Posts Tagged ‘Twilight Zone’

In the Vortex

Anyone with the slightest interest in the original Twilight Zone should check out the blog The Twilight Zone Vortex, which offers an in-depth episode guide as well as articles on related subjects such as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Working their way chronologically through the series, bloggers Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant are still in the first season, and to date have covered the two episodes Serling adapted from Matheson’s stories, “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “Third from the Sun,” as well as Matheson’s maiden effort, “The Last Flight.” I have found Durant’s analyses to be consistently thorough, accurate, informative, and insightful; “Third from the Sun” also provides a wealth of background material about Matheson.

Full Disclosure Dept.: Am I biased by the fact that Durant endorses The Richard Matheson Companion and my introduction to Noir? Or writes that “I would absolutely recommend Richard Matheson on Screen as the definitive reference guide for anyone wanting to know anything about his work in film and television. It’s a fantastic book”? Or that Prejean calls Filmfax #75-76, the 40th-anniversary tribute spearheaded by Yours Truly and containing my interviews with Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Jerry Sohl “probably the single best issue of a genre periodical ever devoted to [the series]…highly recommended”? In the words of Cecil Turtle & Co., Bugs Bunny’s nemeses in Tortoise Beats Hare, “Eh, it’s a possibility!”

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It may seem odd for me to write an obituary–however brief–for an actress on the basis of a single role, but I feel compelled to do so in the case of Patricia Breslin, who left us October 12 at the age of 80 and, in my book (literally), is known for playing William Shatner’s wife in Richard Matheson’s classic Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time.”  So pleased with her performance was Richard that he not only wished she could have done so in the other Shatner/Matheson TZ episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but also strove to recapture their dynamic with the couple in his Thriller script (revised by director/star John Newland), “The Return of Andew Bentley.”  Almost all of Breslin’s other credits were also in episodic television, ironically including an episode of Thriller, as well as a non-Matheson TZ and several episodes of the Hitchcock series, but she did do two features with William Castle, Homicidal (1961) and I Saw What You Did (1965).

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Sorry I’m a little slow off the mark with this one, but my online time has been extremely limited lately for a variety of reasons (not least of them a massive motivational meltdown), and I’ve only just become aware of it.  It seems that the good folks at Tor.com, fresh from a massive revamp of their already impressive website, were able on Wednesday to squeeze in my review of the latest Gauntlet special edition of Matheson’s work, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.  The book is a must for any serious Matheson collector, examining this seminal creation in its multimedia incarnations, and I hope the review will whet your appetite for my forthcoming Tor.com Matheson interview.

Meanwhile, we bid a sad but affectionate goodbye to longtime genre fixture Michael Gough, a native of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who—at the ripe old age of 93, and with 178 IMDb credits over the course of his 64-year film and television career—can, in all fairness, be said to have had a good run.  Sixty years ago, he appeared in The Man in the White Suit opposite Alec Guinness, with whom Gough was reunited in The Horse’s Mouth (1958) and the BOF fave Smiley’s People (1982).  He also had a small role in Laurence Olivier’s version of Richard III (1955); their other collaborations ran the gamut from The Boys from Brazil (1978) to Brideshead Revisited (1981).

Gough was in at the beginning of the Hammer renaissance with a substantial and, in retrospect, surprisingly heroic part as Arthur in Terence Fisher’s Horror of Dracula (1958), which marked Christopher Lee’s debut as the Count.  The following year, he had what might be considered his defining role as a crime writer who commits murder to generate his own material in Horrors of the Black Museum.  This was to be his first of five collaborations with erstwhile AIP producer Herman Cohen, followed by several similar characters in Cohen’s Konga (1961), Black Zoo (1963), Berserk (1967), and Trog (1970), the latter two starring Joan Crawford, of all people.

With his talent for portraying slimy villains, Gough was a considerable asset to Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera (1962), although its disappointing box-office results gave Fisher’s career a serious hit.  His path crossed that of Lee’s almost a dozen times over the decades, and the next was in “Disembodied Hand,” a segment from Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), the first of rival Amicus Productions’ many anthology films.  Further, if minor, roles for Amicus followed in The Skull (1965, again with Lee) and They Came from Beyond Space (1967), all three of them directed (as was Trog) by Hammer veteran and Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis.

