NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET by Richard Matheson


Horror Stories
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The Grand Master of Horror (the astral classic What Dreams May Come (1978), recently filmed with Robin Williams) offers 20 chillers from over the years.

The jacket copy says that the sheaf includes Matheson’s famed “Duel,” the basis for boy-wonder Stephen Spielberg’s notable 1971 first film (a paranoid tractor-trailer chases a mild-mannered traveling salesman across the desert)—but, alas, it’s not here. Even so, torrential paranoia rules throughout this shivery, if generally far-fetched, collection. Two classics stand out: the title piece (once adapted for The Twilight Zone), in which a passenger in a DC-7 sees a semihuman entity hopping about the wing in lightning flashes and tearing the cowling off a turboprop—though no one else can see the evil, grinning monster. In “Prey,” a woman hounded by her monstrously needy mother buys a Haitian voodoo doll for her anthropologist boyfriend, but then is chased about her apartment by the living horror. “Dress of White Silk” is a retarded child’s obsessive monologue about his (or her) late mother’s wedding gown—a fixation that leads to bloodshed. Far more amusing and successful is “Blood Son,” in which another retarded youth memorizes Bram Stoker’s Dracula, becomes obsessed with transforming himself into a vampire, steals a vampire bat from the zoo so it will drink his blood and maybe change him into—well, you know. “Through Channels” is told as a police tape-recording of a boy accused of, hmm, let’s just say four viscous victims are found watching television. The longest and high-spiritedly overwritten entry is “Slaughter House,” in which two brothers with a taste for the Victorian buy the abandoned Slaughter House beloved since their youth. In their restored, candlelit mansion, the two, caressed by ghostly hands, turn against each other while the ectoplasmal Clarissa Slaughter roams their rooms.

In his intro, Stephen King bows to the Master for regenerating a stale genre. Indeed, The Shining bears touches of “Slaughter House.”

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-765-30411-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Tor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001


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