Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RIP Richard Matheson

By Steve Evans

Novelist Richard Matheson is dead at 87. He found fame as a writer of the better Twilight Zone television episodes, including the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring a young William Shatner as a mentally fragile man who insists he sees a gremlin destroying the engine of an airplane in flight.

As a novelist Matheson is probably best known for I Am Legend, which since 1964 has been transformed into at least four films variously starring Vincent Price, Charlton Heston and Will Smith (The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man and I Am Legend, respectively, in 1964, 1971 and 2007, as well as a direct-to-video adaptation, I Am Omega, also 2007).

The novel follows the sole survivor of a global bacterial pandemic that has killed all other people and resurrected them as zombies hell-bent on killing any uninfected person. The protagonist barricades himself in a house by night, when the zombies are active, then seeks out their hiding places by day to destroy them. It is an existential tale as concerned with human loneliness as with themes of anarchy, social upheaval and the establishment of a new world order.

Director George Romero has often said that I Am Legend was a direct inspiration for his seminal 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead (don't watch it alone!). And without Romero, there would be no Walking Dead, which is arguably the best, most intelligent, satirical, provocative and frightening show currently on television.

Matheson originated the idea of a zombie apocalypse that would destroy civilization. The popular fascination with this theme continues today through low-budget horror films and blockbuster action fare, such as this summer's World War Z, starring Brad Pitt.

Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice also cite Matheson as an inspiration for their work.

Matheson's influence spans some 60 years, even though he toiled mainly in the "disreputable" genres of horror and science fiction.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2013 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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