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Book Review: He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson, Edited by Christopher Conlon

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He is Legend, edited by Christopher Conlon, pays tribute to horror author Richard Matheson. He published his first short story, “Born of Man and Woman,” in 1950. Most readers of horror and science fiction know him for his publications I am Legend, Hell House and The Shrinking Man.

In addition to his short stories and novels, Matheson wrote many television episodes for several series including Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. He worked on a number of movies including Twilight Zone: The Movie and Jaws 3-D. His I Am Legend has been adapted to the movie screen at least three times, with Will Smith in the most recent rendition. Two of his other works made into movies include The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Legend of Hell House.

Matheson’s stories do not border on the macabre and strange; they stand dead center of weird and supernatural. His tales always end with an eerie twist, and the reader should not expect a happy ending. His characters don’t exhibit any redeeming qualities, and the reader won’t shed a tear for them. Unlike in real life, the nasty protagonist actually gets what he or she deserves from an even nastier antagonist.

He Is Legend honors the great Richard Matheson. A notable list of current horror authors utilizes their favorite Matheson story to create a new terror tale. The author may choose to do a prequel or a sequel. They may opt to change the characters around a bit, but keep the plot.

For instance, Joe Hill and Stephen King collaborate in Throttle. They slightly twist the plot of Duel, a 1971 movie written by Matheson and directed by Stephen Spielberg. In this road rage story a trucker and a motorist duel across the desert. In Throttle, Hill and King, modernize the story to include rogue bikers, meth, and an enraged truck driver. Stay alert for the emotional twists.

Mick Garris writes a prequel to I am Legend. In Matheson’s written version*, a viral disease killed off most of the population. Bob Neville remains healthy, while Ben Cortman turns into a cross between a vampire and a zombie. Throughout the story Ben and Bob try to kill each other.

In Mick’s story, I am Legend, Too, the readers find Bob Neville and Ben Cortman have a history of antagonism for each other that stretches before the viral outbreak. Matheson challenges society’s choice of what is normal? What is an abomination? Garris asks the reader the same question, who is the villain? Who deserves to die?

Return to Hell House provides the reader with a prequel to Hell House. Nancy A. Collins, author of modern vampire stories, gives the reader a haunted house story. The previous owner, possibly now deceased, but most definitely mentally diseased with a strong sexual appetite, treats the ghost hunters to a ravaging time. Only young Benjamin Fischer escapes intact. Unfortunately, he didn’t learn his lesson and returns to the Hell House at a later date in Matheson’s version. Collins’ version may not be suitable for young readers.

Collected Stories (1989) inspired Whitley Strieber’s Cloud Rider, possibly the best story in the anthology. Strieber’s pens a horror/science fiction tale of modern greed. Infinitely rich investment moguls use secret technology to control the commodity market. With them more is not enough; they also want the power that comes with it. They show no concern for the individuals that get hurt in the process. In this lighter than air story Chris Booker takes on the owners.

He Is Legend contains fifteen stories of horror and science fiction modeled after Richard Matheson creations. Some of the stories are a bit odd, but then so were some of Matheson’s stories. The collection seeks to offer readers a piece of nostalgic horror, and it accomplishes the task.

* The short story, I Am Legend has a different ending than the movie versions Omega Man and I Am Legend. The two movies also have different endings from each other.

(Photo by Beth Gwinn)

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About Bruce G. Smith

I'm a part time writer with a few articles published here and there. In addition to writing, I'm into nature and architectural photography.