Richard Matheson is a name you may have heard in passing, if you are a casual horror or science fiction fan. For those die-hards for genre, however, his name brings with it connotations of Twilight Zone episodes, and influences upon various other films. In the horror community, he is most likely thought of as the guy who wrote the classic I Am Legend. I admit, I found out about Matheson after watching the film, Stir of Echoes, based upon his novel, A Stir of Echoes. I loved the film, and hence began to read up on the man who had come up with the story for such a good movie.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories by Richard Matheson is so far the first short story collection I’ve read from the man, but it sure does pack a punch. Not only is the first story, the one used in the title of the book, creepy, but it made for a real exciting episode of The Twilight Zone, and a thrill ride ending for The Twilight Zone: The Movie. Matter of fact, two other stories from this collection, The Likeness of Julie, and Prey, were each used in a film entitled The Trilogy of Terror. Yet, simply because a man has movies made about his stories, does not necessarily mean that the stories are good. Usually this is the case, but it is not a rule set in stone. Thankfully, Matheson is more then just a writer with good Hollywood connects. He is a genius short story writer, who knows how to get in, introduce the chills, and end his one two punch, always leaving you wanting more. I think the best short stories are over fast, and yet stay with you for hours, and possibly days afterwards. These stories do.
One story that really stuck with me was The Disappearing Act, a story about a writer (yeah, I like stories about writers, who would have guessed), whose friends and lovers start to disappear.
Prey also left me anxious, though admittedly, I’ve been afraid of inanimate objects coming to life since childhood. A warrior doll, that comes to life, and attacks a lone resident of an apartment. Classic, yet I can’t help but staring at the Freddy Krueger doll, sitting on my bookshelf. Don’t you move, Freddy.
Many of the tales in this collection are very short, the longest being Mad House, which is sixty pages. This collection is the literary equivalent of having a marathon of your favorite horror anthology show, be it The Twilight Zone, or The X Files, or Tales From the Crypt. Personally, I find there to be nothing more satisfying. Being hurled back and forth between different kinds of fear, supernatural, and purely human, seeing different people go to ruin from different things. Oh yeah, give me some of that sweet action.
If you’re in the mood for a thrill ride of short, scary tales, then I suggest you track down Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories By Richard Matheson. The title might be long, but the amount of time you spend reading it, based upon the expert pacing of the master, will assuredly be short.
I know I was left wanting more, and there is no greater test to the skills of a writer, than leaving the reader with a voracious desire to hunt down more of their work.