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Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories By Richard Matheson [Paperback]

Richard Matheson , Stephen King
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 5 2002
Remember that monster on the wing of the airplane? William Shatner saw it on The Twilight Zone, John Lithgow saw it in the movie-even Bart Simpson saw it. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is just one of many classic horror stories by Richard Matheson that have insinuated themselves into our collective imagination.

Here are more than twenty of Matheson's most memorable tales of fear and paranoia, including:

"Duel," the nail-biting tale of man versus machines that inspired Steven Spielberg's first film;

"Prey," in which a terrified woman is stalked by a malevolent Tiki doll, as chillingly captured in yet another legendary TV moment;

"Blood Son," a disturbing portrait of a strange little boy who dreams of being a vampire;

"Dress of White Silk," a seductively sinister tale of evil and innocence.

Personally selected by Richard Matheson, the bestselling author of I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come, these and many other stories, more than demonstrate why he is rightfully regarded as one of the finest and most influential horror writers of our generation.

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From Amazon

This classic horror collection showcases the early career of one of the field's most influential and innovative writers. Much of Richard Matheson's work has found its way into pop culture: the title story became a memorable episode of television's The Twilight Zone, and horror aficionados reading "Prey" will immediately visualize Trilogy of Terror's Karen Black hunkered down with a butcher knife. But this collection's power lies in its wide-ranging exploration of style and subject and the literary skill that Matheson demonstrated right from the start of his career. Many of his stories were decidedly unconventional when published (most in the 1950s and early 1960s), and still have the power to shock or to satisfy with their graceful inevitability. Matheson is not primarily a monster writer: rather, he examines how we create monsters from our own fears and frailties, and sometimes become the monsters ourselves. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is a must-have collection for Matheson fans and readers who like their horror spare, precise, and chilling. --Roz Genessee

