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The Top 8 Richard Matheson Films

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On June 23rd the landscape of genre storytelling changed forever.  Writer Richard Matheson passed away, leaving behind a wealth of adored episodic television, TV movie, and feature film tales... treasured fiction that is imaginative, entertaining, and thought provoking.

This one-of-a-kind wordsmith may be most appreciated for his writing on television's The Twilight Zone.  Add to this his scripts for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Star Trek, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, The Martian Chronicles, and Amazing Stories and you've amassed an impressive quantity of inventive episodic TV that earned Matheson a passionate fan base.  However, it's the movies written by Matheson and/or based on his books I'm going to reminisce about here.  

Based on Twitter and Facebook comments by Matheson fans (as well my own opinions, of course), I've assembled the Top 8 Richard Matheson Films (presented in order of release)... a short list of highlights from a long and remarkable career.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

A strange mist encountered on a boating excursion causes Scott Carey to fight for survival as he shrinks.  Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his book "The Shrinking Man".  It was Matheson's first dip into feature films.

House Of Usher (1960)

Philip arrives at the Usher mansion to discover his beloved Madeline and her brother Roderick are falling victim to the dreaded Usher family curse.  File this film with another favorite Edgar Allen Poe / Roger Corman / Richard Matheson amalgamation, The Pit And The Pendulum (1961).  More Poe / Corman / Matheson madness creeps forth in Tales Of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963).

The Last Man On Earth (1964)

When a plague turns the earth's population into the living dead, the sole survivor becomes a reluctant vampire hunter.  This is the best of three films based on Matheson's celebrated novel "I Am Legend".  Of the three, this is the only one he wrote the screenplay for.  Strangely, Matheson was so disappointed in this film, he elected to use a pseudonym for his screen credit.

Duel (1971)

Businessman David Mann is pursued and terrorized by the maniacal driver of a huge tanker truck.  This made-for-TV movie was director Steven Spielberg's first professional feature length film.

The Legend Of Hell House (1973)

An investigative team is sent to survive a week in a notorious house where previous visitors have either been killed or have gone mad.  Director John Hough would go on to helm the cult carsploitation flick Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) and the Disney classic Escape To Witch Mountain (1975).

Trilogy Of Terror (1975)

Karen Black plays four different roles in three tales of terror. This made-for-TV movie is best known for its chilling final segment about an African tribal doll that comes to life and terrorizes Black in her apartment.  Matheson conceived all three stories, but only wrote the screenplay for this third and most memorable one.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Directors Joe Dante (Gremlins), John Landis (An American Werewolf In London), George Miller (The Road Warrior), and Steven Spielberg (Jaws) contribute a segment each in this big-screen rebirth of Rod Serling's pioneering TV series.  Three of the four segments in this anthology are Matheson tales, and the standout piece is his "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".

Stir Of Echoes (1999)

After being hypnotized, Tom begins seeing the ghost of a young woman, and is soon engulfed by the mystery surrounding her.  This is the only film to make this list that was adapted from a Matheson book, but written for the screen entirely by another writer.  David Koepp (Toy Soldiers, Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible) penned the spooky screenplay in addition to directing the film.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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