I have rabidly consumed the works of Richard Matheson all my life and I am devastated to hear that he has passed away.
Matheson changed the landscape of my mind, introduced me to true horror and tension in moving images and really created my tastes and interests in the more unusual and dark.
In full disclosure, while I have always been a huge reader, I made a huge mistake as a kid. I didn’t read Matheson’s literary works until I was much older and I still haven’t read enough. A part of me feels like I was exposed to him by proxy. My childhood consisted of inhaling Ray Bradbury’s works, and they were in the same writing club. There’s a little bit of closeness there, right?
And really? To my mother’s disappointment after my tantrum over demanding the UNABRIDGED version of Les Miserables in the bookstore, I could NOT get enough of Stephen King. Although to be honest, there are certain similarities to be drawn between French revolutionary youth movements and Carrie…who’s with me?? At any rate, King readily admits to Matheson’s strong influence, and as an adult and more critical thinker, I do see his argument. The first time I was ever exposed to Richard Matheson’s literary work, I Am Legend, it had been adapted by Steve Niles in graphic novel form. The comments people kept leaving in the reviews were “really wordy for a graphic novel” and “I dunno, lots of reading for a comic” which made me think that much of the original text had been kept in. I was definitely in. One of my pet subjects is comic book adaptations and its connection to the archeological concept of the palimpsest (another post for another day), I found this work even more intriguing. The graphic novel was really good, I enjoyed Niles’ art and (no surprise to anyone familiar with Matheson or my tastes) the story is phenomenal. I’ve revisited it many times since.
Before that, my main point of reference for Matheson has always been that I have been a life-long Twilight Zone-addict. In fact, I don’t remember a year when I didn’t run to my parents’ room and jump on that big bed that got gradually smaller as I got older to watch the marathon. It was Matheson’s episode “The Living Doll” that gave me my strange adoration for children’s dolls and Telly Savalas and it was most certainly the “Little Girl Lost” episode that scared and excited me every night before I went to bed. And, of course, who can forget perhaps the most parodied TZ-episode ever, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”? Matheson’s skill at flipping domestic situations into ones that would frighten or, at the very least, unsettle the most steely-nerved soul is unreal. If you still don’t believe me, watch the episode “Mute.” I’m a huge Buffy fan, and I enjoy the hell out of the episodes on that show that play with standard forms of verbal communication but…”Mute” will knock you sideways. Why? Because it’s MATHESON.
Director Edgar Wright had a film festival back in 2011 at the New Beverly. He talked about all the films he’d never seen and how exciting it was to get to explore these titles, these classic and beloved films that people had a strange “OMG, you’ve never seeeeeeen thaaaat???” reaction when he said that he hadn’t had the pleasure. While I deeply, regretfully, heartbreakingly mourn the passing of this genius of a man, I am looking forward to getting gut-deep, ears-deep, pig-tails-deep into his literary works. It is a formidable library and one I know that I will enjoy like the most delicious creme brulee (and OHMAN, do I love creme brulee). To me, it will make this man stay visible, stay alive. In my experience as an archivist and preservation scholar, this seems to be one of the most vital and earnest methods that we can use as admirers of a given artistic work or individual to keep them alive. It’s why I do what I do. Which brings me to my next point: The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957).
Many people do not live long enough to see one of their moving image works become recognized by the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry. In 2009, Richard Matheson’s film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, adapted by him, from his own novel The Incredible Shrinking Man, was chosen as one of the films marked for preservation due to to its “cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.” As the National Film Preservation Board has written about the films that they choose on a yearly basis, “These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.” From my experience (and if I am wrong, please forgive me) I believe that this is what Matheson does best. His exposure of the darkness and the weirdness of normalcy is what makes him so fucking great. How do you make a cat frightening??
You’re Richard Matheson, that’s how. Not only does Shrinking Man reveal issues of masculinity and the domestic environment of 1957, but it does it way before its time. I generally get irritated when people continually harp on about figures being “so ahead of the game” and doing things so “before their time” and, as a point, I make a valid effort not to do it very much. But with Matheson, “pre-game” seems to have been his middle name.
I had the privilege during my tenure as the curator of the Something Old, Something New film series at the New Beverly Cinema to play Incredible Shrinking Man in tandem with Innerspace on a double-bill that I called “Size Matters.” Joe Dante came for a Q&A, discussed Matheson a bit, and our audience, many of whom were there primarily to revisit Innerspace, was absolutely floored by Shrinking Man. As someone who admittedly gets high off exhibiting films and seeing pleased faces, this was my heroin. Overhearing people talk about “the old movie” actually being “really damn good, dude” made my heart soar. Mr. Matheson, your works still work. And they always WILL.
It is so very rare that figures like this come through the world. Salvador Dali worked in film, animation, sculpture, painting, etc., dead-set on taking any straight-ahead visions of creativity and art and cooking ’em until they were twisted and flexible like spaghetti. Ray Bradbury worked in comic books, film, stage, television and literature (of course), introducing entirely new worlds and atmospheres to our media culture and yet…making them ultimately accessible. Who knew that we could speak the same emotional or intellectual languages as people from other planets? Mr. Matheson, you too worked on revelations and explorations. Fear of the known, fear of the familiar, fear of the self, fear of isolation. How to truly examine horror and what is horror anyway? Many have argued about what the antagonists are in I Am Legend. To me, it simply doesn’t matter. It’s about the story and what lies beneath. What is Matheson actually trying to TELL us?
This is just one woman’s opinion and semi-eulogy on a day I find rather heart-wrenching. I really wanted to meet him. I don’t have too many heroes. He was one.
Dear Richard Matheson, thank you for giving me the ability to appreciate horror, fear and tension in an intelligent and creative way. You taught me how to look at them from the alternative, multi-layered angle. For that, and much more, I will be forever grateful.