“I’m dreaming of a frightening story
Just like the ones’ I used to peruse
Where my hairs had risen
And fear would glisten
To see such terror and abuse...”
You get my drift. It’s Halloween time, the month where the strong of stomach and mind go searching for that perfect hair-raising story to read during the cold, dark, and windy nights. They go searching for horror and ghosts, psychotic cars, and men named Freddy, but as movies move from the frightening to the frightful, and horror stories of yesteryear become romances of today it is harder and harder to work up a good scare. I too have been in this desolate place, reverting to my worn and torn childhood copy of Scary Stories 3, or revisiting all one million Halloween’s and Friday the 13th’s, yes even Freddy vs. Jason, yet I am continuously let down. I’ve tried the Saw’s and Hostel’s, but found myself more sickened by the blatant, gratuitous violence, torture, and just plain cruelty of this new breed of horror, than frightened or entertained. Thank God for an old friend who managed to bring the terror back into my cheery October nights.
The first time I came across Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend a friend handed it off to me ensuring that I would be captivated. I have to admit I was leery. Let me preface this by saying that the horrible, action-packed ridiculousness, which was the Will Smith film version of this title (really it just used the name and basic plot elements, nothing else was remotely close to the novel) was not even in the works. I was hesitant because the plot sounded way too much like the Charleston Heston 1970’s film The Omega Man, a movie I had seen more times than I had really wanted, and didn’t actually care for. The basic storyline (as given by the publisher) is this: “Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth . . . but he is not alone. An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him. By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.” Sounds like Omega Man, right? Anyway, after sitting on my desk for a few weeks I finally decided to pack it in a bag and take it to the beach with me.
It was an overcast day, the Santa Monica beach nearly deserted, as I sat by my surfboard, book in hand. The story began:
“January 1976: On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when the sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.”As the story of Robert Neville’s desperate loneliness, his incurable depression, his fight for survival along the dead and abandoned streets of Los Angeles unfolded, I could feel his world. I sat up and saw the deserted beach with it’s barely breaking waves, and listened to the aged, eerily tinkling tunes of the Carousel as it spun emptily on the rickety old Pier, and could see Neville’s empty LA streets lined with dead cars, stinking of abandonment, the stale taste disuse floating in the air. And I had chills.
I realized that I was terrified. Not by the soulless, taunting monsters who stalked the nights, terrorizing a lonely and half-mad Neville, but by the utter emptiness of a city that was so vitally alive, and by a man, broken and nearly defeated. The fear and terror of the story is pulled freshly from a fear that is so prevalent in all of our psyches, the fear of being completely alone, with only the monsters of memory (as seen in flashbacks, and embodied by the neighbors and friends of Neville’s who taunt him nightly with their blood-thirsty catcalls) as companions. “For he was a man and he was alone…” These words, this concept, can evoke far more than the most brutally sadistic scenes of today’s so-called horror. And this simple story of a man, a legend, surviving by the skin of his teeth in a world that no longer no wants him, is not only thrilling in it’s creep factor, but stimulating in it’s underlying concepts. The horror is not in the vampire creatures, but in the fact that they two were simple humans, and now they are lost. This isn’t Buffy, this is a tortured soul looking to survive, when there is nothing to survive for. This is what happens when there is nothing.
So, instead of yearning for a new, exciting thrill, and ultimately being disappointed, I have embraced a story of old, one that still, after several years, manages to both thrill and chill me with its brilliance. I Am Legend, I am devoted.