I’m not sure exactly how old I was, but I was far, far too young to be watching Duel when my dad put it on. As far as I know, I only saw this TV movie once before its eventual DVD release, but it stuck in my mind for years: God, that truck. It’s a wonder I dared cross the road. (Thanks, Dad. You didn’t top that one until you let me watch Don’t Look Now.)
So when later in life I discovered the man who wrote the screenplay for Duel had adapted it from his story of the same name, I rushed out to buy a volume of his tales. And rapidly discovered that this Matheson guy had a bunch of other stories and novels equally as good. A lot of his plots were so simple, so pared-down and stark. The purity of them in presenting one relentlessly terrifying situation has always been something I’ve admired. The horrors in his work seem almost archetypal despite being shot through with a real modernity: haunted telephone calls, doomed passenger planes… and that damn truck.
Richard Matheson was a hell of a writer and an influence on so many who were to follow. He made his mark. Just imagine a literary world without his influence: without Prey or I Am Legend, without The Shrinking Man or Dress Of White Silk or…
Tonight, in my own little tribute, I’ll open a rather faded, battered book and start reading: “At 11.32 AM., Mann passed the truck.”