Friday, January 23, 2015

Richard Matheson: The Screenplays and Treatments

Richard Matheson shortly before his death

I first became acquainted with the work of Richard Matheson without knowing I was back in 1957. At the time I was sitting in the front row, always liked to look up at the screen, of the Ritz Theater in Van Nuys, California a suburb of Los Angeles. Don't look for the Ritz as many decades ago the theater became part of the City Hall Plaza. Anyway the movie 9 year old Lloyd was watching was entitled "The Incredible Shrinking Man". I have a DVD copy of this little gem with Swedish subtitles at home. Three years later I would discover it was from a novel "The Shrinking Man" by Richard Matheson who also wrote the screenplay. The film about an average man being exposed to possible nuclear radiation and shrinking continuously into nothingness, into eternity, or a meeting with God still works today. Even the elemental special effects from 1957 can still hold you, because you don't notice the crudeness of them by today's standards. The viewer is wrapped into the characters and the world facing "The Shrinking Man" by Matheson's words and imagery.

Two years later I admit to seeing a 1959 film entitled "The Beat Generation". The film has two distinctions. The first is that it is considered the very last "Film Noir" ever made and the second was the cast that included the then sex symbol Mamie Van Doren, Louie Armstrong, band leader Ray Anthony and Vampira. It was written by Matheson as a sensationalist look at the Beatnik Generation which I admit to being a follower earlier in my young life. At the time when my fathers parents still lived in Ocean Park between the communities of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. "Do you dig me man?"

It would be in 1960 that I finally put his name to the films and actually discovered Richard Matheson. A big thank you to Roger Corman and Vincent Price. It was at this time that Matheson became a major writer for both Corman and American International Pictures. By writing, in my opinion, the first two and best of the Roger Corman "Poe Films" and the funniest one three years later.

In "The House of Usher", Vincent Price portrayed the tortured Roderick Usher. Price is at his best, but even a great actor is tied to the words he must first speak.

The movie was shot in 15 days and the opening shot of Mark Damon as Philip Winthrop is very haunting as he rides through the a forest of burnt tress. Actually Corman received a call from one of his location crew that there had been a fire in Griffith Park that had just been put out. Corman always thinking instructed the crewman to go to Pickwick Stables and get a horse for Damon to ride. Called Damon and had him immediately report to wardrobe and go to the Park. He then sent his camera crew to do nothing more than shoot Damon riding through the still smoldering trees and shrubs and the opening shot was completed.

The budget for what is actually titled: The Fall of the House of Usher" was $300,000 and it would make $1,450,000 in just Canada and the United States alone.

Richard Matheson was born February 20, 1926  in Allendale , New Jersey and would pass away on June 23, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calkifornia at the age of 87. During those years he would write 28 novels ranging in topics from the above mention "The Shrinking Man" in 1956 to "The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickock" in 1996. His last novel "Generations" would come out in 2012. The Website "Good Reads" describes Richard Matheson's last novel as:

"GENERATIONS is an autobiographical novel by Richard Matheson.  GENERATIONS takes place at a gathering of the Matheson family after the funeral of Matheson's father. While this meeting didn't actually take place Matheson uses the meeting to explore the many secrets and demons his family harbors. Matheson has never written an autobiography and his adolescence is something that has never been explored in articles or interviews. Matheson is sixteen when he tells the story. The book concludes with Matheson telling of the contentious relationship he had with his father."

Between 1950 and 1993 Richard Matheson would also write 99 short stories some of which were adaptations of his television scripts for programs like "The Twilight Zone" and TV movies such as "Duel" Steven Spielberg's first film as a director. Some of these stories were the reverse first written and published by Matheson and then turned into screenplays such as one short story "I Am Legend"  Which I will talk about a little later.

Richard Matheson would also write 25 screenplays which is what this article is about and three of them I have already been mentioned above. Matheson additionally wrote 33 television scripts. I have already mentioned "Duel", but his works would appear on "The Twilight Zone", "Star Trek", "Have Gun Will Travel" and "Combat" among others. In 1973 he wrote the television script for Dan Curtis' "Dracula" starring Jack Palance and in January 1980 Richard Matheson adapted Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" into a successful three part mini-series starring Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowell for television.

