All Hallow’s Read: I Am Legend


NOTE: This is the seventeenth in a series of 31 reviews of scary short stories and novels. As part of All Hallow’s Read, I will be sharing all the scary stories that I think you should consider giving to someone for Halloween. Because this is a tradition intended for people of all ages, some of these titles will be for children and young adults, while others are meant strictly for adults. Happy Reading.

Why don’t we take ourselves back to the ’30s. 1931 actually. A movie theater. Where? I have no idea. We’re not actually going back in time anyway, so just imagine a movie theater (or cinema, if you prefer) in 1931. On the screen flicker the silver moving images of the first talkie horror film, Universal’s monster classic of horror, Dracula.

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The Bela Lugosi vehicle has gone on to inspire a good many artists and filmmakers. For a lot of them (and for a lot of us) it was their first introduction to Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire. Though it isn’t the most accurate adaptation of the novel it’s certainly a better introduction to it than the grevious misnomer Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992 (I actually like to refer to it as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, ‘cuz ain’t no Stoker in that flick).

In this theater full of nail biting film goers is a five-year-old Richie Matheson. As the tale of the undead Count imprints on his forming consciousness, he begins to wonder, “If one vampire is this dangerous and scary, what if there were a whole world of them?”

That one moment of speculation planted the morbid seed of a story that would go on to influence almost as many creators as the very film which spawned it, I Am Legend. Even if all you’ve ever heard of Matheson’s novel was the atrocious Francis Lawrence 2007 Will Smith vehicle (a misnomer almost as insulting as Coppoca’s Dracula), you know this story, probably better than you know Dracula

A surprisingly accurate depiction of Matheson's vampires. You call them zombies.

A surprisingly accurate depiction of Matheson’s vampires. You call them zombies.

You see, if you’ve ever seen any of George A. Romero’s Dead series, or the hordes of ripoffs that have followed over the decades, you know I Am Legend. Romero has openly admitted numerous times that when creating Night of the Living Dead he basically ripped off Richard Matheson. Which isn’t exactly fair. I mean, Legend has one human character in a world of vampires. Living Dead had a small group of humans in a house surrounded by flesh eaters. The similarities are obvious, but a ripoff may be a harsh description.

Our current day zombie fascination comes from Romero’s depiction of them in Night of the Living dead, which came from I Am Legend. So, you know Matheson. And if you’re as infected with the flesh eater’s disease like the rest of the world seems to be at the moment, you owe him a debt.

Thank you, Richard Matheson.

Thank you, Richard Matheson.

Now let’s put all that aside, lock it away. Appreciate the book for what it is. A masterwork of horror, science fiction, emotion, and storytelling. I read the book with an insatiable hunger. Feeling all of Robert Neville’s ups and downs. Wanting desperately for him to find someone to confide and trust in. Physically hurting when none of it could come true.

Ignoring all the imitators that have tried to capture the electricity of this novel (failing more often than not), it stands up taller than them all, casting such a wide and long shadow, that not no number of zombies could possibly crawl out from under it.

The book itself is legend and deserves your worship. Yes, it’s that good.

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P.S. You may have never seen it. But Matheson actually wrote the first Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Jack Palance. Most of what you THINK you know about Dracula from Coppola’s film was stolen from this 1973 television adaptation, including the title.

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