“The Funeral” is Richard Matheson’s absurd yet charming short story about a vampire who wishes to attend his own funeral. His guests include familiar faces, particularly from the 30s and 40s era of horror films–a hunchback, a werewolf, a witch and, well, more vampires. As with I Am Legend, Matheson questions our perception of the true monster, though in a far more amusing way. The vampire, Ludwig Asper, simply wants a funeral, the best that money can buy and for which he is willing to pay. Morton Silkline, the funeral director, is an arrogant and greedy man more than content to make a buck off of grief.
The chaos that ensues is a reflection of similar human gatherings in which the guests behave monstrously, and more than a few I’ve experienced myself. For actual monsters, at least, it’s their nature to behave this way. The werewolf has an appointment to keep and leaves early, with only one syllable rudely grunted to mark his departure; the witch is like the family drunk who starts fights just for the attention she’ll get. Between witch and vampire magic, the room is severely damaged in the end, but one can hardly sympathize with either Silkline’s losses or his terror. It’s Ludwig who garners that sympathy; upstaged by the witch, whom he had asked to leave before things got really ugly, he is once again unable to experience a proper funeral.
Some people do not like the pompous, pretentious style in which “The Funeral” is written, but I felt it very appropriate to Silkline’s character. By the end, as some Lovecraftian beast lumbers into his office because the vampire has referred it, one wonders how long gold will comfort Silkline when faced with a potentially endless clientele of monsters and the inevitable destruction of more rooms. And yet, are these funerals all that different from the human ones over which he has presided? Perhaps this is exactly the opportunity he has been waiting for; monsters, after all, seem to have a great deal more money than people do.
“The Funeral” was an excellent counterpoint to I Am Legend. Matheson truly excels in the short form, and I look forward to reading the rest of the stories contained within the book.