In 1961 Matheson turned to Jules Verne to write the screenplay for a favorite American International Pictures film of mine starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson "Master of the World". Actually Matheson took Verne's two novels "Robur the Conqueror" from 1886 and his 1904 sequel "The Master of the World" and combined and edited the stories into one screenplay. The character of Robur already had elements of Captain Nemo to him and Richard Matheson added more to give the viewers who were familiar with Walt Disney's movie from 1954 "Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea" some strong similarities.  

Instead of the Nautilus we have a flying ship and Charles Bronson's detective John Strock, becomes more like Kirk Douglas' Ned Land. Instead of Professor Pierre Aronnax.  Jules Verne created Mr.Prudent an armament maker and head of an American balloon club. While the Professor's assistant/student Conseil is replaced by Prudent's daughter Dorothy. Who in Matheson's screenplay becomes the center of a love triangle between Strock  and another member of the balloon club Philip Evans. The movie is a lot of fun and much better than its reputation in my opinion. 

Richard Matheson would return in 1961 to Roger Corman and Edgar Allan Poe for his next screenplay "The Pit and the Pendulum". Once more starring Vincent Price and featuring Barbara Steele and John Kerr. In this production Matheson was faced with the problem of how to turn a very short story into a 90 minute motion picture.

Defending the screenplay Roger Corman mentions in the J. Philip Di Franco edited: "The Movie World of Roger Corman: 

The method we adopted on The Pit and the Pendulum was to use the Poe short story as the climax for a third act to the motion picture, because a two-page short story is not about to give you a ninety-minute motion picture. We then constructed the first two acts in what we hoped was a manner faithful to Poe, as his climax would run only a short time on the screen.
In Lucy Chase Williams' "The Complete Films of Vincent Price" Roger Corman  gives this explanation to how he approached the Poe stories in the form of screenplays:
I had a lot of theories I was working with when I did the Poe films...One of my theories was that these stories were created out of the unconscious mind of Poe and the unconscious mind never really sees reality, so until The Tomb of Ligeia, we never showed the real world...In Pit, John Kerr arrived in a carriage against an ocean background, which I felt was more representative of the unconscious. That horseback interlude was thrown out because I didn't want to have a scene with people out in broad daylight.

In my opinion there is a bit of a Shakespearean tragedy thrown into "The Pit and the Pendulum", but the classic scene remembered by most viewers does not even involve the Pendulum. It is that fade out of Barbara Steele's eyes in the Iron Maiden that has that perfect shock value.

"Movie Madness" released a DVD with both Roger Corman's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum". This is a must for any Corman, Price, Steele, or Richard Matheson fan.

In 1962 Matheson would team up with speculative fiction, horror and science fiction writer Charles Beaumont to once again bring Fritz Leiber's 1943 story "Conjure Wife" to the screen. It had been filmed in 1944 as "Weird Women" starring Lon Chaney, Jr, Ann Gwynne and Evelyn Ankers as part of Universal Studios "Inner Sanctum" series. Beaumont should be known to my readers at least for the following three screen plays: "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao", "The Haunted Palace" and "Queen of Outer Space". He wrote 11 others within different genres.

This American International release was filmed in the U.K. as "Night of the Eagle" and released in the United States as "Burn Witch, Burn". A contemporary story of modern day witchcraft. The film was described by the New York Times as:

Simply as a suspense yarn, blending lurid conjecture and brisk reality, growing chillier by the minute, and finally whipping up an ice-cold crescendo of fright, the result is admirable. Excellently photographed (not a single "frame" is wasted), and cunningly directed by Sidney Hayers, the incidents gather a pounding, graphic drive that is diabolically teasing. The climax is a nightmarish hair-curler but, we maintain, entirely logical within the context.

Additionally the New York Times considered the film, at the time of its release, the most effective supernatural thriller to come out since the original "Village of the Damned" in 1960. Referring to a Val Lewton classic motion picture. The Times added the movie was the :  "best outright goose-pimplier dealing specifically with witchcraft since I Walked with a 1943". A testament to the screenplay Matheson and Beaumont collaborated upon.

Of note is that when this film was released in the U.K. it received and "X" Certificate for "Adults Only". Over time the British Censor Board reduced that rating first to "15 years and over" and then with the DVD release reduced the age to "12 years and older". While here in the United States as with many films from other countries things were definitely different. First there was no age restriction on the motion picture. Then there was the title change. Next there was a voice over prologue where a spell was invoked to protect the audience members from evil and as we entered the theater each ticket holder was given a small bag of salt. Along with an ancient incantation the salt was also to protect us from the witches we were about to meet. 

