Ten horror movies written by Richard Matheson

Last week, I wrote a piece on The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was based on a book by Richard Matheson. Besides writing The Shrinking Man, Matheson wrote such other notable books as I Am Legend, A Stir of Echoes, Hell House, and What Dreams May Come. He also wrote prolifically for movies and television. He wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Night Gallery, Star Trek, and TV films like The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror (who can ever forget Karen Black battling an African Devil doll?). Matheson also wrote film scripts. Here are ten horror films that he penned.

1. The House Of Usher (1960)

After Hammer Films had had success by revitalizing the Gothic horror of Universal's early years, Roger Corman saw an opportunity to exploit another public domain property in a similar fashion: the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. Hired on the strength of his novel I Am Legend and his adaptation of his own work, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Richard Matheson was the perfect fit for this kind of movie: a more literary take on the B-movies that given Corman and AIP their good names.

House Of Usher follows Philip Winthrop, due to marry Madeline Usher — or he would be, if her tortured, demented brother Roderick (Vincent Price) wasn't so obsessed with ending the family's dark lineage. Those familiar with the Poe story will know that this involves premature burial, insanity and, ultimately, total collapse. But Matheson adds his own touch to the story as well, by giving Roderick Usher a distinctive nervous malady: his senses are so acute that anything above a whisper drives him into hysterics. It's this same nervous malady which plagues Madeline and which will drive Roderick to do evil, inhuman things.

Featuring one of the great Vincent Price performances, House Of Usher has been recognized as a classic by the National Film Registry, which selected it for preservation, and continues to be one of the most influential, startling and fascinating movies in the whole AIP canon. It's also the perfect pl

ace to start with Matheson's screenplays, showcasing his tendency towards tight, small-scale stories with simple plots and big surprises. But the best is yet to come.

2. The Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

Anything worth doing is worth doing twice. House Of Usher was such a success — in some ways, surprisingly so — that Corman and AIP elected to do it again, with a new Poe story, but bringing back Vincent Price and Richard Matheson. And sure, much of the movie is a retread of the first one, but The Pit And The Pendulum is more exciting, more gothic, and features an absolutely unhinged performance by Vincent Price. It's the perfection of the formula.

The plot, you'll notice, is basically the same. A young man comes to Vincent Price's mansion looking for a woman, only to find Price still reeling from the effects of his familial sin. Like Usher, too, the Poe story forms the basis of the movie's third act, if little else. But what Matheson does is fill the remaining hour up with tonnes of drama, intrigue and mystery, as the young man uncovers the macabre family secrets that lead to unexpected twists and turns and a climax unforgettable in its deviltry.

These two movies form the beginning of what would become one of the most legendary cycles in film history. Matheson would later team with Price and Corman again for Tales Of Terror and The Raven, but the first two are the undisputed classics, absolutely perfect in their combination of high camp and Gothic lunacy. Never was there a better argument for Matheson's inclusion on the Mount Rushmore of great writers.

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Image: Screengrab