Matheson, Richard

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Will Smith is a doctor trying to find a cure for a gruesome plague in I Am Legend.

Matheson, Richard (1926–)

(pop culture)

Richard Matheson, a screenwriter and science fiction/horror novelist, was born in Allendale, New Jersey. His first publications were science fiction stories, although it has been noted that at least a hint of horror has been part of his writing from the beginning. His first sale was a short story, “Born of Man and Woman” (1950), which then became the title of his first book (1954), a collection of his stories. His first vampire short story, “Drink My Red Blood”, appeared in 1951 and has been frequently reprinted. It was three years later that he completed the novel that has been hailed as one of the classics of the vampire genre, I Am Legend (1954).

I Am Legend recounted the problem caused by a new bacterium that created an isotonic solution in human blood from which it lived. It slowly turned humans into vampires. As the story developed, Robert Neville, who was immune to the bacteria, survived as the only untainted human. Most of the action took place at Neville’s fortified home. He was opposed by his former neighbor, Ben Cortland, who led the vampire hordes in their search for fresh blood. As the bacteria invaded the body, they caused the canine teeth to elongate and turned the skin a pale gray-white color. The bacteria were killed by the light of the sun and by garlic, and thus those infected adopted the habits of traditional vampires. Cortland was nearly unkillable. He survived bullets, knife wounds, and other normally fatal traumas. The bacteria immediately sealed wounds. However, if a person was staked, the stake kept the wound open and the bacteria died. At the end of the story, humans developed a vaccine that killed the germ.

Matheson occasionally returned to the vampire theme in his stories, including “The Funeral” (1955) and “No Such Thing as a Vampire” (1959), and he went on in his lengthy career to write several horror screenplays. His 1956 novel, The Incredible Shrinking Man, was made into a movie in 1957. He adapted several of Edgar Allan Poe‘s stories for the screen for producer Roger Corman. His novel Bid Time Return (1975) won the Howard Award as the best fantasy novel of the year.

I Am Legend has been adapted to the screen three times, but without the use of Matheson’s own screenplay. First, an Italian production, released in America as The Last Man on Earth (1964), starred Vincent Price.

Then, I Am Legend served as the basis for the 1971 American production The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston; however, in this latter production, the vampire theme was largely eliminated. The vampire theme was somewhat revived in the third attempt to bring I Am Legend to the screen (2007) starring Will Smith.

In 1968 Matheson’s “No Such Thing as a Vampire” was brought to the television screen as an episode of the BBC’s Late Night Horror Show. Then in 1971 Matheson began a period of creative work with producer/director Dan Curtis. His first effort was a screenplay for The Night Stalker. Matheson’s story of a vampire-hunting reporter became the most-watched made-for-television movie up to that time. On the heels of that success he wrote the screenplay for Curtis’s new production of Dracula (1973) starring Jack Palance in the title role. Then, in 1975 and 1977 Matheson’s short stories became the basis for two made-for-television movies, Trilogy of Terror and Dead of Night. The latter, directed by Curtis as the pilot for a never-produced series, brought No Such Thing as a Vampire to the screen again as one of three stories.

In 1989 the Horror Writers of America gave Matheson the first of two Bram Stoker Awards for the best volume of collected fiction for his Richard Matheson: Collected Stories. The following year they presented him with the award for lifetime achievement. In 2006, Gauntlet Press, a publishing house specializing in editions for collectors, released a collection of Matheson’s vampire writing under the title Bloodlines.

Sources:

Ashley, Mike. Who’s Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction. London: Elm Tree Books, 1977. 240 pp. Matheson, Richard. “Drink My Red Blood.” Imagination (April 1951). Rept. as “Blood Son.” In A Feast of Blood. Charles M. Collins, ed. New York: Avon, 1967. Rept. as “Drink My Blood.” In The Midnight People. Peter Haining, ed. New York: Popular Library, 1968. Rept. in A Clutch of Vampires. Raymond T. McNally, ed. New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1974, pp. 223–34.
———. I Am Legend. New York: Fawcett, 1954. 175 pp. Rept. New York: Berkley Publishing
Company, 1971. 174 pp. Matheson, Richard, and Mark Dawidziak. Bloodlines: Richard Matheson’s Dracula, I Am Legend and
Other Vampire Stories. Colorado, CO: Gauntlet Press, 2006. 420 pp. Pickersgill, Frederick, ed. No Such Thing as a Vampire. London: Corgi, 1964. 126 pp. Rovin, Jeff. The Encyclopedia of Super Villains. New York: Facts on File, 1987. 416 pp. Wiater, Stanley, Matthew Bradley, and Paul Stuve. The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson. New York: Citadel Press, 2009. 352 pp.