Published by Edge Books (Gauntlet Press)
In the horror genre people can always come up with a couple of names when asked who the masters are in the writing game, but if you were to ask those cited, you’d undoubtedly hear the same person pop up over and over again: Richard Matheson. He’s sort of like … the Grandfather of Horror. His long career has been marked by some of the most memorable and recognizable horror titles of our times, and he’s still going strong.
This latest collection of short stories released from Edge Books contains works written in the years between 1959 and 1971 including some very well known ones likes “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Prey,” and “Button, Button.” In addition to these, we get little add-ons from Matheson about what he was thinking when he wrote the particular story and when it was first published (or aired, if it was written originally for The Twilight Zone). Other nice additions are some personal musings from genre names like Stephen King, Dennis Etchison, and Matheson’s son, Richard Christian Matheson, on the meaning and influence the man and his writing had on them.
All of that is great, really, but nothing beats Matheson doing what he does best. And this is what he does best. This isn’t just horror on the scale of your teenybopper, WB crap. This is distilled terror, ratcheted up notch by notch so finely you hardly know what’s happening until you’re wetting your skivvies. He’s just so damn good. Take “Deus Ex Machina,” for example, circa 1963. The term normally refers to a writer’s device explaining things away using something written in expressly for that purpose, but in this case it’s just another indication of Matheson’s genius since nothing is really explained away at all. The story begins incredibly simply in a suburban house where a man is shaving. But Matheson manages to take that, and with simple but fine brush strokes, lead us from there, a mundane nick during shaving, to the end of the world with an ever-increasing sense of paranoia and fright.
But it’s not all like that. There’s more to Matheson’s work. One of the first stories in the collection, entitled “The Creeping Terror,” is both funny and ironic – but still a little scary underneath for all that (depending on how you look at it). Again, the premise of the tale is deceptively simple: Los Angeles is alive and spreading across the globe. Funny, but kind of creepy too. “Tis the Season To Be Jelly” is like that also. It’s a family having dinner, talking about the boy’s upcoming marriage proposal, but it’s obviously after nuclear war, and they’re all hideously deformed.
It’s kind of impossible to write a review of a work by Matheson. Once I say it’s Matheson, any of you who know who he is pretty much know how good it is. And once I’ve said it’s good, there’s not much more to say. His characters are always accessible, his ideas are always interesting, his stories are always great. Whether he’s being funny or ironic or terrifying or whatever else he’s choosing to be at that particular moment, he’s fabulous at it.
If you’ve never read Matheson before, this would be an ideal place to start as it samples a little bit of every mood and contains a lot of his best (or at least most well known) works including the aforementioned “Prey,” “The Likeness of Julie,” and “Therese,” the three short stories the segments of the film Trilogy of Terror were based on.
In my book Matheson is required reading for any horror fan, and this is a great way to get your daily dose. Grab a quick short while you’re at lunch, waiting in line at the bank, or on the can or something. You won’t regret it, and he may even inspire you the way he’s inspired so many others!
5 out of 5
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