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Matthew R. Bradley

An Interview with Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Past, Present, and Future

Matheson’s Other Kingdoms has been hailed by the Associated Press as “Believable as well as compelling…Matheson himself is a literary faerie of sorts, his trick being his ability to coax us off a story’s familiar pathway to take us deep and deeper into his world.” (You can read an excerpt here.) This romantic fantasy from the creator of Somewhere in Time concerns 18-year-old Alex White, who in 1918 travels from the trenches of World War I to the seemingly placid setting of Gatford, a pastoral English village. But Alex will also take a journey into the faerie realm known as the Middle Kingdom.

Like What Dreams May Come, this novel includes a bibliography, although unlike the afterlife, wicca and faeries were not lifelong interests for Matheson, who found his material at the Bodhi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. “I had looked for a research subject for about a year,” he recalls. “I had two groups of books, one about backpacking, so I used [that] first for Hunted Past Reason [published by Tor in 2002]. I had piled up a lot of books about the Middle Kingdom, and I also had a number of books about World War I trench warfare, so I just decided to combine the two.”

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Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Ride the Nightmare: Richard Matheson’s Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Along with the thrice-filmed (and oft-plundered) I Am Legend, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is one of Matheson’s best-known works, the tale of an airline passenger doubting his sanity when he alone sees a gremlin on the wing, damaging one of the engines. Since debuting in the anthology Alone by Night (1961), Matheson’s story has been reprinted many times, recently toplining Tor’s eponymous collection, and he adapted it for two incarnations of The Twilight Zone, first in the fifth and final season and then as a segment of the ill-fated 1983 feature film. Perhaps the best-known episode (sometimes misattributed to creator/host Rod Serling), “Nightmare” has spawned homages on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Futurama, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and others.

[Revisiting Nightmare with William Shatner, Richard Donner, and more]

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Twilight Years, Part II

Every Tuesday, Matthew R. Bradley takes us through the career of Richard Matheson. Catch up with the series through the Richard Matheson—Storyteller index.


Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983) reunited Matheson with Steven Spielberg, the director of Duel (1971), for whom he had declined to work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and possibly Jaws (1975); “I’ve got great judgment,” he told me. Despite doubts about the approach, he scripted remakes of three classic Zone episodes: his pal George Clayton Johnson’s “Kick the Can,” Rod Serling’s “It’s a Good Life” (from the story by Star Trek scribe Jerome Bixby), and his own “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Writer-director John Landis, who produced the film with Spielberg, contributed “Time Out,” a reworking of Serling’s “A Quality of Mercy,” as well as a prologue with unwitting motorist Albert Brooks picking up monstrous hitchhiker Dan Aykroyd.

“Time Out,” in which a bigot must endure prejudice as a Jew, a black man, and a Vietnamese, ended in a headline-making tragedy when star Vic Morrow and two Asian youngsters working illegally were killed in a helicopter crash during filming. Matheson ended up sharing the script credit on Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” with Johnson, who had come up with a new ending for his tale of a children’s game that rejuvenates rest-home residents, and “Josh Rogan,” a nom d’écran for Melissa Mathison, who wrote E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). He regretted that “Rogan” softened the story, but luckily director Joe (Gremlins) Dante left his take on Bixby’s opus, whose schoolteacher protagonist agrees to tutor telepathic mutant boy Anthony Fremont, largely intact.

[Below the fold: Matheson’s forays into the Zone, and up through the present…]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Twilight Years, Part I

Every Tuesday, Matthew R. Bradley takes us through the career of Richard Matheson. Catch up with the series through the Richard Matheson—Storyteller index.


After the sadly mishandled Somewhere in Time (1980) and the unfunny The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), Universal did Matheson another disservice when his original script for Jaws 3-D (1983) was rewritten by Carl Gottlieb, a veteran of the first two entries. Adding insult to injury, story credit went to Guerdon Trueblood, a stranger to Matheson who had written many nature-runs-amok TV-movies, and the three shared a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Screenplay. Matheson’s ingenious idea placed a great white shark in the circulation system of a marine park, which forced water over its gills and obviated the need for it to remain in constant motion, while Universal’s Sid Sheinberg insisted that the shark be pursuing the sons of Sheriff Martin Brody.

That same year, Matheson co-wrote the ill-fated Twilight Zone—The Movie, one of four Zone incarnations in which he was involved, but first, let’s look at his contributions to Rod Serling’s original 1959-64 CBS anthology series.

[Below the fold: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and other classic Twilight Zone episodes]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Signs o’ the Time

Every Tuesday, Matthew R. Bradley takes us through the career of Richard Matheson. Catch up with the series through the Richard Matheson—Storyteller index.

The same year Matheson petrified viewers with one woman pursued by an unstoppable Zuni fetish doll in Trilogy of Terror (1975), he published the story of another who was the subject of a pursuit much more benign but, in its own way, just as relentless. Bid Time Return was his first novel since Hell House (1971), and along with its successor, What Dreams May Come (1978), could not have represented a starker contrast. These “two novels of love and fantasy” (as they were dubbed in an omnibus reissue), both of which take their titles from Shakespeare, earned the ever-varied author an entirely new audience…along with some dismissive reviews from critics unwilling to accept this departure from the terror and suspense to which they were accustomed.

