Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND is a remarkable book. Do a straw poll of a hundred horror authors and ask them to name the single piece of fiction which most influenced them, and I’ll wager that a good number will cite I AM LEGEND. It’s not just authors – the same is probably true of film-makers too. You can’t read the book without having scenes from George Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD play out in your head.
There’s no question, therefore, that this is an hugely influential novel, and the fact it’s been filmed on no less than three occasions is further proof of that. Interestingly, though, it’s also a remarkably slight book, coming in at less than 200 pages. So how does Matheson cram so much into so little? I decided to try and find out. There will unavoidably be spoilers ahead.
As I type I’ve literally just finished re-reading the book for the umpteenth time. I thought it would be interesting to give you my thoughts on the novel and then, over the next few weeks, to look at each of the film adaptations in turn (and if you’re not aware of the movies, they are as follows: LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE OMEGA MAN and I AM LEGEND).
I’m sure you know the basic plot by now but, just in case, here’s the back cover blurb: Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague that has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But all the while the infected lurk in the shadows, watching his every move, waiting for him to make a mistake…
Start them young, that’s what I always say. I think my taste in films and books (and, perhaps, my chosen career) was decided at an early age. I have vivid memories of watching Dr Who, Blake’s 7, and Space: 1999 and so on as a kid, then graduating to horror and developing an unhealthy addiction to post-apocalyptic books and films during my teenage years (thanks, in no small part, to growing up during the tail end of the Cold War). So I felt it was my duty as a father to sit down with my wife and two youngest daughters to watch a family friendly dystopian movie recently. And I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
I approached HOW I LIVE NOW (2013, based on the 2004 novel by Meg Rossoff) with some trepidation, fearing I was in for 101 minutes of Twilight-like pretty kids moping around, but I needn’t have worried. As usual, here’s a brief synopsis and a trailer. Click the link below for my thoughts on the movie.
Set in the near-future UK, Daisy, an American teenager, is sent to stay with relatives in the English countryside. Initially withdrawn and alienated, she begins to warm up to her charming surroundings and strikes up a romance with the handsome Edmund. But on the fringes of their idyllic summer days are tense news reports of an escalating conflict in Europe. As the UK falls into a violent, chaotic military state, Daisy finds herself hiding and fighting to survive.
Several months late, but here’s the second in my series of looks at classic (and not so classic) post-apocalyptic movies.
Picture the scene: late-1983 – a very different, pre-Internet world where news comes almost entirely from the daily papers and scheduled radio and TV bulletins, where information isn’t available ‘on tap’ like it is today. It’s a world which feels like it’s permanently on the edge; split into east and west by two opposing superpowers with their respective leaders’ fingers hovering over the buttons which, it seems, will inevitably release a nuclear Armageddon sometime very soon. In school playgrounds, kids talk nervously about things like Mutual Assured Destruction and what they’re going to do when the four-minute warning sounds. There’s an uneasy feeling of impending doom, and the lack of readily available information makes the playground chatter that much more frightening… ‘your eyes melt if you look at one of them exploding’, ‘they’ll aim at least three at our city, we won’t have a chance’, ‘I heard Dad talking to one of his mates about the missiles at Greenham Common’…
This is the first film in my ‘Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club’ – a series of regular features, essays and discussions about films which depict the end of the world in one way or another. I know it’s not right, but I’m addicted to this stuff! Please check out the movie, read my thoughts, then join me to talk about it in the forum or on Facebook, Twitter etc.
Threads, a BBC TV production, was first broadcast in September 1984 and subsequently repeated the following August to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It wasn’t shown again on UK TV until 2003 and despite owning a VHS copy since the early 1990’s, it had been more than 15 years since I’d watched the film when I sat down to watch it again recently. Looking back, I think I may have set the bar too high by selecting Threads as my first film for discussion. I’ve yet to find a more harrowing or thought-provoking PA movie.
Forgive the bizarre title of this post – it will make sense!
I never really intended to use this website to tell you what I did on my summer holidays, but today I’m making an exception.
I’m sure any writers who are reading this will agree: we never really stop working. Even when you’re not sat at your desk staring at your computer screen, banging away at the keyboard or reading through reams of papers, signing and posting books, answering emails etc., you’re still working. You’re still thinking – thinking about the book you’re writing now or the book you’re planning to write next, or the one you were supposed to have finished last month… Being away on holiday is no exception, and often the new places you visit and the people you meet along the way provide huge amounts of unexpected inspiration.
Back in 2004 when I was writing Autumn: Purification, I started looking into the large number of underground structures which can be found along the length and breadth of the UK. Have a look at Subterranea Britannica if this isn’t something you’ve come across before – it’s fascinating. Bunkers are a mainstay of countless end-of-the-world stories and I’ve been researching them again recently for something I’m currently working on (not telling you what!). Just before the school holidays began in July and my daily writing routine went completely to pot, I posted Remain Indoors – a brief article about my intention to re-watch and write about as many post-apocalyptic movies as I could get my hands on. The response was phenomenal and even now, more than six weeks later, I’m still getting film suggestions emailed to me regularly. (Thanks to everyone who got in touch – please keep your ideas coming).
So as you can probably imagine, even though I was supposed to be on holiday, with my head swimming with post-apocalyptic movies and stories of Cold War bunkers, when the opportunity to visit such a site unexpectedly presented itself, I was in there like a shot.
I’ve been doing a lot of press for DOG BLOOD recently and I’ve regularly been asked about my favourite movies. As you’ve probably guessed from my books (it doesn’t take a genius!), post-apocalyptic films are my thing.
My brain needs some serious recharging right now, and talking about all those classics has made me want to watch them again. So that’s what I’m planning to do. And I’ve decided I’ll write something about each of them for this site: what I liked about them, what I didn’t like, how they’ve been an influence etc. etc. etc.
There are many comprehensive lists around the internet (such as this one over at www.quietearth.us), but I was thinking – what are your favourite apocalyptic films? I’m always on the lookout for new films or ones that I’ve missed, so please leave a comment and recommend your top end of the world movies. As a starter, here are the first few I’ve got lined up: