Night Cry magazines and 1980s anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant, Dennis Etchison, and Stuart David Schiff. While his name alone could have gotten him published, Matheson garnered much attention in the field on his own skill for stripping his stories to the absolute bone, with some consisting solely of one-word sentences or very nearly that. During an era in which horror showed a tendency to bloat and stuffing, some editors and readers found Matheson's pared-down work refreshing, while still maintaining edge and bite. For a short while he was aligned with the splatterpunks, mostly because he was young and had a background in television (you know--so modern) and palled around with Skipp, Spector, Schow, et. al. My first experience with him was in 1986's Cutting Edge, which included "Vampire." It's just two pages of:
Michael Blumlein with his "Bestseller." Graphic unsettling violence rears an ugly head--or ugly bump--in "Goosebumps," a bit of meta-horror that would be silly were it not for the image of a guy stabbing a butcher knife into his own mouth. It's still silly but now it makes you wince, so...
Is it ironic that "Graduation,"
which I'd read in Whispers, is probably Matheson's best work, and it was his first published? Written with strength and style and its
only gimmick is the letter-writer's references to "you-know-who" and
even on this second read I have no idea who that's supposed to be.
Unreliable narrators can be great devices for horror but not when the
reader has no way to grasp the truth. Still, I found it vivid and unsettling; "Graduation" has a precision that briefer works lack. Other standout works--the aforementioned "Vampire," "Mr. Right," "Red," "Dead End"--can be found in various anthologies. Editors chose wisely (Paul Sammon included the broiling, LA's burning, high-pressure radio-DJ nightmare "Hell" in Splatterpunks). I believe it was "Red" that got Matheson attention in the first place, and how could it not? It's about SPOILER a guy picking up parts of his daughter's mangled corpse off the road after he accidentally dragged her behind his car. Of course Matheson doesn't spell that out like I just did and while it's pretty shocking it kind of stretches the boundaries of belief. Would the police and EMTs even allow that?!
I began to think of this collection as high-concept
horror: ideas that seem intriguing at first but are little more than
tiny gimmicks, not actual stories about real people and situations. His
penchant for writing stories made up of one-word sentences is
interesting at first, but when it's over you think, That's all? Despite
the introductory encomiums from Stephen King and Dennis Etchison, I was
very little impressed with Scars, and despite the Matheson family name, found it not very distinguishing at all.