R.I.P. Richard Matheson

R.I.P. Richard Matheson

by R.k.KombrinckRichard Matheson

Without Richard Matheson, there would be no “There’s a creature out on the wing of the plane!” Without Richard Matheson, there would be no X-Files. Without Richard Matheson there would be no Night of the Living Dead and that means there might not be this entire zombie apocalypse culture that we enjoy as horror fans today.

“I Am Legend,” is a simple idea with a nifty twist. If you’ve never read it, I’m kind of spoiling it here (and please do not judge it based on its film adaptations—“The Last Man on Earth” is the best of them but “Omega Man” and Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” stray far from the source). Go out and get it. It’s the tale of a world overrun with the undead—not flesh eating zombies but rather, vampires. The vampires are not the gothic, Dracula types that had come before, they were your friends and neighbors. They’d lost a lot of what made them who they’d been and were sort of sluggish and dumb. Matheson took the idea that, the way vampires multiply, they could eventually overtake the world. He goes on to wonder, what if you were a lone survivor, maybe THE lone survivor, of this scenario. How would you spend your days and your terrifying nights? How would you avoid the creatures that surrounded you? It was the first really modern look at vampires and updated the creatures accordingly, blending science with folklore. There was still the sexual undertones, the females positioning their bodies outside Neville’s door to try and lure him out…Neville, getting an erotic thrill from dispatching the female monsters…it retained much of the classic trappings; garlic, crosses, daylight—and turned them on their heads. He followed the idea to its only logical conclusion, not forcing the narrative to go somewhere convenient, and we are the beneficiaries of this nightmare. This is the book that inspired George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” (he says himself that he basically “ripped it off,” though that’s a stretch, he certainly took it in his own direction). He turned the vampires into thoughtless, flesh eating corpses, risen from the grave to hunt the living and overrun the world and with that film and concept a much bigger landscape of horror was born. Now, zombies are part of or pop culture consciousness and everyone knows what that apocalypse will look like. It’s a scary book with a great ending, I highly, highly recommend it.

Richard Matheson is as responsible for that, if not more, than Romero.

Of course, he gave us a lot more than “I Am Legend.” He penned, “The Shrinking Man,” “Hell House,” “A Stir of Echoes,” and “What Dreams May Come,” all of which have been adapted to film. He wrote a ton of “Twilight Zone,” episodes, he wrote for “Star Trek,” and he wrote the story that became Steven Spielberg’s first major gig, “Duel.” He also wrote the teleplay to the original, “Night Stalker” TV movie, which returned to vampire territory—this time playing the vampire as a sort of serial killer—and introduced us to the great, rumpled reporter, Carl Kolchak. A TV series was born out of that TV movie, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” in which Darren McGavin’s Kolchak wound up on the trail of a different monster each week. “X-Files,” creator, Chris Carter has stated this as the inspiration for his own “monster of the week,” show. There was a lot of other TV writing as well as novels, short stories and nonfiction too. He kept writing up through 2012, still going strong.

Richard Matheson died today at the age of 87. According to his daughter, he was surrounded by loved ones. We lost one of the great ones. He will be missed.

R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen

We lost one of our own today. A pioneer and himself a fanboy. Ray Harryhausen,Ray Harryhausen world class stop motion animator died today at the age of 92.

I’m not going to go into all the wiki of Ray’s life. It’s all there if you want to look up the who’s, when’s and how’s of his life and I encourage you to do so. Instead, I’m just going to tell you what he meant to me. As an impressionable young weirdo, nothing was more interesting or important to me than monsters. Especially big, giant marauding beasts and dinosaurs. And like many of you, I spent many a Saturday afternoon in front of the TV watching old monster movies. The man who made the best monsters for those movies was Ray Harryhausen. I saw the “Sinbad” movies he worked on as well as “Octopus” and “20 Million Miles to Earth” but it was “The Valley of Gwanji”, a movie that combined two things I loved–cowboys and dinosaurs–that really fired my imagination and kept me grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t need great acting or even much of a story, so long as a movie had monsters that convinced me and Ray’s always did. In fact, I can go from watching “Jurassic Park” and “Lord of the Rings” to watching “Valley of Gwanji” and Ray’s monsters still convince me.

Many of you are familiar with stop motion animation, I’m sure, but for those who might not be I want to give you an idea of what he did. In a typical movie there are between 24 and 30 Frames for every second of film shot. That’s at least 24 little adjustments Ray Harryhausen had to make just to create one second of action. Now think about something like the scene from “One Million B.C.” where the pteranodon is trying to feed the lady to its babies. There were probably three wing flaps per second…that’s 72 adjustments for just a couple of wing flaps that had to be set up and shot. Think about how frustrated you get when you type a few paragraphs, forget to save them and then lose them. Now imagine what it must’ve been like to lose, as Harryhausen inevitably did, a few minutes of film here or there. It would’ve consisted of weeks worth of painstaking work. That’s how you know he loved his job. It required an amazing amount of patience, endurance and precision in addition to outrageous imagination and profound insight into movement, anatomy and life.

Ray Harryhausen got into animation because he was a childhood fan of the work on “King Kong.” Just like many of us who choose creative livelihoods, he was also a massive fan, inspired by the work of others. He had many imitators but no one could breathe magic into those stop motion models the way he did. Every eye roll, facial expression…the fluidity of a tail twitch or the way a monster twiddled its fingers…that’s where his genius lay. He always made a believer out of me and he still does. Below is a four minute compilation of every (so it says) creature that Harryhausen ever animated for film. Give it a watch and see if he doesn’t make a believer out of you too. You will be missed Ray. Sleep well.

 

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R.k.Kombrinck is a writer and artist who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons.  He is a founding cast-member of the popular horror podcast “Night of the Living Podcast.”  He enjoys iced-tea (unsweet) and genuinely believes in Sasquatch.

You can find his work online HERE