The story is about a College Professor whose career seems to be advancing in a speedy manner. Unbeknownst to the Professor is that his wife is a witch who has been helping him. The only problem is there is another such couple after the same prize. Speaking of prizes the film and screenplay was nominated for the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.  

Tales of Terror 1962 poster.jpg

The mighty threesome of Roger Corman, Vincent Price and Richard Matheson later in 1962 released "Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Terror". Co-starring Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre. The old pro's were back and the fun was really starting with a little more "ham" than straight acting.

Matheson had it a lot easier of this screenplay than with "The Pit and the Pendulum" as the 89 minute film consisted on three of Poe's stories: "Morella", "The Black Cat" and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.  Vincent Price was both narrator for the tales as well as appearing in each of the three acts. While Rathbone and Lorre were not in all three.

Lawrence French for his work "The Making of the Raven" about the Roger Corman film I will look at next contained interviews with Richard Matheson about his screenplays. Concerning "Tales of Terror" Matheson was quoted as saying that "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" was his favorite. He also added that he thought that act was:
pretty well done. It was pretty straight, except I added the doctor and Valdemar's wife to the story... They acted it pretty well for a change

1963 would be a year of comedy with two screenplays by Richard Matheson for American International Pictures. The first being my favorite of all the Poe films even though it only kept the name of the poem "The Raven" and the second a homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930's and 1940's called rightly enough "A Comedy of Terror". Between the two films there would be four old pro's and one young upstart way out of his league at the time named Jack Nicholson.

According to Richard Matheson in the Lawrence French book:
After I heard they wanted to make a movie out of a poem, I felt that was an utter joke, so comedy was really the only way to go with it,
The end result was a Three Star stand-up of the Horror movies associated with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price and did it work at the time and it still does. Some of the scenes between Karloff and Price are hilarious and one wonder's who else was in on the jokes. The names that Matheson came up with for the three leads were also just so perfect. Karloff was "Dr. Scarabus", Price "Dr. Erasmus Craven" and Lorre "Dr. Adolphus Bedlo". I'm sure Jack Nicholson just loved his character's name of Rexford Bedlo as he was Lorre's son in the film. Lorre was "The Raven" of the piece complete with feathers.

"The Comedy of Terrors" starred the same three horror stars Karloff, Price and Lorre, but added Basil Rathbone. Jack Nicholson was not in this film. However, 1930's and 1940's comedian Joe E. Brown played a cemetery grounds keeper that was having problems with bumbling grave robbers who wanted to use their only coffin over and over again.

Once more French gives us Richard Matheson's comments on this film:

It didn't lose any money. They [AIP] told me that the title itself cost them a lot. It's such a contradiction in terms, though. Terror sells and comedy makes them go away, so it's like they're walking in two directions at once. But I thought it was very clever to do a take off of Shakespeare's, Comedy of Errors.... I think they were probably sorry they didn't use a Poe title, because Poe had a certain marketability. I guess they couldn't figure out how to market it. But it was the last one because I was getting tired of writing about people being buried alive, so I decided to make a joke about it.

We now come to a work by Richard Matheson that spans the years between 1954 through 2007. First in the form of a novel entitled "I Am Legend".Then in three different motion pictures with one of the screenplays originally written by the author. Along with a rip off "Mockbuster" by "The Asylum" entitled "I Am Omega" that gives no credit to Richard Matheson. So let me start at the beginning with a quick look at the 1954 novel.


Robert Neville is the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic whose symptoms resemble Vampirism. The pandemic was a result of a war and was spread by dust storms and  mosquito's. For some reason Neville is immune to the virus. The reader learns in a flashback that his family became infected and he had to kill his wife when she arose from the dead. Neville has been forced to barricade himself in his Los Angeles apartment at night and scavenges for food and supplies by day.

He meets a women named Ruth that Neville believes is also immune to the plague, but who eventually informs him she is infected and that he killed her husband. It turns out that Ruth is the ranking member of a new society, but unlike the others she does not despise him.

Neville is captured and while imprisoned by the new society and awaiting his execution. Ruth comes to him and gives Neville some piles that will make his execution easier. As he waits and counts the hours left to him. Neville comes to realize that the vampires fear him as he had feared them. He also realizes their desire to destroy him isn't something that he really can condemn as it makes perfect sense. Robert Neville represents"the old humanity" of the world and they are the new. As the pills take effect Neville thinks:"[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend". End of the story.

The first version of Richard Matheson's novel was a black and white Italian/American co-production from 1964 "L'ultimo uomo della Terra(The Last Man on Earth) starring, of course. Vincent Price. The producers of this film was an interesting combination of "The Quickie King" Robert L. Lippert and Samuel Arkoff of American International Pictures. The script was written by Furio M. Moneti, Ubaldo Ragona, William F. Leicester an American Television actor of the 1960's, and one Logan Swanson who was actually Matheson himself. After seeing the end result he didn't want his name associated with the screenplay itself. It was enough to Matheson that his name would show as the source material.

The film is actually very faithful to the 1954 novel, but depending upon the version you see actual Italian language, or English dub Price's name is either Dr. Robert Morgan, or Dr. Frank Neville. British producer Anthony Hinds originally obtained the rights to the novel for Hammer Films and Richard Matheson wrote that original script. However, British Censors got into the act and outright band the script and story. Originally Hinds had hired Fritz Lang to direct, but after the U.K. censors involvement the entire Hammer production was dropped. As a result and to regain some of the loss Anthony Hinds in turn sold Matheson's original script to Robert L. Lippert. Lippert approached American International Pictures to co-produce and distribute the film. Lippert and Arkoff hired director Sidney Salkow who had directed among other features 1940's "The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady, 1954's "Sitting Bull", 1963's "Twice Told Tales" for AIP. To save more money the production was moved to Italy and Italian actors and crews were used.

Producer/director George A. Romero on the 2008 DVD extra's for his original "The Night of the Living Dead" admitted to basically ripping of the Richard Matheson novel for his film after seeing Vincent Price in "The Last Man on Earth".

The second version of the 1954 novel was 1971's "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston.
In 1975 biological warfare breaks out between China and Russia which infects the World killing most of the Earth's population. In the United States Army Doctor Robert Neville injects himself with an experimental serum that makes Neville immune to the disease. By 1977 Neville is the only immune person left on Earth and roams the deserted streets of Los Angeles by day to avoid the albino mutants. Where "The Last Man on Earth" holds more to the vampire story line the mutants of "The Omega Man" are not in any way similar.

Neville meets a women Lisa who is not affected, but eventually she starts to turn. Neville is able to recreate the serum.but will be killed by the mutant leader at the end of the film in a definite crucifixion scene. Lisa kills the mutant leader in revenge.What the mutant leader did not know was that Neville was able to get the serum to some other human survivors including a medical student named "Dutch" to use on Lisa and recreate the formula themselves.

One of the two screenwriters of the husband and wife team, Joyce H. Corrington, has a doctorate in chemistry and felt using the biological warfare scenario rather than Matheson's plague from the novel worked better in 1971. Also it was more plausible for a worldwide disaster.

In 2007 Will Smith would play virologist Dr. Robert Neville in the third film version of Richard Matheson's novel and the first to use the actual title "I Am Legend".

In 2009 a genetically engineered measles virus created as a cure for cancer mutates into a deadly disease killing 90 percent of the World's population. The basic story line remains and at the end Neville blows himself up killing one of the "Darkseekers" with him, but the girl survives carrying his blood with the cure to the human colony.

At this point I could not end this section without mentioning "The Asylum's" rip off film"I Am Omega". The title playing off both the novel's title and the 1971 motion picture version.

The poster for "I Am Omega" even rips off some of the posters for "I Am Legend" in design.

The screenplay by director and co-star Geoff Meed gives no credit to Richard Matheson, or the 1954 novel. The impression is this is an original story. So lets see.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles over run by Zombie like creatures the result of genetic infection. Mark Dacassos as Renchard roams the city by day and at night attempts to make communication with other human survivors. The girl this time is named Brianna and at the end of the movie the two head from Los Angeles to the human colony of Antioch to help find a cure for the infection. Other than Renchard surviving and getting the girl the basic story sure sounds very familiar. Also the direct to video film was released one month prior to the Will Smith film and caused confusion with possible viewers. A typical ploy of "The Asylum".

Returning to actual Richard Matheson screenplays following "The Last Man on Earth" was the 1965 film "Fanatic", if the script for "I Am Legend" was to much for British censors they approved this one for Hammer. The motion picture was released in the United States as "Die! Die! My Darling" and starred Stephanie Powers and Tallulah Bankhead an actress who started both on stage and films in 1918 and was the female lead in many major Broadway Productions over the years. Bankhead's final role was as "The Black Widow" in two episodes of the 1967 "Batman" TV series: "Holy Long Run, Batman."