Gough also found decent roles outside the genre in the likes of a television production of Pride and Prejudice (1967), and even his pairings with Lee straddled both worlds.  After they picked up a paycheck in the AIP/Tigon co-production Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), they joined an all-star cast headed by Charlton Heston for Julius Caesar (1970).  Other high-profile mainstream films from this period include Ken Russell’s D.H. Lawrence adaptation Women in Love (1969) and Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between (1970), scripted by Harold Pinter, and Gough appeared in such TV series as The Saint, The Avengers, and Hammer’s short-lived Journey to the Unknown.

Lest we forget the inevitable Matheson connection, Gough had an unbilled but significant role in The Legend of Hell House (1973), and then worked largely in television (including Dr. Who) for the next few decades.  Among his intermittent and noteworthy feature films were Peter Yates’s The Dresser (1983), Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (1985), John Mackenzie’s cracking thriller The Fourth Protocol (1987), and Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).  Gough’s fame with the Hot Topic generation of viewers was assured when he took the role of the Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).

While still finding time for highbrow fare like Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993), Gough soldiered on through the decreasing quality of the Burton-less Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997).  More important, he kept working with Burton—and renewed his association with Lee—in Sleepy Hollow (1999), Corpse Bride (2005), and last year’s Alice in Wonderland, which while a bit of a disappointment to this Burton fan was a perfect capstone to his long and impressive career.  So let us salute and celebrate this consummate performer, whose many decades in front of the camera displayed such enviable breadth and depth:  R.I.P., Michael.

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We finally have in hand Fangoria #301, emblazoned with a caricature of Matheson as the Mystic Seer fortune-telling machine from his Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time” and the headline, “The Master of Terror Speaks.”  In addition to discussing his new novel, Other Kingdoms (just out from Tor), Richard reveals in his six-page interview, “My son [Richard Christian] and I are starting a company called Matheson Entertainment, which will take a lot of [our] unused material for film and television…and adapt it.”  They review his new Gauntlet book Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, as I will be for Tor.com, and the third-season Twilight Zone Blu-ray, although they err by claiming that he contributed only two episodes to that season, overlooking “Once Upon a Time.”

Last but, ahem, far from least, Fangoria reviews “writer, Matheson expert and occasional Fango contributor Matthew R. Bradley’s excellent recent tome Richard Matheson on Screen….Each picture is given due diligence, with Matheson appraisals, quotes from other journalists and thorough critical analyses by Bradley, making [this] a fantastic point of entry in understanding the author’s fascinating oeuvre.”  (Amusingly, the literary and DVD reviews are respectively credited to “Ben Cortman” and “Janos Skorzeny,” two names that need no introduction for the serious Matheson scholar.)  And, as a bonus, the issue also includes a chat with Matheson pal, fellow BOF interviewee and birthday boy William F. Nolan, so really, what’s not to like, guys?

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Another day, another title borrowed from Matheson—not that he coined the phrase or anything, but he did use it for a short story that he later adapted into a fun episode of Amazing Stories.  Be that as it may, John Kenneth Muir recently posted about the film and TV books he grew up with, and while the six years I have on John help explain the only partial overlap between his list and the one I’d compile, he makes some interesting observations about the treasured tomes that were our Bibles in the pre-Internet era.  For the record, our shared frame of reference consists of these:

  • Stephen King, Danse Macabre (although I did not acquire it until years after it was published)
  • Paul R. Gagne, The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero (where I first learned that Romero openly admitted I Am Legend inspired Night of the Living Dead)
  • John Stanley, Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again (I’ve owned several iterations of this periodically updated book, and what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in wit and breadth)

He also name-checks such mainstays as John Brosnan and Ed Naha, and mentions the books by my sometime mentor John McCarty, several of which I’d publicized at St. Martin’s Press.  Muir, you will recall, posted an incredibly generous review of Richard Matheson on Screen, and kindly cited me in this recent entry as one of those now writing quality books on the genre.  That makes up a little for the fact that—despite the recommendation of no lesser light than Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas, whose book on Mario Bava is the envy of us all—RMOS wasn’t even nominated for the Rondo Award (for which The Twilight and Other Zones got an Honorable Mention in 2009).

