And now, a more detailed look at the contents of Gauntlet’s Matheson Uncollected: Volume Two; I’ve already listed where each item had its original publication, if any (see “Richard Matheson: Past Masters”). Appearing barely a year after his professional debut, the lengthy “Mountains of the Mind” (1951) was Matheson’s first story set at fictional Fort College in Indiana, where a young professor is impelled by unseen forces to seek out a certain mountain range, and finds an astonishing discovery awaiting him. The Paul Stuve Discovery™ “The Hunt” (1952) is a solid, gritty Western of the type Matheson later collected in By the Gun, in which two reluctant deputies help a taciturn sheriff track down his errant son, with inevitably tragic results.
As noted earlier, “Now Die in It” (1958) was expanded by Matheson into Ride the Nightmare the following year, and with slight variations parallels the first few chapters of the novel, filmed as a 1962 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and as the Charles Bronson vehicle Cold Sweat (1970). It concerns a man concealing a criminal past from his wife, a past that comes back to haunt him in the all-too-physical form of a former crony who breaks into their house planning to kill the husband, and forces a lethal confrontation. At that point, the protagonists come to a metaphoric fork in the road, and without giving too much away, I’ll just say that in story and novel they take dramatically different paths.
From 1958 we jump forward to 1972 with “Leo Rising,” a clever short-short with a sting in the tail, and to 1980 with the Matheson pére et fils opus “Where There’s a Will,” which is set largely within the confines of a coffin and, for claustrophobes like this writer, delineates the ultimate nightmare. Drawing from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, wherein numerous Matheson stories, teleplays, and interviews were first published, the 1980s are also represented with works both humorous (“Getting Together,” 1986) and serious (“Person to Person,” 1989). The former chronicles the increasingly outlandish efforts of an ill-starred couple to avoid being separated, and the latter depicts the plight of a man who receives unsettling “phone calls” from a voice inside his head.
Matheson used the Hollywood milieu he knew so well as the setting for “CU: Mannix” (1991), the story of an aging movie star who practices imposture to test his fourth wife’s fidelity, only to receive an unexpected comeuppance. Moving into the 21st century, “Portrait” (2003) is a whimsical ultra-short combining word and image, while “Haircut” (2006) is a macabre vignette (unfortunately containing a large number of typos) in which, although there are clues that hint at the ending, Matheson still conjures up a growing sense of dread. The first of the previously unpublished pieces, “An Element Never Forgets,” is an unrelated Fort College story and—as its title suggests—a whimsical one, which resembles some of Poe’s comic outings and presumably falls very early in the Matheson canon.
We are given no information on when the two unfinished novels were begun or why they were abandoned, but at least the first of them, Red Is the Color of Desire, includes an outline that tells us where Matheson was headed. This aborted narrative depicts a recently widowed man’s obsession with his attractive upstairs neighbor, despite mounting evidence to suggest that she is a vampire; the outline suggests a finished work that would have contained elements of “Trespass” (filmed as The Stranger Within) and I Am Legend. The other, The House of the Dead, is about a writer who is assigned to profile a recently deceased artist, and encounters ominous undercurrents at the huge Connecticut estate where he meets the artist’s widow and personal physician.
Up next: Matheson’s unfilmed screenplay for What Dreams May Come.