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The cinematic and TV career of Richard Matheson—one of the most important scribes in the history of the genre—gets his due in Matthew R. Bradley’s comprehensive RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN: A HISTORY OF THE FILMED WORKS (McFarland; $45; on sale now). The tome examines the horror/sci-fi trailblazer who imagined a world overrun by vampires (the novel I AM LEGEND, filmed three times and the impetus for the modern zombie film); allowed Kevin Bacon to see dead people in STIR OF ECHOES; for TV, terrorized Karen Black with a Zuni fetish doll in TRILOGY OF TERROR, William Shatner with a gremlin on THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Dennis Weaver with a malevolent truck in DUEL, directed by a novice named Steven Spielberg; and scripted the initial 1960s Poe cycle for director Roger Corman and AIP, to name a few. Besides the 40-plus films and 50-plus TV shows either scripted by Matheson or adapted from his fiction, the celebrated author achieved full cultural acceptance when THE SIMPSONS spoofed his work on four separate episodes. Chronicler Bradley, who has written extensively about Matheson before in articles and books, spent the last 13 years putting the interview-heavy RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN together, and Matheson himself penned the foreword.
FANGORIA: What inspired you to write this book?
MATTHEW BRADLEY: Many factors, only one of which was simple admiration for Matheson’s work. When I started to connect the dots, it seemed to me that he was at the center of a veritable renaissance in horror and SF films and television, a big part of which was the involvement of published authors such as himself. I was also determined to get his story and those of his friends and colleagues down in their own words while I still could, which led to many of the interviews. Finally, I became an unwilling spectator and minor participant in the slow-motion train wreck of what was supposed to be the first full book devoted to Matheson, which he initially cooperated with but eventually disowned. After it turned into a plagiarized mess, it was cancelled by its publisher and finally self-published through an Internet vanity press of some kind. That rankled so much that I was driven to start on my own book, but I knew I didn’t have it in me to write a traditional biography.
FANG: Were there enough movies and TV shows to cover?
BRADLEY: Absolutely. Between the scripts Matheson wrote himself and those adapted by others from his work over the past 55 years, there was no shortage of material. Amusingly enough, three of the feature films hadn’t been released when I started the book: WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, STIR OF ECHOES and I AM LEGEND. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I had to turn the manuscript in before THE BOX was released, so I was unable to give it full coverage.
FANG: What is the format of the book?
BRADLEY: It’s your basic “Films of” format, with one section devoted to each feature, TV-movie or miniseries written by Matheson or based on his work. Separate sections are devoted to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, other episodic television and unproduced scripts, although the latter are discussed throughout.
FANG: Who did you interview?
BRADLEY: Most notably Matheson (eight times for various projects, including this one, although I drew on almost 20 years’ worth of our conversations and correspondence for the book) and most of the other surviving members of the Southern California School of Writers…some of whom are no longer surviving. There’s a lot of material in the book that I got from Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan and the late Jerry Sohl. Other interviewees included Keir Dullea, Hank Jones, and the late George Baxt, Bob Clark and Dennis Weaver. I was lucky!
FANG: Did Matheson collaborate?
BRADLEY: Yes, although he didn’t know about it for the first few years. I naively hoped to keep it a secret until I could spring a first draft on him, but had so much trouble tracking down some of his more obscure movies and shows that I finally had to spill the beans to solicit his help. Even he does not have a complete collection, so there are a few that have eluded me to this day. One thing that really touched me was when another writer—who had far better credentials in the area than I did—approached him about doing a similar book, and he withheld his cooperation in favor of me.
FANG: In terms of successful Matheson adaptations, what is the success rate?
BRADLEY: “Success” can be somewhat subjective when assessing creative work, but I’d say given the financial success of many of his films, the sheer volume of material brought to the screen, the tremendous ratings for something like the record-setting original NIGHT STALKER, his well-known influence on a generation of authors and filmmakers and the critical esteem that gets books like mine published, the success rate is pretty high. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily want to single out any titles, but there are a few clunkers, some of which were not Matheson’s fault.
FANG: What makes a Richard Matheson book or short story adaptation work?
BRADLEY: Again, I’m not sure I have a hard and fast answer to that question. A case like STIR OF ECHOES, which Matheson loved even though they did not use his script, demonstrates that a film can be effective even if it changes many of the details, as long as it stays true to the spirit of the book. On the other hand, THE YOUNG WARRIORS shows that a film—even one adapted by Matheson—can follow the narrative of the book pretty closely and still fail to capture its spirit. It’s a crapshoot.
FANG: Why are films based on Matheson’s stories and novels more popular than ever?
BRADLEY: I don’t know that they’re more popular than ever, when you look at how prolific his screen work was in the 1960s and ‘70s. But I think the fact that they continue to be popular after more than half a century says a lot. His stories are strong on intriguing plots, and the premise is usually pretty straightforward, which makes them withstand the test of time better than many others do.
FANG: How long has the book been in the works?
BRADLEY: Thirteen years, although during that time I was repeatedly recruited to work on other Matheson books. After Gauntlet asked me to edit Richard’s DUEL & THE DISTRIBUTOR, they brought me on board to help Stanley Wiater with THE RICHARD MATHESON COMPANION. I, in turn, recruited Paul Stuve, who’d been a big help on D&D, and together we revised and updated it for Citadel as THE TWILIGHT AND OTHER ZONES: THE DARK WORLDS OF RICHARD MATHESON, which ended up being almost as much work as doing another book from scratch. Between those and holding down day jobs for 12 of those 13 years, it’s no wonder it took so long. But as maddening as it was to fight a two-front war, working on the COMPANION simultaneously created a cross-pollination that ultimately benefited both books greatly. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t do anything different.
FANG: Why has Matheson been a career passion for you?
BRADLEY: Although Matheson hates to be pigeonholed in any one genre, he worked with so many prestigious people in the horror and SF realm (which has always been my particular area of interest) that my friends and I have ended up joking about “six degrees of Richard Matheson.” The number of classics he’s been involved with in one capacity or another is quite impressive, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a gracious and modest man who has been very supportive of my efforts to document his career for many years.
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