My own almost-200-volume reference library of film and TV books is also a sore subject, for it suffered the most damage during our recent leakage.  Nine were soaked to one degree or another, and must be considered write-offs as actual possessions, although I will probably cling to them stubbornly for whatever bits of information might still be gleaned therein.  (Because most if not all are probably long out of print, I have to decide which are worth trying to replace.)  They are:

  • Williams, Lucy Chase, The Complete Films of Vincent Price
  • Willis, Donald C., Horror and Science Fiction Films II
  • —–,  Horror and Science Fiction Films III
  • —–, Horror and Science Fiction Films IV
  • Winter, Douglas E., Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror (which I value despite Winter’s doing me a disservice years ago)
  • Wolf, Leonard, Horror: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Literature and Film
  • Wright, Bruce Lanier, Nightwalkers: Gothic Horror Movies: The Modern Era
  • —–, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Golden Age of Science Fiction Movie Posters
  • Zicree, Marc Scott, The Twilight Zone Companion, second edition (autographed “To Matthew—in friendship—Richard Matheson.”  Son of a BITCH!)

Fortunately, only one of these, the earliest Willis volume (I never did get his first), would be on my own roster of formative texts, some of which are listed below.  For simplicity’s sake, I am restricting myself not only to Muir’s time frame of books published by the time I was 21, but also to those that made it into the bibliography for RMOS.  Mind you, not every one of these books is invaluable, and many were easily surpassed by the Phil Hardys of this world in later years, but they and others such as Carlos Clarens’s  Illustrated History of the Horror Film were virtually the only game in town when the genre enslaved me.

  • Baxter, John, Science Fiction in the Cinema: 1895-1970
  • Beck, Calvin Thomas, Heroes of the Horrors
  • —–, Scream Queens: Heroines of the Horrors
  • Bojarski, Richard, and Kenneth Beals, The Films of Boris Karloff
  • Brosnan, John, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction
  • —–, The Horror People
  • Everson, William K., Classics of the Horror Film
  • Eyles, Allen, Robert Adkinson, and Nicholas Fry, editors, The House of Horror: The Story of Hammer Films
  • Gifford, Denis, Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies
  • —–, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
  • Glut, Donald F., The Dracula Book
  • Johnson, William, editor, Focus on the Science Fiction Film
  • Lee, Walt, Reference Guide to Fantastic Films: Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror (3 volumes)
  • Lentz, Harris M. III, Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film and Television Credits (2 volumes)
  • Meyers, Richard, S-F 2: A Pictorial History of Science Fiction Films From “Rollerball” to “Return of the Jedi”
  • Naha, Ed, The Films of Roger Corman: Brilliance on a Budget
  • Pirie, David, The Vampire Cinema
  • Weldon, Michael, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
  • Willis, Donald C., Horror and Science Fiction Films II

The Horror People probably had the greatest impact on me, because it’s the first time I remember seeing the creators of these films—including a guy named Matheson—actually interviewed, which led indirectly to my own attempts to get them down in their own words.  Baxter’s book is oft-mentioned on the Outer-Limits-a-day blog We Are Controlling Transmission (about which more tomorrow) as one of the first to treat genre television with some of the same respect as SF cinema.  Despite being little more than a glorified checklist, Lee’s was a landmark work of scholarship, and Lentz’s was a godsend to a guy who had been frantically dictating movie credits into his tape recorder for transcription on 3” x 5” index cards.

I remember drawing heavily on Beck’s books when the future Madame BOF and I were pining for each other at separate colleges (if memory serves me correctly, her very strict parents allowed us a grand total of one visit in each direction during the whole four years) and, just for fun, I sent her a “correspondence course” in certain aspects of genre history.  Weldon’s was a late addition but revelatory for the more, yes, “psychotronic” entries.  A final recollection:  when Horror[s] of Malformed Men gained some notoriety on its DVD release a few years ago, I remember with pride that I was the only one in my little circle who had ever heard of it, thanks to the single still reproduced in Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

Addendum:  Here’s the nice VideoScope review of RMOS in its entirety.


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Following that word from our “sponsor” (i.e., WordPress.com), I bring you a quick notification that Tor.com has run the latest—and, for the moment, last—post in my Matheson series, devoted to his latter-day Twilight Zone efforts and the adaptations of his work into this century.  One of the possibilities I’ve discussed with my editor there is an interview with Richard himself, which would presumably focus primarily on his upcoming novel Other Kingdoms, due out from Tor in March, but in order to do that, I have to get them to give me a look at the fershlugginer thing!  At any rate, I’ll keep you posted as time goes by, and I’m sure to generate more Matheson material.