[Somewhere in Time: Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, romance and time travel]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Seeing Red

Every Tuesday, Matthew R. Bradley takes us through the career of Richard Matheson. Catch up with the series through the Richard Matheson—Storyteller index.

In the late 1970s, Matheson embarked on a project with producer Stephen Deutsch (now known as Stephen Simon) that occupied some three years of his life, with nothing to show for it publicly until approximately a quarter of a century later. They planned a twenty-hour miniseries entitled The Link, with three major storylines incorporating “spiritualism, parapsychology, the occult and metaphysics,” and he spent a year and a half on a 557-page narrative outline, finally published by Gauntlet in 2006. ABC asked him to reduce it to seven hours, but after he scripted the first three they parted ways, whereupon Matheson spent another year and a half writing the first 800 pages of a novelization, eventually abandoned at his literary agent’s urging due to its gargantuan scope.

The most ambitious of Matheson’s produced scripts, however, came to fruition when NBC aired his adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles as a six-hour miniseries in January of 1980. The success of Star Wars (1977) was the catalyst for a property that had languished since Bradbury’s own attempts to bring his loosely connected 1950 collection of stories about the Red Planet to the screen twenty years earlier. Rock Hudson headed a cast that included such familiar faces as Gayle Hunnicutt and Roddy McDowall from The Legend of Hell House (1973); Darren McGavin, best known as Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker (1972); Joyce Van Patten, a veteran of The Stranger Within (1974); and Fritz Weaver of “Third from the Sun” on The Twilight Zone.

[Below the fold: Matheson, Bradbury, and The Martian Chronicles]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Curtis Years, Part II

Arguably the low point of Matheson’s collaboration with producer-director Dan Curtis, ABC’s Scream of the Wolf (1974) was based—perhaps too faithfully, considering the flaws carried from page to screen—on David Case’s “The Hunter” (from his 1969 collection The Cell). Equal parts “The Most Dangerous Game” and The Hound of the Baskervilles, it concerns a former big-game hunter asked to investigate a rash of apparently lycanthropic killings that turn out to be the work of a friend who enjoys the thrill of the chase a little too much. Co-starring with Peter Graves was Clint Walker, for whose Western Cheyenne Matheson had scripted “Home Is the Brave” in 1960.

[Murder, mayhem, Trilogy of Terror and more…]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Curtis Years, Part I

After the success of Duel (1971), Richard Matheson entered his most important small-screen partnership outside of The Twilight Zone with producer Dan Curtis, best known for creating the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, which had just finished its five-year run on the same network, ABC. Not familiar with Dark Shadows at the time, Matheson knew of Curtis only from the latter’s attempt to buy the rights to one of his novels for a bargain-basement price, and thus was extremely cold to him at their first meeting. Matheson warmed up when he realized that Curtis had some good ideas for their project, but later learned he was lucky not to have aroused Curtis’s violent temper.

Said project was ABC’s adaptation of The Kolchak Papers, a then-unpublished novel by former Las Vegas newsman Jeff Rice, in which reporter Carl Kolchak tracks a vampire, Janos Skorzeny, through the all-night hustle of Sin City. Although Curtis directed the theatrical spin-offs House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971), The Night Stalker was entrusted to John Llewellyn Moxey, who had helmed the solid British chiller City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel, 1960). Two months later, Moxey also directed “The New House,” the pilot that secured Matheson a “developed for television by” credit on the series Ghost Story (aka Circle of Fear).

[Below the fold: Kolchak, Dracula, Dying Room Only and The Stranger Within]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Keep on Truckin’

In both of its celebrated incarnations, Duel (1971) marked major turning points in Matheson’s career. He considered his short story, published in Playboy in April of 1971, to be the ultimate embodiment of his leitmotif—which he defined in his Collected Stories as “the individual isolated in a threatening world, attempting to survive”—and thus his farewell to the literary form in which he had made his professional debut some two decades earlier with “Born of Man and Woman.” Fortunately, said farewell was less than definitive, as recently shown by the appearance of “The Window of Time” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September-October, 2010).

Broadcast as an ABC Movie of the Week that November, the film was Matheson’s maiden effort in the burgeoning format of the TV-movie, with which he enjoyed some of his greatest successes of the 1970s, and marked the first full-length directorial effort by the twenty-four-year-old Steven Spielberg. It would be but one of several projects on which they collaborated, including Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983) and Amazing Stories, for which Matheson served as a creative consultant during the anthology show’s second and final season. Spielberg is also an executive producer on the upcoming Real Steel, based on Matheson’s “Steel,” previously a classic Twilight Zone episode.

[Below the fold: Matheson, Spielberg and the creation of a classic…]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Fresh Hell

Every Tuesday, Matthew R. Bradley takes us through the career of Richard Matheson. Catch up with the series through the Richard Matheson—Storyteller index.

