful Incredible Shrinking Man.
I’m just scratching the surface here. There’s plenty more… screenplays for The Martian Chronicles, Spielberg’s Duel, The Night Stalker, an episode of Star Trek, to name but a few. And despite already mentioning two of the film adaptations (my advice: stick with Vincent Price, go with Chuck Heston if you have to, but avoid Will Smith at all costs) I haven’t even talked about the effect I am Legend had on George Romero and Night of the Living Dead. Nor have I mentioned Matheson’s novels and short story collections…
In short, Richard Matheson was an astonishingly powerful writer who leaves behind a massive body of work. Few people can claim to have had quite the same impact on the genres of horror and science fiction, or to have continued to remain consistently relevant in such rapidly-changing, forward-thinking genres for more than half a century. And now that I’ve spent a while reminiscing about his work, all I want to do is go back and revisit it all again. That, for me, is the mark of a writer whose work truly matters.
Thank you, Mr Matheson. Rest in peace.