Dead Trees: Richard Christian Matheson’s Created By

Book cover for Created By, written by Richard Christian MathesonAt one time, in the much-heralded horror boom of the 1980s, Richard Christian Matheson was one of the biggest names in the field. Of course most knew well that his father, Richard Matheson, was one of the most important writers in all of literature. It was curious that, even though they collaborated now and then, Richard Christian’s writing bore little resemblance to his father’s style. In fact, R.C. Matheson’s writing was completely unique.

Richard Christian Matheson specialized in very short stories. This format, sometimes referred to as flash fiction, is often employed for humorous purposes, or maybe a quick shock. R.C.’s short work was typically subtle, while also being sharp. He teased; he brought on unnerving feelings from his short stories. They were quick, like the opening of a switchblade, and they cut so cleanly and efficiently that you might not even feel the pain at first. He was insidious and devious. I’ve never read anything quite like his work.

Book cover for Scars and Other Distinguished MarksRichard Christian Matheson’s short work graced the pages of some of the best anthologies of the time: Shadows, Whispers, Dark Forces, Silver Scream. It was collected in a landmark volume called Scars and Other Distinguished Marks.

While all of this prose created by Richard Christian Matheson was coming out, the author was already a seasoned veteran of Hollywood, mostly in the realm of television scenarios. He had teleplays produced for shows like Three’s Company, The Incredible Hulk, B.J. and the Bear, Hardcastle and McCormick, The A-Team, and Amazing Stories. He wrote screenplays for feature films too, like the superior teen comedy, Three O’Clock High.

Horror fiction fans hoped for a full-length novel from Richard Christian Matheson, and we were rewarded in 1993 with the publication of Created By. The horror boom had busted by that time, and Created By seemed to be marketed as more of a thriller than an out-and-out horror novel.

Matheson was armed with his experience in the salt mines of Hollywood when he wrote Created By. The novel oozes bitter experience and weary cynicism. His razorblade style of prose translated well to the longer format.

Created By deals with a TV writer named Alan White. I cannot help but wonder if the character name was coincidental. Alan White is a prog drummer who worked with Yes and John Lennon. Matheson is a drummer.

Anyway, White develops a TV show called The Mercenary. The intention is to take levels of violence and sex to hitherto unseen lengths. White discovers a powerfully charismatic but difficult actor to essay the title role of The Mercenary. The show is an instant sensation and White sees the biggest success of his career.

But something is wrong. Very wrong. The mercenary character seems to be developing a life of its own. It wants to stay alive and anyone who gets in the way is eliminated. The novel becomes a duel of wits between creator and his creation. Sort of a frenetic Hollywood Frankenstein story.

I thought Created By was absolutely terrific and I think most horror fans did as well. I seem to recall talk of a followup novel called Leading Man, but it never came to be.

Audiobook cover for Created ByI don’t think Created By was the success the author and publisher hoped it would be, that it deserved to be. Some great books never seem to find their audiences. I remember seeing remaindered copies of Created By in the stores fairly quickly.

I’m not entirely sure why this happened. Was it because Created By came out shortly after King’s The Dark Half, which had a  vaguely similar plot? Or maybe people didn’t want to see their beloved Hollywood depicted in such a harsh manner. Most of us know that the movers and shakers of Hollywood are cold, unfeeling sharks. We knew that long before the whole nasty mess with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. We knew it in our guts, but maybe a lot of people didn’t want their faces rubbed in it. Created By is far more vicious than The Player.

Richard Christian Matheson has continued to work on and off the screen, but far too infrequently for my liking. We get the occasional short story, and there was a damned good novella a few years ago called The Ritual of Illusion. His work remains in print, largely thanks to electronic publishing. Matheson continues to write for the screen, most recently in the anthology movie Nightmare Cinema. Longtime fans such as myself long to see him return to the written word, preferably in the form of a novel. In this era of independent publishing, he would have no trouble finding a suitable home for it.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. Cemetery Dance recently released his collection He Who Types Between the Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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