Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Horror Fiction underground needs to Embrace Legend

I am Legend by Richard Matheson is widely considered to be one of the greatest horror novels of the twentieth century. The mark of its influence could not possibly be rated. It is more than just another vampire novel it is perhaps the darkest and most effective vampire novel to be written in the wake of Stoker’s Dracula. Everyone who has read it is nodding in agreement; right now I would bet a finger on that.

If you only know of it from the trailers of the upcoming Will Smith movie of the same title then let me tell you something about it. I am Legend was written in 1954 for a writing class by then struggling author Richard Matheson. He went on to write novels and for screenplays Hollywood including penning classic episodes of the Twilight Zone.

Read it today and you will be struck with how strong and timeless it is(outside of the brief mention of nuclear war in 1976), how the intense drama and suspense writes circles around many authors working today, and most of all the sheer brilliant story telling ability of Matheson.

Hollywood has attempted twice to turn this novel into a film, in the fifties Vincent price starred in the Last Man on Earth; an ok adaptation that showed film was not ready for such a nightmare. In the seventies Omega Man starred Charlton Hesston and in the 3rd act so strayed from the novel it was unrecognizable. In the late 80’s Ridley Scott was set to bring a faithful adaptation to the screen when 20th century fox told him that he had to cast Arnold Swarzenegger as the last man fighting a world of vampires. He backed out thankfully.

20th century fox recently went into production with Will Smith in the lead. My fellow horror reading geeks were in an uproar. Fearing a film that included Will Smith “awww hell no-ing” his way though it. Personally I loved Will Smith in ALI and actually liked I, Robot so at first I was somewhat optimistic. Then word got out that they were moving the story out of L.A. which is an important setting for the book. Horror geeks filled the internet with annoyance. Word got out that the vampires were not even vampires anymore. More anger, and then the ultimate insult came with the news that the most important element of the novel, the main character being completely alone in a world taken over by vampires was gone.

Now I was angry! What is the point! I remembered Matheson telling the audience at the 2005 Bram Stoker awards that “it was their third chance to get it wrong.” Indeed. I had told several people I was refusing to see the film. Then I saw the trailer. I thought to myself after attacking it all this time it didn’t look as bad as I thought. Still bad, but maybe better than Omega Man. I had refused to see the Dawn of the Dead re-make and when I saw it I had it admit it was at least a fun movie. Could I be wrong? Does it matter?

I’ve thought a lot about this now and I have decided that we as horror reading geeks have an important role when this film comes out. Its Will weekend and the movie will sell a lot of tickets. We need to be spreading the word about the novel. Making sure that in the aftermath we are there to tell people about the amazing novel. I don’t know how many fans of Stir of Echoes (also a 1960 Matheson novel) had no idea the novel existed. So your mission should choose to except it is to convince two I am Legend ticket holders to buy the book. Talk loudly as you walk out of the theater about how good the book is. Send out e-mails. Something - anything to get this quality novel the respect it deserves.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. And yes, it amazes me how many people don't realize that both Stir of Echoes and What Dreams May Come were books first. Then again, when we went to see The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in the theatre, the teenagers sitting beside me had no idea it was a book. :headdesk: I almost cried.

Des said...

Best vampire novel ever written in my humble opinion.

The rage and loneliness and alcoholism of Neville hits so rad in the book that it's difficult to read at times but always engaging.

I also got the great edition with a buttload of short stories in the back!

Looks like I'll be having to change my links in my blog now. Good stuff, David.

Hope the move goes well and to see you soon in Victoria!


The Mysterian said...

I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog, David!