I was a fan of Richard Matheson before I had any idea who he was.
My first exposure to his work was when I saw William Shatner get terrorized by the gremlin in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” written by and adapted from a short story by Richard Matheson. Still one of my favorite episodes, maybe one of my favorite pieces of work ever produced for television.
Another indelible mark was left on me by the last story in the TV movie TRILOGY OF TERROR. “Prey” was about a Zuni fetish doll that terrorizes a woman in her apartment, once again written by and adapted from a short story by Richard Matheson (the screenplay credit goes to William F. Nolan, but my understanding is that Matheson actually adapted that segment).
Horror at a young age, told by a nameless, faceless story-teller on the other side of the TV screen.
It was when I first started writing horror and dark fiction in the late-1990’s that I found out who Richard Matheson was. In order to help improve my craft, he was one of the writers I devoured. Stories like “The Distributor,” “The Near Departed,” Born of Man and Woman,” and “Button, Button” and books like THE SHRINKING MAN and I AM LEGEND were treasures to be gazed upon again and again. (I once had to combine 5 “Best Horror Novels” lists for a bookstore where I worked. I AM LEGEND was the only book on all 5 lists.)
When I think of fantastic/horror fiction, I think of three eras:
The first is the old-timey stuff by the likes of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
The third era is the 1980’s onward, when Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub and many, many, many others filled bookstore shelves with their work.
The second era is smack-dab in the middle, the bridge when Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch and many others were modernizing terror tales. This is the era that I find the most interesting, the most influential. This was when the real work was being done. So many great writers cutting their teeth and expanding their art. And Richard Matheson was at the forefront.
So much fantastic work. The “The Doll” episode of AMAZING STORIES. The “Nick of Time” and “Steel” episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The NIGHT STALKER TV movie. DUEL. The Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he did for Roger Corman. Story after story after story.
I’m still a fan of Richard Matheson, a bigger fan than ever. And now I’m happy to say I know who he was.