For me, Matheson was–and still is–a huge influence. He wrote a number of my favourite films, including the 1973 television version of Dracula, featuring Jack Palance in the title role, and the legitimately disturbing Duel. He also created one of my favourite characters, Carl Kolchak, in 1972’s The Night Stalker.
While a dedicated student of his work might disagree, one of the things that always struck me about Matheson’s work was his propensity for the ‘Everyman’ as protagonist. The normal person–the salesman, the businesswoman, the reporter, the house-wife–versus the intrusion of the abnormal, be it a merciless vampire, taunting gremlin, or a savage doll.
It’s a common enough trope, granted, especially in television, where the surest way to audience identification is to ask ‘will this play in Peoria‘, but Matheson imbued his protagonists with a bit more life than the run-of-the-mill hero of the week. You could believe in them, and in their desire to survive.
That’s why Kolchak always appealed to me, I think. A middle-aged man, out of shape and outclassed by the supernormal threats that he’s forced to confront in pursuit of good copy, yet determined to do his job. His fragility, ego and sheer, stubborn refusal to compromise in the face of cosmic horror make him worth more than a hundred lantern-jawed, high-powered heroes. Kolchak battles the forces of darkness armed only with sarcasm, a good pair of running shoes and a swanky hat.
That’s my kind of hero. And Richard Matheson was my kind of writer. If I accomplish even a third of what he did, I’ll die a satisfied man.