Book Review: Richard Matheson’s “The Funeral”

book review, SHU WPF, writing life November 29, 2010

I’ve spent today finishing up the last bits of work for my MFA program. I had an essay due for my horror reading class and the giant final project for my Writing About Popular Fiction. I sent everything out into cyber space today. All that’s left before I graduate is to attend one final residency and defend my thesis. A year ago at this time, I was sad to think I would soon be done. I got a “bonus” year out of the program when they added the “F,” and it was one year too long. I’m not sad to leave now and I can honestly say I’m disillusioned. It would have been better to go out last year.

 

Anyway, here’s a review I did some time ago of Richard Matheson’s short story, “The Funeral.”

Was this supposed to be horror? Because The Funeral was hysterical.

I love the tongue-in-cheek way Matheson handled Morton Silkline. Just the name… Silkline… like the silky lining in a casket, Morton himself is slick and cool. “Rising as if caught in the midst of a tete-a-tete with death’s bright angel, Morton Silkline circled the glossy desk on whispering feet and extended one flaccid-fingered hand” (p. 261). Fan-fricking-tastic. The visual of just that sentence gives me everything I need to know about Mr. Silkline.

Morton is a man in control. He’s the epitome of businessman, expressing just the right amount of tactful sympathy to his clients tempered by a professional attitude to assure the bereaved he can handle their needs with no expense spared. And then along comes Mister Asper.

Ludwig Asper tilts poor Morton’s world on end. He arranges his own funeral– post-death, naturally– and brings along a crew of mourners that Morton is utterly incapable of handling. The ragtag crew of various monsters appears unable to observe the most basic of courtesies. “The waxen-faced man” (p. 268) seems to think Morton is an appetizer, Jenny sets fire to the rug, and the Count can’t ignore her.

Poor Morton. My sympathies were with him by the end of the story.

I did have a few issues with The Funeral. First and foremost, the use of stereotypes. Of course Ygor was at the funeral. Of course the witch was the crone. Of course the Count was from Carpathia. I tried to keep in mind the fact that this story was written and published in 1955. Did these stereotypes seem fresh then? I’m not sure. While the story is still a good read today, it is definitely more funny than scary, but I can’t say for sure that this wasn’t the original intent of Matheson to begin with.

My other issue with the story was, along with the stereotypes, the sheer predictability. When Asper first came into Silkline’s office and declared that he was arranging his own funeral, I actually waited for him to say he knew when he was going to die and for the precognitive knowledge of his own death be the creep factor in the story. Kind of a pre-emptive planning (which I know some people do and I find incredibly disturbing on several levels). Once I realized that Asper was undead (I’m assuming he’s a vampire based on his request to have the mirror removed), I knew exactly where the story was going.

Those two issues aside, I enjoyed The Funeral quite a lot. The predictability and the stereotyping made an unsurprising story, but it was entertaining anyway. I did wait for something more to happen, and felt like Matheson didn’t quite squeak out all the entertainment value he could have, but it was a satisfying story. I particularly liked the ending, with the vision of Morton shaking that little bag of gold, thinking of his nephew in Mexico, a glint in his eye as he weighs the benefits of servicing the undead.

Work cited:
Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: RXR, Inc. 1995.

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Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

Comments 2

  1. Matthew Bradley says on November 30, 2010

    Matheson’s intent was definitely comedic, as was made quite clear when he adapted “The Funeral” for a 1972 episode of NIGHT GALLERY. Two well-known television comedians played the leads: Werner Klemperer, best known as Colonel Klink on HOGAN’S HEROES, made a terrific Asper, and Joe Flynn of McHALE’S NAVY played Silkline. The story was faithfully adapted but, as you can imagine, the antics of the mourners were a bit over the top. One interesting note is that because he had already borrowed the Count’s flowery funeral oration and incorporated it into the script of his 1963 film THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, Matheson had to write a new speech for the television version of “The Funeral.” For further information, see my new book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4).

    • tattooed writer says on December 1, 2010

      Matthew~ Thank you for this information! I will have to look for the Night Gallery episode, I’ve never watched the show. I’m going now to check out Joe Flynn, since Silkline was so wonderful. Nikki

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