Sad to say, the Grim Reaper came out swinging in 2011, claiming in quick succession character actor Pete Postlethwaite, Forbidden Planet (1956) star Anne Francis, and a rat named Friend.  I remember Postlethwaite best from Alien3 (1992), his Oscar-nominated In the Name of the Father (1993), and Romeo + Juliet (1996), but have yet to see The Usual Suspects (1994) or the current Inception.  Although Forbidden Planet has never been a big favorite of mine, I greatly enjoyed interviewing Anne for the cover story of Filmfax #78 (April/May 2000) and discussing Bad Day at Black Rock (1954), The Blackboard Jungle (1955), The Twilight Zone and, natch, Honey West.

As for Friend, I never thought I’d shed tears over the death of a rat, let alone one that was foisted upon me against my will, yet when I learned that the poor little guy passed this morning, I was genuinely moved.  Regular readers know that he and his rodent companion, Renfield, were due for euthanasia once they’d outlived their usefulness at Cornell’s psychology lab, only to be saved by my daughter and taken in by Madame BOF, who became very attached to them.  I didn’t want us to have the responsibility of caring for the rats, especially since we’d just adopted our shelter cats, Mina and Lucy, but I certainly never wished them ill, or wanted either of the boys to suffer.

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Sorry this is a day late (if not a dollar short); my daughter had oral surgery yesterday, which kind of tended to crowd out less familial concerns such as the penultimate installment of my précis of Matheson’s screen career on Tor.com.  This one backtracks to cover his seminal contributions to the original Twilight Zone, including the classic entry “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” while the next post will cover not only his subsequent Zone involvement but also some recent adaptations of his work.  Due to the holidays, my editor and I have yet to discuss where the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series might then proceed, but you’ll surely be able to read about it here, uh, second.

As longtime BOF readers already know, my Google Alert for Matheson’s name has taken me to some strange places, but perhaps none more so than this post in a “Spielberg Blogathon,” which makes a major contribution to Matheson scholarship by explaining that “Duel is essentially about gay panic inspired by a traumatic car accident.”  It refers to “the handlebar mustaches [that] are [part of] the foundation of Spieberg’s gender-coded man’s world,” and its “central preoccupation with transferring fears of being assaulted, in this case rear-ended [!], into objects—leather boots, rear-view mirrors, bumpers…”  Joke’s on Richard, who clearly had no idea what he was writing.

Finally, I offer this holiday-themed video with no editorial comment whatsoever.  Bradley out…

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Tor.com has posted the latest installment of my “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series today, and it was quite a challenge tackling his miniseries The Martian Chronicles, because despite its many detractors, I think he did a superb job adapting Ray Bradbury’s book.  In other Matheson news, the first trailer for Real Steel (a remake of his Twilight Zone episode “Steel”) is making the rounds and getting raves for the filmmakers’ wise decision to use motion-capture—coached by Sugar Ray Leonard, yet—to create its robot boxers.  Finally, I’ll hold off on a formal publication alert until it’s in my hot little hands, but the official word is out from Cinema Retro that the cover stories in their Exorcist issue include the William Peter Blatty interview I did with Gilbert Colon.

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When Richard Matheson published Journal of the Gun Years in 1991, he won the Golden Spur Award for best novel from the Western Writers of America straight out of the gate.  This was quickly followed by The Gun Fight, the collection By the Gun, the horror-tinged Shadow on the Sun, and the fact-based The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok.  Many readers might not know that, rather than representing yet another new facet to the ever-protean author’s oeuvre, these books marked a return to territory he had trod at the beginning of his career on both page and screen.

While recuperating in a British hospital from combat-related injuries suffered in Germany with the U.S. Infantry in World War II, Matheson read two Westerns a day.  He did not neglect the genre when he began publishing stories in a wide variety of magazines a few years later.  His contributions were “They Don’t Make ’em Tougher” (Dime Western, May 1951), “The Hunt” (West, March 1952), “The Conqueror” (Bluebook, May 1954), “Too Proud to Lose” (Fifteen Western Tales, February 1955), and “Son of a Gunman” (Western Magazine, December 1955).

At the time Matheson and his friend Charles Beaumont eagerly plunged into the burgeoning medium of television, Westerns ruled the airwaves; 29 sagebrush series reportedly aired in prime time in 1959 alone.  The fledgling screenwriters decided that they would benefit from a little mutual support outside their normal bailiwick of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.  This led them to collaborate on episodes of various oaters and the now-obscure detective shows Bourbon Street Beat, The D.A.’s Man, Markham, Philip Marlowe, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective.

