Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Monsters Want to Say Goodbye Too

What can one say about The Funeral? The delicious short story from Richard Matheson that can be played as late night low-budget horror television fun or be played as a terrifying look into monsters commemorating their earthly demise.

The story gives in a bit to some stereotypes with the pointy-hat wearing witch with the cat and the odd little man repeating “tasty” at poor Morton the mortician and funeral director, but I can forgive these little things as the story is kind of fun and maybe, perhaps, isn’t horror?

Sure, the people who attend the funeral are standard fare at any haunted house. Sure, the story is about a funeral for someone who is clearly undead. But what happens that is horror-esque?

Morton is asked to put on a funeral. Yes, this is morbid stuff, but like it or not we are all going to end up dead one day. Death and taxes baby. Funerals, death as a subject, can’t be relegated to just the horror genre.

Morton puts on that funeral, and does a splendid job. He completes all the requests, including taking down the mirror, and is paid handsomely for his efforts. He is made uneasy by the guests at the funeral, but is that horror? Who hasn’t been annoyed by relatives at an official event? Who hasn’t rolled their eyes at the fanboys talking to the screen during a movie? No, being annoyed by guests is as much a part of social interaction as using turn signals or saying “good morning.”

This story, for me, was touching and a bit funny. All Asper wants is a proper funeral, something he feels he missed out on the first time around. I wonder how many people are truly happy about their funeral? How many of us would do them over or do them differently? Oh wait, we can’t, we’re dead. That’s the funny part. Maybe I am a bit twisted.

But think of all the socially formal events you’ve had to endure: graduations, weddings, funerals, birthdays, retirements, etc. For all but birthdays, you get to do them once. The Funeral almost made me sympathetic to the brides who lose their minds about trivialities like center pieces and the color of ribbon tying balloons down. Almost.

I mean, Asper is dead and a ghoul, and he doesn’t throw a hissy fit about things. In fact, he probably could have killed Morton with ease but he doesn’t. He restrains himself, unlike some of his funeral guests, and some brides to be.

This story reminds me of Hellboy or Joss Whedon’s Angel. Matheson has taken traditional monsters and placed them in a mundane, very human environment. He has fleshed them out to show they have feelings beyond “kill the people” and some of them, Asper anyway, want nice things, no matter the cost. No, Matheson doesn’t take the monster and make it the hero, but he does take the monster and make them … normal.

I mean, when not eating people, what does a monster do with themselves? Even if you give yourself a full hour per meal that leaves 21 hours in the day, what do you do with your time? If Matheson is to be believed, monsters probably do some of the same things.


  1. I took this story as a monster comedy, not as a horror. In fact, I spent most of the time laughing, and I never once was horrified or afraid. Do you think Matheson deliberately humanized these monsters for comedic effect? Or do you think there was another message in there?

  2. I like your take on this, Dave. Particularly when you compare Asper to a Bridezilla. You're right. He handles the stress of his funeral with great aplomb. The stereotypes did bother me, but only because whenever I've tried to use one to comedic effect I get yelled at with a red pen. I wondered if these were indeed stereotypes in the 50s, or if this was taken a bit differently then.

  3. You know what this story reminded me of? The Munsters. Like you, I saw the humanized monsters coming through the stereotype as funny. But I like your comparison of Asper with a typical bride. A funeral is still a rite of passage (though it usually doesn't matter so much to the main subject of the funeral), and there's comedy in the do-over being as ridiculous as the first was disappointing.

  4. I think this story is more Saturday morning than Friday night story. This, as I read it, was a kids horror story. One that would appear with nasty drawings of monsters that had nothing to do with the story.
    I did enjoy it, but nope, not horror.
    I agree with KL Grady, this had a Munsters feel to it. In fact, this would have been a perfect episode.

  5. Ditto on the Munsters but I had a slightly different take on it. While I thought the entire scene of the funeral was hysterical I got many of my laughs from Morton. His worry about Asper showing up and then dealing with the guests were his horror. Funny to us but I'm sure it wasn't to him. At the same time, when he is approached with another challenging funeral in the end, the money keeps him going. It really makes a statement of just how far a capitalist would go.

  6. Yes, this story seemed more humor than horror to me as well. It was nice that Matheson "humanized" the monsters, and their silly personalities made it an enjoyable romp.


  7. This story was made into a Night Gallery episode. You can check it out on Hulu. I think Asper was more mad at his group because they couldn't be civilized for five minutes than he was at Silkline.

  8. An "enjoyable romp," as Alexa said, is the perfect description of this short story for me. I wasn't scared, and I wasn't transported, but I did have a rocking good time, and I smiled a lot. Combine that with really nice writing, and I'm sold.