Matheson was so active in film and television in the 1960s that a full decade elapsed in between the publication of The Beardless Warriors (1960) and Hell House (1971), during which his relationship with American International Pictures wound down to a disappointing conclusion, starting with their Stateside release of The Last Man on Earth (1964). He wrote several scripts that were never filmed, adapting Colossus author D.F. Jones’s novel Implosion, H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes, and his own “Being”; worse, Dallas-based hack Larry Buchanan made a bastardized (albeit mercifully uncredited) version of the latter, “It’s Alive!” (1969), for AIP’s television arm. De Sade (1969), a disastrous look at the life of the notorious marquis, was botched by its director and spelled the end.

Hell House, on the other hand, turned out to be one of Matheson’s most critically and commercially successful novels, reprinted various times—including Tor’s edition, with its stunning Michael Deas cover—and rightly regarded among his finest works. He had long wanted to write a haunted-house story, and was greatly impressed by both Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Robert Wise’s 1963 film version, The Haunting, which contained one of his three biggest cinematic scares, the other two being in Diabolique (1955) and Jaws (1975). But he was dissatisfied with Jackson’s ambiguous conclusion, in which (à la Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw” and Jack Clayton’s 1961 adaptation, The Innocents) the “ghosts” may have been conjured up by the female protagonist.

[The Legend of Hell House unfolds…]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Hammer Years

The abortive attempt by England’s Hammer Films in 1957 to adapt Matheson’s I Am Legend as The Night Creatures did have one positive result, establishing a rapport between the fledgling American scenarist and Hammer honcho Anthony Hinds, himself a prolific screenwriter under the nom d’écran of John Elder. Hinds later hired Matheson to script his production of Fanatic (1965), directed by Canadian-born Silvio Narizzano—best known for Georgy Girl (1966)—and based on Anne Blaisdell’s novel Nightmare. The title change differentiated Fanatic from 1964’s Nightmare, one of the series of post-Psycho (1960) psycho-thrillers written by Hammer mainstay Jimmy Sangster, which also included his Paranoiac, Maniac (both 1963), and Hysteria (1965).

[Murder, mayhem, and mesmerism…Hammer-style]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: The Poe Years, Part I

October 7th marked the 161st anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death, and as Halloween looms, it seems especially apt to focus on his foremost interpreter on the screen, producer-director Roger Corman. Between 1960 and 1964, Corman conflated a dozen of Poe’s poems and tales into eight films for American International Pictures (AIP), seven of them starring Vincent Price. Half of the cycle was written by Richard Matheson, whose friend Charles Beaumont worked on another three—Premature Burial (1962), The Haunted Palace (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1963); the last, The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), was written by future Oscar-winner Robert Towne.

[Below the fold: from House of Usher to Pit and the Pendulum]

Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Size Matters

Despite its critical acclaim, I Am Legend did little to improve the somewhat dire financial straits of its author’s growing family, which his eldest child, Bettina (fictionalized in “Little Girl Lost”), dramatically described in The Richard Matheson Companion. Writing during the morning while cutting out airplane parts for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica by night, he resolved that if his next effort did not bear greater fruit, he would abandon his literary aspirations and work for his older brother, Robert. So Matheson returned to his boyhood home of New York to rent a house in Sound Beach on Long Island, whose cellar he used as the primary setting for his fourth novel.

Said novel, The Shrinking Man, changed the course of literary and cinematic history, because Matheson made the sale of the film rights to Universal, then known as Universal-International, contingent on his being allowed to write the screenplay. That sale, bolstered by the film’s box-office success, enabled him to move back to California permanently and devote himself to a full-time writing career. Even before the book’s publication as a Gold Medal paperback original in 1956, Matheson was in Hollywood, hard at work on the script, although in a letter to William H. Peden, his college writing professor, he expressed characteristic frustration at repeating himself.

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Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

Richard Matheson—Storyteller: We Are Legend

When it comes to horror and science fiction, few literary works have had as great an impact as Richard Matheson’s third novel, I Am Legend, published as a Gold Medal paperback original in 1954. It has been officially adapted into three films, or four if you count Soy Leyenda (1967), a Spanish short that is so obscure it has eluded many a Matheson scholar (including this one), and marked the first use of Matheson’s title, albeit en Español. It has also been ripped off countless times, most recently—and perhaps most egregiously—in the 2007 direct-to-video travesty I Am Omega, produced solely to cash in on that year’s then-forthcoming Will Smith theatrical version.

Because I Am Legend begat George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), it was at least indirectly responsible for the entire zombie subgenre as we know it today. It has been compared to such apocalyptic fiction as Justin Cronin’s The Passage, and clearly made its mark on Stephen King, who has noted that “my first bestseller” was an unauthorized novelization of Matheson’s Pit and the Pendulum (1961) printed in his basement. It doesn’t stop with I Am Legend, because Anne Rice and Chris Carter have cited Matheson’s “Dress of White Silk” and his original Night Stalker as influences upon the Vampire Chronicles and The X-Files, respectively…but I digress.

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Series: Richard Matheson—Storyteller

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