The film is about a young American women who comes to England and visits her late finance's mother. Who unknown to the women happens to be demented and blames the girl for her son's suicide. The film is a lot better than its familiar story line would indicate and that goes to Bankhead's over the top performance. Matheson would be writing scripts two years later for Stefanie Powers television series "The Girl from Uncle".

Filmed by Universal Studios in 1966, but not released until 1967 "The Young Warriors" was based upon Matheson's 1960 novel "The Beardless Warriors". Which in turn was based upon his own experiences at 18 as an infantryman of the 87th Infantry Division fighting the Germans in World War 2.

The Young Warriors (movie poster).jpg

The screenplay was very serious and Richard Zanuck planned to make the movie until he found out his father Daryl F. Zanuck was working on "The Longest Day". Universal Studios than acquired the script, but had Matheson rewrite it to enable them to use footage from their 1955 movie version of Audie Murphy's autobiography "To Hell and Back" to save money. Then Universal further decided it was too serious and had comedian Jonathan Daly, who was cast in the film, write a comic sequence about chasing a duck through a minefield. As the attached poster indicates the big publicity push on the film was to promote the fact that James Drury of the TV Show "The Virginian", filmed at Universal, was the star of the motion picture and any resemblance to what Richard Matheson had originally written was completely lost to the bean counters.

Working once again with Hammer Films Matheson wrote the screenplay for "The Devil Rides Out" based upon British author Dennis Wheatley's novel of the same name. The film starred Christopher Lee and Charles Grey and was directed by Terence Fisher. The fiim is set in 1929 London and involves the Occult. In a rare part Lee plays the hero of the story. In the United States the film was released as "The Devil's Bride".

The idea was first proposed in 1963 and Matheson contacted about a script. However, enter once more the U,K. censors and the project was postponed for four years until the censors lightened up over Satanism. Christopher Lee considers this his favorite role in all the films he has performed in and would love to do a remake with his same character as a more mature man. He also put a lot of emphasis on how well Richard Matheson created the screenplay from Wheatley's novel. For those wondering the point here being made by Lee. It was mentioned after making Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings".

In 1969 American International Pictures tackled a controversial biography and gave the screen writing job to Matheson. This was a German-American co-production. The German title for the film was: "Das Ausschweifende Leben des Marquis De Sade", AIP simply released the motion picture in the United States as "De Sade", The film starred Keir Dullea and Senta Berger, It featured such heavyweights in the cast as Director/Producer John Huston and major International Actresses Anna Massey and Lili Palmer. 

The film had the added publicity beyond the subject matter, because this was Keir Dullea's first film since Stanley Kubrick's "2001" A Space Odyssey". The production was troubled from the start. Initially Richard Matheson was hired to write the script and then Roger Corman was asked to assist. Corman wanted some dream sequences, like he had done with Jack Nicholson's script for the Peter Fonda film "The Trip", to work in De Sade's fantasies and the two worked that concept into the script. Meanwhile the director situation went from Gordon Hessler to Roger Corman to Cy Enfield. Enfield decided to completely rewrite the script and as a result Rodger Corman had a run in with Samuel Z. Arkoff at AIP. To top it off Cy Enfield came down with the flu and Corman had to replace him as director after that confrontation with Arkoff. He would leave the studio shortly afterward and started his own production company New World Pictures. Also Roger Corman alleged that AIP never paid him completely for all his work.  As to directing the picture John Huston was also on record as being upset he was never approached to direct the motion picture. .

Two years later "The Omega Man" came out in 1971 and another two years later in 1973 Richard Matheson adopted another of his novels into a screenplay. The 1971 novel was "Hell House" and the movie "The Legend of Hell House" which starred Roddy McDowell, Pamela Franklin and Clive Revill.


The cast play a group of physicists and parapsychologists who plan to spend a weekend in "The Belasco House" which the group's leader Dr. Lionel Barrett describes as "The Mount Everest of Haunted Houses". Previous researchers have entered Belasco's mansion, but never come out alive.Although there is strong sexuality in the screenplay Richard Matheson has really toned it down from his original novel. Along with toning down some of the other major elements of that work. I really enjoy this movie, but in this case I highly recommend Matheson's novel "Hell House"over it.

