Short Story Review: Richard Matheson’s The Funeral

Best of Richard Matheson

Please note that this review contains SPOILERS. Also: if anyone is interested in reading more of Richard Matheson’s fiction, a short story collection called The Best of Richard Matheson (pictured above) came out a few months ago.

Richard Matheson’s short story The Funeral tells the tale of a greedy funeral director who receives a visit from a man who wants to hold a funeral – for himself. This man hates mirrors and can transform into a bat. His friends include a hunchback, a witch, a group of pointy-toothed gentlemen and a man with hairy palms, er, hands. Mayhem ensues.

I don’t have a lot to say about this short story, a 2,499-word horror/humor mash-up that hasn’t aged well. However, in the interests of thoroughness and five hundred words here is my take. I found The Funeral’s humor to be dated, its use of alliteration distracting and its word choices irritating. I am sure the elevated vocabulary is intentional, a way to poke fun at the pomposity of the funeral business, but making your reader refer to a dictionary while perusing a story is never a good idea. I didn’t know the meaning of two of the words in the first sentence, but can take comfort in the fact that Ygor and old Jenny of Boston had trouble understanding what the hell people in this story were talking about, also. They are salt of the earth types, just like me.

The Funeral is interesting in that it is a horror/humor hybrid, which brings up the question of influences. Matheson is by no means the first person to combine horror and humor. I can think of two possible contemporary influences. The first is Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, which I loved as a kid. Indeed, The Funeral’s slapstick humor reminded me of this movie.

The second influence is EC Comics, publisher of fine horror comics in the late 40’s and early 50’s. The title I am thinking of is Tales from the Crypt, immortalized by the HBO series. I was struck by the fact that The Funeral could be an episode of Tales from the Crypt, except it wouldn’t be a very good episode. If this was an EC comic the funeral director wouldn’t know they were all vampires until the end, when they turned around and ate him, and then he would rise from the grave and cater exclusively to the undead. Matheson’s twist has the deceased recommending the funeral director’s business to all his monster friends.

Final point: cats don’t sit on people’s shoulders. I suppose it’s possible to train a cat to do so, but it would take serious bribes and I’d suggest wearing shoulder pads and a hockey mask. Ask any cat owner if you don’t believe me. Okay…that final point is a total nitpick, but I didn’t like this story.

Humor is subjective, and my review came down to whether or not this short story tickled my funny bone. As it happens, it did not. The biggest reason I didn’t like The Funeral is that I didn’t think it was very funny. To me, the veneer of sophistication shellacked onto this short story backfires, big-time, and The Funeral reads as phony and forced as the funeral business it is mocking.

8 Replies to “Short Story Review: Richard Matheson’s The Funeral”

  1. I did find it a little annoy that I had to go and look up a few words but I think overall I think he was trying to make the story more authentic in a sense that those are commonly used terms in that line of work. I thought the blend of horror and humor to be quiet entertaining for a short story. When I read about the cat on the shoulder I could actually see that happening. It may have been more of a juxtaposition because normally it’s a black crow. Overall I found the story to be an entertaining read and it was a good example of how humor and horror can work together.

    1. Hi Louise,

      Thank you for commenting! I think you are right that Matheson was using industry terminology to add authenticity to his story. I never thought about the cat/crow juxtaposition; great point.

      I did read slush for a few years – which is way too long – and now I tend to tear short stories to shreds when I read them. It’s a habit slushies acquire. If the story survives somewhat intact, we send it up!


  2. Hi George, thanks for a good post. I agree that “The Funeral” was definitely dated. Humor, in general, does not age well over time. It can come ’round again as most things do, but overall its a generational thing. To be frank, I have been trying to figure out Millennial humor lately and it baffles me. I’m Gen X though so snarkiness is the baseline for me. I also think the reference to EC was dead-on. I think your “edit” on the story would have made for a classic EC story either in the original comic or the TV series. Kudos for that.

    1. Hi Sean,

      Thanks for the comments!

      I’m Gen X also, and one of my favorite funny horror movies is Return of the Living Dead. I’m not sure how the humor of that movie translates to other generations, or if it even does. I recently bought a copy of all eight of the Nightmare on Elm Streets; I recall thinking they were funny when I saw them at the movies, years ago, and I’m wondering if I still will.

  3. Hi George,

    Thank you for your take on “The Funeral.” I did not even have enough interest to look words up! Feel asleep a few times though. For me, the story was not engaging, not horrific, and not at all funny. I must admit though that I never put much thought into how humor ages. The story did feel dates, and I think I was actually put off by the stereotypical characters even if they were meant to poke fun. There was nothing new, surprising, or remotely interesting.

    I laughed at your observation about the cat! No, a cat would never sit on a shoulder. They might, however, tear your neck to shreds on the way off it! My particular insane cat is obsessed with women’s pony tales— and long hair in general. Anyone who comes over is fair game and more than once I’ve sat and watched in horror as the cat pounced some poor unsuspecting guest from across the room! He does it to me too, and all it does his result in him fall off my shoulder trying to grab my hair on his way down, and many nasty scratches as he does so! Not fun— that cat is a nut.

    I too, did not consider a juxtaposition with the black crow as Louise pointed out, but again, the story was mind numbing for me and that doesn’t prove much deep thought on my part! The discusses about “The Funeral” have been much more entertaining than the story.

    1. Hi Jeannie,

      Thank you for your comments!

      My cat will lay on my neck when I’m sleeping, which can be painful if I make any sudden moves. I guess arguing about the realism of the shoulder thing is a nitpick, considering the short story features fantastical creatures such as vampires and werewolves, etc. However, while I’ve never met a vampire or a werewolf, I have lived with a few cats, and that behavior is definitely unrealistic for them.


  4. Hi George!

    As always, I will play devil’s advocate and say that cats definitely sit on shoulders. I have known two different cats that preferred sitting on shoulders, despite their owners’ frustration! Granted, one of them did it because it was a learned behavior; my grandfather taught him to sit on his shoulder as a kitten while he did things around the house, and he figured he could still do it as a full grown tabby cat. The other cat did it simply because she liked it. If you were sitting in a chair, she would curl up in your neck, draping her paws over the shoulders, refusing to move when you stood up, despite the support of the chair being taken away. You’ve never known pain until a cat digs its claws into your shoulders in an attempt to stay in the impossible position.

    I also think that the tone was very forced and phony. I rolled my eyes once or twice at the humor in the story. However, I think that was the tone that Matheson was probably going for. I read this story lightly, and I think that may have been one of the angles Matheson was playing. I think it isn’t supposed to change people (except morticians… he definitely makes a point to paint them in a horrible light), but is merely a fun classic “horror” story.

    I wasn’t very intrigued past classic horror nostalgia either, and I felt like the story was pretty pointless.

    1. Hi Felisha,

      Thanks for responding!

      That’s interesting. My cat will leap up onto a chair and then use my shoulder as a stepping-stone towards my lap, but he’s never tried to sit up there. I’m sort of glad he hasn’t, although he does enjoy lying on my neck while I’m sleeping.

      I think forced and phony are good words to describe The Funeral. Not my type of story at all!


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