Friday, November 28, 2014

Various Venerable Vampires of Variable Value in Vintage Radio

Earlier I composed a list of appearances by werewolves in old-time radio programs. Although I collected those shows because I have a particular interest in werewolf fiction, I began to wonder - what about some of the other familiar monster types who appeared on the radio?

It seems natural, then, to continue this series with the vampire, probably the most popular monster in fiction (unless you count ghosts). However, old-time radio was slow to gain interest in horror stories and even then, many early broadcasts have been lost to time and wear. It is perhaps notable that while film studios began to lose interest in horror movies as the 1930s wore on, the 1930s were a golden age of horror radio programs. I haven't found many shows which utilized genuine vampires, but here's my complete findings.

Note: I'm also aware there's a 1941 episode of Front Page Drama entitled "House of the Dead" which supposedly deals with vampires, but I couldn't locate a copy of the audio to verify it.

VAMPIRES IN NAME ONLY

The early program Police Reporter dramatized real-life crimes and one 1935 entry told the story of the "Vampire of Dusseldorf," an oft-recounted tale of a mad serial killer in Germany so named because he actually drank the blood from some of his victims! This isn't the kind of subject which would pass muster on radio in the 1940s.

Right-click here to download Police Reporter's "The Case of the Vampire of Dusseldorf" from archive.org

One of the 1935 episodes of Alex Raymond's adventure comic strip Jungle Jim concerned Jim battling a "Bat Woman" of the jungle who wore a bat costume while commanding her subjects. The same story was adapted to radio and the entire story has, luckily, been preserved. It's not vampires, but it's a pretty good adventure yarn. Get out your comic strips and follow along!

Right-click here to download the Adventures of Jungle Jim's Bat Woman story, part 1 from archive.org part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13 part 14 part 15 part 16 part 17 part 18 part 19 part 20 part 21

Remaining with comic strips, Mark Trail himself once tangled with "Vampires of the Deep" in a 1950 episode, but these "vampires" were merely fish thieves, not blood suckers.

Right-click here to download Mark Trail's "Vampire of the Deep" from archive.org

VAMPIRE HOAXES

1944 saw a great episode of Nick Carter, Master Detective where he faces off against weird, unseen creatures which have been preying on the blood of young people ambushed in the park by night. Even though you can be assured they won't turn out to be real vampires it's a pretty great mystery-thriller - though it gets a little racist when the creatures are finally revealed.

Right-click here to download Nick Carter, Master Detective's "Death After Dark" from archive.org

For all the jokes about vampires on Inner Sanctum Mysteries, they don't seem to have thrived in the surviving episodes. The 1945 episode "the Undead" has a neat story about a woman who gradually begins to believe her husband is a vampire. Unfortunately, like so many Inner Sanctum stories the supernatural doesn't truly exist and the explanation at the end is dumb, dumb, dumb, to the extent that you feel dumb for even listening. Interestingly, when Ernie Colon adapted this story for his Inner Sanctum graphic novel, he chucked out the limp ending and went with real vampires (I reviewed Colon's book on the blog here).

Right-click here to download Inner Sanctum Mysteries' "The Undead" from archive.org

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes famously dealt with a supposed vampire in his story of "the Sussex Vampire," which the radio program adapted in 1947. However, earlier in the year the series tackled a similar case in "the Adventure of the Carpathian Horror," concerning a nobleman who's being gaslighted into thinking he's a vampire.

Right-click here to download the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' "The Adventure of the Carpathian Horror" from archive.org

Right-click here to download the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' "The Sussex Vampire" from archive.org

Our friends Jack, Doc & Reggie tangled with vampires a few times in I Love a Mystery, most notably in the serial "Temple of Vampires," an absolutely terrific serial adventure whose 1950 adaptation still exists. You can listen to the episodes in a marathon, but I find I enjoy them the most when I hear them one chapter per day, as originally intended. There's also one existing chapter of the serial "My Beloved is a Vampire" from 1952, which is otherwise apparently lost to the ages. Neither of these serials deal with real vampires, but there's enough tension and excitement that it doesn't really bother me.