In 1974 Richard Matheson went to France to write a screenplay based upon his 1953 mystery novel "Someone is Bleeding". The film's title was "Les Seins de glace (The Breast's of Ice)" and starred Alain Delon  and Mirielle Darc. The translated French article on Wikipedia describes the film as:

A writer looking for inspiration on a beach of the Cote d' Azur. There he meets a mysterious woman which makes him think of the heroine of his novel. He undertook the conquest of this strange girl and probably psychopathic, protected by a powerful lawyer and his henchmen.
Amazon describes a used copy of the original paperback book being offered for $85.00 as follows:
 Richard Matheson is best known for his books that were adapted into movies, especially I Am Legend, Hell House, and Stir of Echoes, but at the beginning of his career, he tried mystery writing.
Someone Is Bleeding is about a writer (Dave) who falls for a strange and emotionally disconnected woman named Peggy. Peggy has an abusive past that makes her hate men, but men feel quite differently about her -- she has to thwart unwanted attention at every turn. When her lecherous landlord turns up brutally murdered, Peggy is a suspect. As bodies pile up, it's unclear to what extent her naivete may be an act. Is she a victim, or a calculating killer? (Or maybe both?)
While the book has some uneven parts, it shows the talent Matheson would later perfect. It's a good addition to the library of anyone who's a fan of Matheson, or of pulp mysteries in general.

In 1975 Richard Matheson wrote the novel "Bid Time Return" and in 1980 Ray Stark Productions hired him to turn it into a screenplay. The result was "Somewhere in Time" starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer.

The year is 1972 and college student Richard Collier is celebrating the production of his first play. An old women approaches him and places a locket in his hand saying "Come Back to Me". She then returns to her apartment and dies.

Eight year later Colliere is a successful play write who has broken up with his girlfriend. He decides to visit The Grand Hotel an historic site on Mackinac Island, Michigan to get things together. In a display Richard Collier notices a picture of a women and asks a bellboy that has been with the hotel since 1910 who she might be? Her name is Elise McKenna and she was a famous early 20th century stage actress. What Collier does not know is that Elise was the old women who gave him the locket. Thus begins a very romantic love story involving Time Travel. 


In 1983 Richard Matheson appropriately wrote the fourth segment for "Twilight Zone: The Movie". The segment was "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and tells of a plane passenger who sees a creature destroying the aircraft he is flying in, but nobody else sees it.

I call Matheson writing that segment of the movie appropriate, because the original "Twilight Zone" television episode from October 11, 1963 was also written by Matheson. Who wrote the original short story "Alone by Night" in 1961.


William Shatner on television.              

On July 22, 1983 the sharks were jumping off the screen at me as I watched the unsequel sequel to Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" entitled: "JAWS 3-D". Richard Matheson was partly to blame for the screenplay.

He wrote the original screenplay outline. Universal Studio's wanted to both of Sheriff Brody's son's in it and somehow the return of the electrocuted shark from "Jaws 2". After Matheson wrote the first full treatment Universal Studios decided to drop him and they turned the actual writing of the final screenplay to another writer. We know what resulted without even a mention of Sheriff Brody let alone his sons.

The following are a few of the comments Richard Matheson's made about that original outline:

I'm a good storyteller and I wrote a good outline and a good script. And if they had done it right and if it had been directed by somebody who knew how to direct, I think it would have been an excellent movie. Jaws 3-D was the only thing Joe Alves ever directed; the man is a very skilled production designer, but as a director, no. And the so-called 3D just made the film look murky – it had no effect whatsoever. It was a waste of time.
It wold be another seven years before Richard Matheson would write a new screenplay and it was for 1990's "Loose Cannons". He wrote it with his son Richard Christian Matheson. The film starred Gene Hackman and Dan Akroyd. The plot revolves around two police officers and one, Akroyd, has multiple personalities. Their involved with finding out the murderer of several people who have viewed a specific piece of film. This was both a comedy and a major disaster. The budget was $15 million dollars and the film made a whopping $5.5 worldwide.

Loose cannons poster.jpg

Fortune changed on Richard Matheson's next screenplay. September 1978 had been the month Matheson's novel "What Dreams May Come" was released. The novel is about a man named named Chris who dies and goes to heaven, but must enter hell to save his wife. Twenty years later in 1998 Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for the film version starring Robin Williams. The movie would not win any awards for the novelist, but it did receive both the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and The Art Directors Guild Award for Production design. However, without a solid screenplay neither of these awards could have happened. "What Dreams May Come" would be the last screenplay Richard Matheson would write. Although two more treatments of his works would be made.