They fared better with Westerns, co-writing episodes of the classic series Wanted: Dead or Alive (“The Healing Woman”) and Have Gun—Will Travel (“The Lady on the Wall”), as well as the lesser-known Buckskin (“Act of Faith”).  Matheson went solo on one episode of the long-running Cheyenne (“Home Is the Brave”) and six for Lawman, more than he wrote for any series except The Twilight Zone.  Producer Jules Schermer ensured that his teleplays, including two based on unsold stories later published in By the Gun, were filmed as written, and used talented directors.

Other series to which Matheson contributed are readily available on DVD, including Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and now Thriller.  But Encore Westerns has been airing episodes of Lawman weekdays at 9:00 AM, giving viewers a chance to catch some of his work that might previously have eluded them.  The show features John Russell—who later popped up in Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Honkytonk Man (1982), and Pale Rider (1985)—as the titular lawman, Marshal Dan Troop of Laramie, Wyoming, with Peter Brown as his young deputy, Johnny McKay.

In the second season’s “Thirty Minutes,” adapted from “Of Death and Thirty Minutes,” Jack Elam is the heavy who holds the occupants of a saloon hostage, demanding that Troop disarm.  Matheson won the Writers Guild Award for his first of four third-season episodes, “Yawkey,” with a gunman (Ray Danton) stating his intention to meet Troop in the street and kill him.  Stuart Heisler directed both “Yawkey” and “Samson the Great,” in which Walter Burke offers fifty dollars to anyone who can stay in the ring for two minutes with Mickey Simpson, previously seen in “Home Is the Brave.”

“Cornered,” based on “Little Jack Cornered,” puts Johnny at center stage as he is forced into a fatal confrontation with Frank DeKova, and then endures pressure to face up to his presumably vengeful son.  “Homecoming” evokes the real-time structures of both “Thirty Minutes” and the classic High Noon as Troop awaits the arrival of escaped convict Marc Lawrence (also the director of “Cornered”).  In the show’s fourth and final season, John Carradine made a memorable guest turn as “The Actor,” an alcoholic Shakespearean who brings dramaturgy and tragedy with him to Laramie in equal measure.

Long ago, Matheson adapted The Gun Fight into an unproduced screenplay with his friend William R. Cox, stuck the then-unsold novel into a drawer…and forgot he had written it in prose form, until he stumbled across it after the success of Journal of the Gun Years.  I remember him telling me that he’d heard Martin Scorsese was interested in the genre, and he hoped to get a copy of Journal into Scorsese’s hands, but I don’t think anything ever came of it.  He later adapted it for a miniseries to have been directed by Dan Curtis, only to have the project fall apart, yet we can still savor Lawman.

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After some delays related to their exhaustive “Steampunk Fortnight” coverage, Tor.com has my latest installment of the “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” series up, along with the usual yummy artwork.  This one covers the remainder of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle, along with such related works as Matheson’s The Comedy of Terrors and Corman’s The Terror (both 1963), plus AIP’s other Poe films.  I’m still awaiting word from my contact there—who is presumably up to her, um, hips in steampunks—about the direction of my next post, so I can’t say when or even what to expect, but as always I shall hope in my modest way that it will be worth the wait.

In other Matheson-related news, a new Twilight Zone feature film has just been announced that is said to be utilizing stories written by Rod Serling and You-Know-Who for the original TV series.  Hey, that sounds like a great idea, especially considering the universally high regard in which the last attempt to rehash Zone episodes for the big screen was held, especially after it resulted in the deaths of Vic Morrow and two illegally employed child actors.  Richard had already opined back then that it wasn’t wise, but I suppose nothing can withstand the current Hollywood steamroller of sequels, remakes, “re-imaginings,” reboots, et alia, so let’s just lie back and think of England.

The most intriguing, and potentially exciting, news from my personal perspective (and what else would you be looking for on this blog?) is that for several days last week, Richard Matheson on Screen—despite having just come off press in the first place—was out of stock pending a reprint.  I say “potentially exciting” because I have no idea how far off the mark my instant quip of, “Gee, they sold all forty copies already!” might have been.  But it seems safe to conclude that demand must have exceeded McFarland’s expectations, however modest those might have been, and I’m relieved to see that it is once again listed as “available for immediate shipment,” so there is no waiting…

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