Right-click here to download I Love a Mystery's "Temple of Vampires" part 1 from archive.org part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13 part 14 part 15 part 16 part 17 part 18 part 19 part 20

Right-click here to download I Love a Mystery's "My Beloved is a Vampire" Part 25 from archive.org

VAMPIRES, FANGS AND ALL

Our friend Old Nancy of Salem hosts the earliest vampire story I've found: a 1933 episode of the Witch's Tale entitled the Graveyard Mansion in which the new inhabitants of an estate discover a beautiful lady vampire lurks on the grounds! It's early, primitive radio drama, but not bad.

Click here to listen to the Witch's Tale's "The Graveyard Mansion" at Youtube.

Undoubtedly the most famous radio vampire story is the Mercury Theatre on the Air's adaptation of "Dracula," the premiere episode of that series! Orson Welles himself plays Dracula (and Dr. Seward) with the other Mercury players in very fine form. It's an excellent performance and many of the lines stay with you; certainly, I find myself occasionally imitating Martin Gabel's Van Helsing ("Strike, Harker!") while watching Dracula films.

Right-click here to download the Mercury Theatre on the Air's "Dracula" from archive.org

The following year, 1939, found Bela Lugosi vamping his way onto radio to satirize himself on Texaco Star Theatre for a skit called "Dracula of Sunnybrook Farm." In 1939, Bela would have been both struggling with cash (as he usually was) and without many horror roles, so I can't fault him for this - but boy, he got a lot of mileage out of making fun of himself over the decades. Also, Texaco really wanted to be the Jack Benny Program, but despite having secured Kenny Baker from that program, their writing simply isn't up to snuff.

Click here to listen to Texaco Star Theatre's "Dracula of Sunnybrook Farm" at myoldradio.com

Weirdly, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire story "Carmilla" - while appreciated amongst aficionados - has not only failed to attain the widespread acclaim of Dracula, but the 1940 radio adaptation is also largely forgotten, even though it was presented on the prestigious Columbia Workshop by no less than adaptor Lucille Fletcher (best-known for the Suspense episode "Sorry, Wrong Number") and starring Bill Johnstone. Those people who do talk about "Carmilla," primarily talk about the lesbian subtext. Personally, I think calling it a "lesbian vampire story" is kind of dismissive - it's a great vampire story - isn't that enough?

Right-click here to download the Columbia Workshop's "Carmilla" from archive.org

You know, a lot of people give Inner Sanctum grief for not delivering on the supernatural elements they'd tease, but as a counterpoint I offer you the Hermit's Cave, a show which ran contemporaneously and featured real supernatural terrors, but, unlike Inner Sanctum, possessed no understanding of subtlety. Yes, you read that correctly - I'm stating for the record that even Inner Sanctum has more subtlety than the Hermit's Cave. The episode "The Vampire's Desire" concerns a vampire attempting to trap new victims in his home. Unfortunately, from the host's cackles to the strained performances, there's no room left for the listener's imagination to inhabit this story.

Right-click here to download the Hermit's Cave's "The Vampire's Desire" from archive.org

Bela Lugosi made light of himself again in a 1946 Halloween episode of the Rudy Vallee Show. Let me warn you right now, this broadcast is painful; the studio audience's lack of reaction to most of the jokes should tell you something. Bela is supposed to be in-character as a vampire called "the Bat," but he cracks up at co-star Billie Burke's performance in the skit, somewhat wrecking his role as the straight man. There aren't many vampire jokes either - "the Bat" quickly turns to Frankenstein Monster jokes, so the vampire material was probably there to justify casting Lugosi.

Click here to listen to the Rudy Vallee Show's 1946 Halloween episode at Youtube.

The simply triumphant program Quiet, Please told one of my favourite vampire stories in "My Son John," wherein a man raises his son from the dead, only to find his son is now a vampire (serving Dracula himself, no less!). These vampires don't behave according to the usual rules (notably, they seem able to shapeshift into anything), but don't let that throw you.

Right-click here to download Quiet, Please's "My Son John" from archive.org

Finally, we have the Hall of Fantasy, a seldom-praised but frequently-effective horror program which never shied away from the supernatural - or downer endings. This time, the 1953 episode "The Marquise of Death" features a hunt for a lady vampire but the protagonist is about the most thick-headed man to ever feature in a vampire story; he should have held out for a part in the Fearless Vampire Killers.

Click here to listen to the Hall of Fantasy's "The Marquise of Death" at oldtimeradiodownloads.com

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