Nightmare at 20,000 Feet Review


Although Richard Matheson is a name that I am well aware of, this is the first time I have read one of his books.  For those who may not know who Matheson is, you might be familiar with the movies and shows adapted from his work. Television wise, his literature inspired Twilight Zone episodes and a Masters of Horror episode.  Movie wise, his visions inspired: A Stir of Echoes, Legend of Hell House, and I Am Legend.

When I review short story books, I try to give a briefing of each story if it is an anthology.  But, since this isn’t an anthology, I have selected my top favorite stories.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet opens up with an intro from Stephen King.  In these pages, he praises Matheson, saying Matheson’s work has influenced his own.  In many ways, after experiencing this book, I can see where this is so.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is without a doubt the most famous story in this collection.  If you think this title sounds familiar, that’s because of The Twilight Zone.  For the TV episode, William Shatner played a hysteric passenger trapped while in flight.  In the movie version, John Lithgow reenacted Shatner’s iconic role.  No matter how many times I am exposed to this tale, may it be in print, on TV, or in a movie, this reminds me why I hate to fly.  I consider this story to be a great opening for the collection.  It hits hard and jolts the reader with its character development and creativity.

Dress of White Silk is a story that felt psychological.  At the end, I questioned if what was occurring happened, or if it was the imagination of the antagonist.  Despite circumstance’s reality, the tale focuses on a young girl, living with her grandmother.  The girl, whose mother had died, becomes smitten with a silky, white dress that her mother had worn.  Although her grandmother demands she not touch the dress, the antagonist disobeys.  The result of this reveals dark consequences.

Blood Son is a nerve cringing story about a boy obsessed with vampires.  In this tale, there is a brutal monologue that the boy delivers, which is something that I doubt will ever leave my mind.  Since the writing style in this tale is so direct and bitter, I considered it would be a serial killer origin story.  To my surprise, the twist ending was much more than I anticipated.

Disappearing Act is a disturbing installment and is about a man, who one day finds his life is vanishing before him.  As the story progresses, the undoing of his life continues, until its gut wrenching end.  The writing style of Disappearing Act felt claustrophobic with its prose, which was necessary, as it drew to its main focal point.

Long Distance Call was a segment that made my skin crawl.  I found it interesting that Matheson chose his protagonist to be an elderly woman.  Because of his character choice, I experienced new emotions, as my heart went out to her more.  Such as other stories about harassing phone calls, this one builds intensity over time.  Yet, what sets it apart from other similar stories is its supernatural elements.

Dance of the Dead is a title that might sound familiar to the horror fandom.  If you have watched Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead, then you might already know the plot to this one.  If not, the story regards a double date who goes to a bar.  All is fun and games, until the main attraction for the night comes onto stage.  This story hit me as I felt sorry for the performer, and I felt angry for the people who enjoyed what they were seeing.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a torture porn story, but it is ghastly nonetheless.

The Children of Noah plays on a fear I had as a child.  In this phobia, I would come into a town and discover everyone were either maniacs or creatures.  Like other stories similar in plot, a police officer pulls over an outer towner.  The officer arrests him for speeding and forces him to wait for a judge to hear his plea.  Yet, not everything is what it seems.  After reading this one, give yourself a few hours before you continue forward.  This story’s despairing conclusion haunted me for the next few installments.

The Distributer shows the dark side of humanity.  In this tale, a stranger moves into a new neighborhood.  Within a short time, he throws himself into helping the community.  At this same time, he learns everyone’s weaknesses and he antagonizes those weaknesses.  At the story’s conclusion, I felt enthralled by his creativity.  Yet, I hated him for the satisfaction he received from ruining innocent people.  This is a good example of a character that you hate to love.

The Likeness of Julie might sound familiar to old school horror fans.  Remember the movie Trilogy of Terror staring the late, great Karen Black?  This is the story that inspired one of the three tales in that trilogy.  By breaking the ethics of a student/teacher relationship, a teacher accompanies her student to a movie.  Here, the student decides to drug, molest, then blackmail his teacher with photographs.  However, little does he know he has met his match.

Prey is another story adapted by the movie Trilogy of Terror.  Out of all twenty stories in this book, this one hits just as hard as the first tale.  With Prey, we meet a young woman who lives alone.  It is her boyfriend’s birthday and since history is his passion, she buys him a Zuni fetish doll that is possessed by the spirit of a warrior.  This is a tale of cat and mouse that provides haunting visuals throughout between our protagonist and the doll.  For anyone who hasn’t seen Trilogy of Terror, read this story before watching the movie.

From a scale of 1 to 10, one being the worst and ten being the best, it deserves a 9.  Audio narration was a 6 ½, but that didn’t decrease my entertainment.  Also, for anyone wanting to get their teenagers into horror, this would be a decent starter book.  It isn’t gory, it’s not explicit and it doesn’t have gratuitous sex.



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