Nine years after "What Dreams May Come" was released to movie theaters the third version of "I Am Legend" came out and two years after that film in 2009 was "The Box".

It was in 1970 when Richard Matheson wrote a short story "Button,Button". The plot tells of an average middle class  husband and wife who are slowing descending into poverty. One day they receive a locked box with a button on it and a note stating a Mr. Steward will visit them shortly. The husband is out when Mr. Steward arrives and presents the wife with a key that will make the button work. He explains that if she and her husband use the key and press the button two things will happen. One they will receive $50,000 and two somebody they don't know will die. The wife uses the key and her husband is killed in a freak accident. Shortly after the event a check from an insurance policy the wife knew nothing about in the amount of $50,000 arrives. Along with Mr. Steward knocking on her door and she asks him why her husband had to die? To which Mr. Steward replies: "Did you really think you knew your husband?" A statement Matheson leaves the reader questioning to themselves what Steward meant.
In the new 1985 "Twilight Zone" series the story was made into an episode written by Matheson. There were some changes he was told to make that he did not like. As a result he requested that instead of his own name as screenwriter the producers use his Logan Swanson alternate name.

The amount of money is raised from $50,000 to $200,000 and neither the husband, or, Norma, the wife die after the button is pushed. Mr. Steward returns and gives them a case with the $200,000 and when Mr. Steward is asked by Norma what happens next. She is told:

"I can assure you it will be offered to someone whom you don't know."
A horrified, knowing expression crosses Norma's face as she realizes the true nature of those chosen to die...the previous owner who pushed the button.

Then in 2009 the story would morph into the Cameron Diaz movie "The Box" from a screenplay by Richard Kelly who among other films made "Donnie Darko". Frank Langella plays the mysterious man who offers Diaz and James Marsden a black box with a button on top and an offer of a million dollars. How that $50,000 has inflated in value in 39 years.

The film  got mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes currently has it rated at 45% with an overall consensus that the movie was:
Imaginative but often preposterous, The Box features some thrills but largely feels too piecemeal.
While Rodger Ebert in a review in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote:
This movie kept me involved and intrigued, and for that I'm grateful

Ebert's comment is not necessary a strong endorsement. The overall problem was that the basics of Matheson's story "Button, Button" was played out during the first hour of the motion picture treatment. Which meant that writer, producer and director Richard Kelly had to add at a minimum fifty-five minutes of new material. I could not locate any comment from Richard Matheson,himself, related to the film version.

The final motion picture based upon the work of Richard Matheson followed the same scenario as "The Box". The movie starred Hugh Jackman and was entitled "Real Steel".

Hugh Jackman in character in a boxing pose in front of a large boxing robot in a similar pose.

The original short story "Steel" came out in the May 1956 issue of "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction". On October 4, 1963 the Matheson written "Twilight Zone" episode also entitled "Steel" premiered. To get a feeling for his writing let me quote both the opening of that episode and the closing.


Sports item, circa 1974: Battling Maxo, B2, heavyweight, accompanied by his manager and handler, arrives in Maynard, Kansas, for a scheduled six-round bout. Battling Maxo is a robot, or, to be exact, an android, definition: 'an automaton resembling a human being.' Only these automatons have been permitted in the ring since prizefighting was legally abolished in 1968. This is the story of that scheduled six-round bout, more specifically the story of two men shortly to face that remorseless truth: that no law can be passed which will abolish cruelty or desperate need - nor, for that matter, blind animal courage. Location for the facing of said truth: a small, smoke-filled arena just this side of the Twilight Zone.


Portrait of a losing side, proof positive that you can't out punch machinery. Proof also of something else: that no matter what the future brings, man's capacity to rise to the occasion will remain unaltered. His potential for tenacity and optimism continues, as always, to outfight, outpoint and outlive any and all changes made by his society, for which three cheers and a unanimous decision rendered from the Twilight Zone.

As I have written above Richard Matheson was a writer of novels, short stories, and screenplays for both television and motion pictures. Both the movies "I Am Legend" and "Real Steel" show that his work has an imagination to it that lives on. Imagination is a quality that to me seems to be lost in a lot of the films and writings of today as we move into a world of "Reality TV" and "CGI" imagery.

I made the decision to just look at the motion picture screenplays Richard Matheson wrote, or the filmed treatment of his stories rather than his complete life's catalog of accomplishments. As that is for his biographer.

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