Remembering the Stories of Richard Matheson

When Richard Matheson passed away last Sunday, we lost a brilliant writer who had been contributing imaginative stories in print and on the screen for decades. I came to know his tales mostly through the movie and television projects on which he contributed, or the adaptations of his work. I also enjoyed reading He Is Legend, an anthology of stories inspired by his creations. You should check it out (after you've read Matheson's original books and seen the films and TV shows that spawned from them).

Here are some of the highlights from his career.

1974's Bram Stoker's Dracula - Matheson wrote the script for this TV movie that starred Jack Palance as the vampire count. In the many portrayals of the living dead bloodsucker since Stoker's original novel, this is one of the better written renditions.

Duel - He also wrote the teleplay, based on his short story, for this television film that became one of Steven Spielberg's first directorial assignments. It's an effective thriller about a car driver trying to elude a mysteriously threatening tanker truck.

I Am Legend - Arguably Matheson's most famous work, it has been adapted a number of times -- first with The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, then with The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, then with the low-budget I Am Omega. They finally got it right with Will Smith in the lead.

The Incredible Shrinking Man - Based on Matheson's novel The Shrinking Man, this 1957 movie truly is incredible. The special effects, the acting, the direction, and of course the story and screenplay by Richard Matheson himself are superb, making this an instant classic.  in 1981, a comedy flick, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, starring Lily Tomlin and directed by Joel Shumacher, hit the theaters, but I wish Hollywood had developed Matheson's sequel treatment, Fantastic Shrinking Girl, in which the wife of the original movie's tragic hero goes to rescue her husband in the microscopic world. A new adaptation of the original was apparently in the works when Matheson died.

The Martian Chronicles - Adapted by Matheson from Ray Bradbury's beloved novel, this three-part television mini-series, starring Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowell, holds fond memories in my mind from when I first watched it as a kid.  Although it takes a lot of liberties with Bradbury's source material, it is still a though-provoking piece of speculative fiction.

Masters of Horror: "Dance of the Dead" - The short-lived series that had top-name directors filming stories by legendary horror writers included this haunting piece by Matheson (the teleplay was adapted by his son). Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring Robert Englund, this was one of the better episodes in the terrific show.

The Raven - Matheson collaborated with director Roger Corman on some memorable movies that starred Vincent Price, including the Jules Verne Master of the World and the Edgar Allan Poe House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, and Tales of Terror. The Raven was my favorite, with its awesome cast of Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre alongside price (and a young Jack Nicholson!)

Somewhere in Time - Based on another Matheson novel, Bid Time Return, this time-travel romance has Christopher Reeve in the lead, hypnotizing himself to travel back in time to meet a woman, played by Jane Seymour, with whose portrait he fell in love.

Star Trek: "The Enemy Within" - This is one of the best episodes from the original series as a transporter malfunction splits Kirk into two beings, one good and one evil. The twist is that both need the other to survive.

The Twilight Zone: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" - His most famous contribution to entertainment is arguably this wonderful little gem starring William Shatner as a tense airplane passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing tampering with the engine during the stormy flight, but nobody believes him. Matheson wrote 16 great episodes of the original Twilight Zone (and one for the 1980s remake), but this is the one that has endured the most. Despite it's now-cheap-looking monster, it still stands up as better than the remade version in Twilight Zone: The Movie.

What Dreams May Come - Matheson's tome about the afterlife was made into a motion picture starring Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Annabella Sciorra, and Max von Sydow.

Matheson worked on a number of television series, including Wanted: Dead or Alive, Have Gun - Will Travel, Thriller, Lawman, Combat, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Late Night Horror, Journey to the Unknown, Circle of Fear a.k.a. Ghost Story, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Amazing Stories, The Outer Limits, and even Family Guy.  He wrote the a number of TV movies, including Now Is Tomorrow, which was directed by Irvin Kershner and starred Robert Culp, Sydney Pollack, and a young Stefanie Powers, and the cult classics The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler.

For the big screen, he gave us Stir of Echoes starring Kevin Bacon, Real Steel with Hugh Jackman, The Box with Cameron Diaz, and Jaws 3-D (hey, nobody's perfect, and sometimes you just have to pay the bills).

Which was your favorite?