From Publishers Weekly

Although Matheson (I Am Legend; Hell House; etc.) needs no introduction to most horror fans, Stephen King provides one for this collection of classic weird tales in which he appreciatively remembers his mentor's "gut-bucket short stories that were like shots of white lightning." Spanning almost half a century, the influential contents are as much a roadmap to the direction horror fiction has taken since the 1950s as to Matheson's own legacy of spare, scary chillers. In lieu of pedantic priers into the Unknown, he offers sympathetic everymen, like the husband in "First Anniversary," who finds hints of the unearthly suddenly seeping through his comfortably complacent marriage. Matheson strips away horror's traditional gothic clutter to expose ordinary landscapes that perfectly take the imprint of his characters' paranoid fixations: that life's petty annoyances are part of a universal conspiracy to drive a person mad in "Legion of Plotters," and that dangerously malfunctioning household items are channels for a man's self-destructive anger in "Mad House." The agents of horror in these stories are less often the usual supernatural bogies than malignantly endowed everyday objects, like telephones, television sets and home appliances that are all the more frightening for their ubiquity. The well-known title tale about a nervous air traveler is a showcase for the author's trademark less-is-more prose style, which suspensefully delineates a psychological tug-of-war between man and a monster that may be purely imagined. Timeless in their simplicity, these stories are also relentless in their approach to basic fears. (Feb. 9)Lifetime Achievement, Matheson has also won Edgar and Hugo awards.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
To say that Richard Matheson invented the horror story would be as ridiculous as it would be to say that Elvis Presley invented rock and roll-what, the purist would scream, about Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Stick McGhee, The Robins, and a dozen others? Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully Wicked and Entertaining Tales June 12 2003
In the introduction to this collection of classic Richard Matheson short stories, no less of a figure than Stephen King delivers oodles of praise to this author. According to King, Matheson emerged in a time (the 1950s and early 1960s) when the horror genre desperately needed a kick in the pants. King attributes his very existence as a horror writer to Matheson's influence. With that type of praise, the stories here need to live up to a tremendous standard, which they do easily. It should go without saying that Richard Matheson is the grandfather of modern horror; his stories created indelible impressions on millions of people when Hollywood translated "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Prey" into memorable television moments. But nothing beats going to the source to see how the original stacks up to the adaptation. You will not be disappointed with this collection, I assure you.
This compilation starts off with the slam-bang "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," a story made into an episode of "The Twilight Zone" with William Shatner staring as the nervous wreck of a lead character. An unbalanced traveler on a flight through a rainstorm sees something terrible on the wing of the plane, something no one else sees and which paints him as a potential troublemaker to the flight crew. This man immediately associates the thing he sees with a gremlin, or creatures that WWII pilots claimed they saw in the skies over Europe while on their bombing runs. Whatever this thing is, time is running out because this humanoid is tearing up exterior parts of the plane. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), our neurotic hero has a gun on the plane. When he takes action everyone thinks he is nuts, but is he? And will people think him crazy when they eventually see the outside of the plane?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good collection Jan. 16 2003
After having quite a Richard Matheson drought for many years, there are finally 4 of his short story/novella collections in print, and this is good news. With the horror shelves packed full of splatterpunk and vampirephile garbage, it's time to get back to the subtle horror writers; the ones who didn't need to incorporate buckets of blood, piles of entrails, sex, sex, and more sex in order to tell a story. Matheson is one of those subtle writers - not the best, but definitely up there. He writes like a darker Ray Bradbury, using a very straightforward style, a sense of innocence and mystery, and just a hint of evil, requiring you to fill in the details. Think of Bradbury's early horror stories (like the stuff adapted in EC Comics), and you'll get the idea.
The title story of this collection will surely get the most recognition, but it's by no means the best here. I rank "Long Distance Call" as my favorite, followed by "The Distributor". It also contains "Prey", famously adapted in the movie Trilogy Of Terror. Don't get me wrong - there are a few turkeys here that will make you question their inclusion, but that shouldn't ruin your appreciation of a true master of the horror genre.
Finally, for those who have never read Matheson before, beware: the introduction by Stephen King, who frequently names Matheson as an influence, is surprisingly lackluster. Don't let his intro affect your decision to read the book!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Two thumbs up freak fest Dec 31 2002
The stories in the first half of this collection have a common terror thread: no one will believe what the protagonist is saying. The stories in the second half have a slightly different spin: the protagonist can't believe his/her own eyes! Often it is not clear whether the evil aggressor is legitimately supernatural, a malevolent human, or a product of a paranoid hallucination. It is a tantalizing ambiguity.
We know that dolls don't come to life, no one can use mind control to turn someone into a rapist or strip them of their five senses, corpses don't go bump in the night, and nothing can stand on the wing of a moving airplane. Nevertheless Matheson has the talent not only to make you accept these events, but to forget you're reading a story. He effortlessly slides between characters' mature reflections and their grisly demises. I found myself staying awake hours past my bedtime, three nights in a row, to read "just one more" story. And checking over my shoulder at the window behind me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty Horrific Hauntings May 18 2002
Each of the twenty Matheson short story/novella gems in this collection represents a separate haunting, of sorts. There are traditional haunted houses, haunted psyches, and beings from elsewhere who haunt and bedevil unsuspecting souls in strange places. Unlike most horror authors, Matheson excels both in the writing of novels and the writing of short stories, and each of these little nightmares are quite well-crafted.
The two showpieces, beginning and ending the book, are among the author's most famous stories. The former is the title of the book, in which a fearful flyer becomes engaged in a private little war with a gremlin that is dismantling the engine of the plane in which he is riding. This story was the concluding one of the Twilight Zone movie, and was probably the best known (or at least best remembered) of the original series. The latter, "Prey," was adapted into the central piece of two Dan Curtis T.V. movies, Trilogy of Terror and Trilogy of Terror II. "Prey" revolves around a Zuni fetish doll called "He Who Kills," who - needless to say - lives up to his name.
These two stories alone are worth the price of admission, but Matheson has included eighteen more from his early 1950s to late 1960s period, when he was at his peak. Among them are found psychopathic interlopers, men driven mad with their own rage or paranoid obsessions, psychotics, ghosts, vampires, unearthly predators...something for everyone.
I am a lifelong Matheson fan, and was surprised at the number of stories in this collection I had never seen before. I meant to savor them over at least a week, but found myself reading the whole lot from start to finish in a single sitting - without even going to the bathroom!
Highly recommended for all fans of horror stories, and lovers of short stories in general. Matheson is a genuine master.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Anyone who loves scary short stories will surely enjoy this book. There are a wide variety of notable authors and quite a few stories that I will never forget.
Published 18 months ago by Samantha K Krewulak
4.0 out of 5 stars richard matters
a great collection. matheson has a way of writing. he shows you how you can express more and be more intense with a simplistic style. Read more
Published on April 8 2003 by jan erik storeb°
4.0 out of 5 stars There are some true classics of horror here
As I child I was a huge fan of anything scary. Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and the "movie of the week" were my childhood thrills. Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2003 by J. Fercho
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent collection
Included in this collection are twenty of Richard Matheson's best tales of horror. These stories were written some forty-fifty years ago and the fact that they still manage to... Read more
Published on April 11 2002 by K. H. ZAINAL
4.0 out of 5 stars Most good, some bad
After reading Matheson's "I Am Legend", I picked this book up considering the awe I felt with "I Am Legend". Read more
Published on March 8 2002 by Brian Nagele
5.0 out of 5 stars A collection of stories spanning almost half a century!
'Nightmare at 20,000 feet' intro by Stephen King is a collection of classic weird tales in which King remembers his mentor, Richard Matheson's spine tingling short stories spanning... Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2002 by Victoria Taylor Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading!
This anthology belongs on the bookself of any self-proclaimed fan of horror fiction. Using a spartan writing style free of the usual tepid writing conventions that mar most of the... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas, but occasionally the prose falls flat
Good storytelling involves a complex interplay between style and subject matter. As a writer, Richard Matheson often plays down stylistic considerations, telling his stories in a... Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, masculine stories of sparkling, brilliant logic
"Nightmare at 20.000 Feet" is best proof that good science fiction, perhaps the best science fiction that can be written does not require ornamentation of language, flowery... Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2002
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