Nightmare at 20000 Feet by Richard Matheson: Review


Well, that was disturbing.

Back in October 2008, I read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, a novella that really impressed me. Now in October 2014, I’m revisiting Matheson through the audiobook collection Nightmare at 20000 Feet.

Stephen King warns in the introduction of this collection that “he will wring you dry” and he certainly did. At the end of many of these stories, I was left with an eerie sense of unease. He has a cynical eye for the human race. What are the worst things we are capable of? What does madness do to a person? Can you trust your family, your neighbours, your own sanity? 

Nightmare at 20000 Feet is the classic Twilight Zone episode featuring the only man on a plane who sees a gremlin on the wing. It’s been remade many times. Even Bart Simpson had an encounter with the gremlin. The short story is much more scary than the television episode. We learn more about the man’s state of mind. He’s nervous, he’s taken drugs, he’s suicidal (he has a gun ON THE PLANE! Something unimaginable now.) Is he a reliable narrator? Is the gremlin real or a figment of his sick mind?


A couple of my other favorites were

Disappearing Act. A one night stand begins a chain of events leading to the literal disappearance of a man. He starts to freak out after trying to get into contact with the woman he slept with only to find she doesn’t exist. Then other parts of his life start disappearing, including his wife and home.

Legion of Plotters. A little too close to home. A man begins to suspect the little annoyances he endures throughout the day are part of a plot to destroy his sanity. It doesn’t end well.

Dance of the Dead. The future, 1997, is a place ravaged by war but young people are still seeking a good time. One thrilling entertainment is watching the Dance of the Dead performed by LUPs. You’ll find out what they are. 1997 sure sounds a lot like the 1950s though.

The Distributor. I can’t call it a favorite because it left me feeling terrible but it is compelling. A man moves into a quiet neighbourhood and slowly begins to destroy the lives of the people on the street. It ends in murder and suicide. I was most disturbed by the cold, calculated way he goes about it for no apparent reason.

The stories reveal a lot about attitudes towards race and gender during the time period. The women are harpies, victims of violence, or sexual predators. Slaughter House features sexytimes with a ghost! The men are driven crazy for it. One of the neighbours in The Distributor are afraid of being outted as black, whether they are or not.

There are ghosts, monsters, vampires, zombies, all your typical Halloween creatures, but not so typical.The writing is creeps up on you. The mundane details add up to the macabre. It’s a slow process that raises the hair on the back of your neck. If you want to be freaked out, read Nightmare at 20000 Feet.

About the Audio: No Stephen King does not read his own intro. Damn. There are several narrators for the collection, although only one woman, Julia Campbell. Yuri Rasovsky’s oddly cheese-grater-like voice was one of the ones that creeped me out the most. I couldn’t listen to him vocalize a child’s voice in Dress of White Silk. I had to skip that one.


  1. Yikes, this sounds disturbing. I don't think I could listen to it!

  2. Hopping over from RIP IX...This sounds like a collection that really fits the season!


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