Saturday, October 31, 2009

Incidents from years as a horror radio fan

Bill Cosby had a routine where he recalled hearing the Lights Out "Chicken Heart" and was so terrified that when his father tried to come home Cosby lit the sofa on fire for fear that the chicken heart was trying to get in.

Now, I've heard a lot of horror radio programs, almost certainly everything broadcast which still exists up to 1962. I've even heard the Chicken Heart, but I didn't have an experience like that. Here's some programs where I (or others) had a memorable encounter.

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ESCAPE: "Papa Benjamin"

I woke up in the night to hear voices coming from my radio; it was New Orleans and a bandleader was taking the police through a dank back alley, guiding them to the place where he murdered a man. I had fallen asleep with the radio on and happened to draw myself from my slumber near the start of the program, missing little more than the opening theme and introduction. Consequently, I didn't know what exactly I was listening to and in that state my mind was in - still half-asleep - this weird tale of voodoo weaved a spell around me. In my state of partial consciousness, it was as though the story was happening to me, like it was a dream I was having instead of a 50 year old drama being replayed over the wire. Every time I hear it, I recall that first time and the mental pictures I saw then return to me.

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SUSPENSE: "The Dunwich Horror"

Anyone who's heard me speak about H.P. Lovecraft knows that I don't think much of his work. Bluntly, I think he was a poor writer and it mystifies me that he has a tremendous industry based around his works while many of his contemporaries (better or at least no worse) are forgotten.

Still, my first brush with Lovecraft was in the Suspense adaptation of his tale "the Dunwich Horror" and it's an effective broadcast. It helps that Ronald Colman was the lead actor and the sound effects of the whippoorwills generate a strong atmosphere. But what I recall vividly from that first broadcast was the description of the death of Wilbur Whateley, the revelation of his hideous, inhuman body. It was a terrifying moment, brought vividly to life in mind. And that's all that I recall because I dozed off. I didn't hear the rest of the episode until it came up again at least a year later.

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INNER SANCTUM: "Judas Clock"

After getting online in 1998 I quickly learned that Inner Sanctum had a bad reputation among OTR fans. Many look down on Inner Sanctum because of the "cop-out endings." It's true that while many Inner Sanctum stories would hint at the supernatural only to rein it in at the climax, I was never comfortable with that generalization because of one episode. "The Judas Clock."

This story of a clock which performs acts of murder made for some eerie listening the first time through, but I don't really recollect how I felt the first time I heard it. The time I recall was while I was riding in the car with my family (probably back home from a trip to Calgary) and, as I often insisted at such times, we had QR77's programs on. What I recall most vividly from listening to the episode with my family was my mother's utter disgust with the episode because of the amount of gore. Which, of course, is all in your mind - radio is the theater of the mind. So don't tell me Inner Sanctum always copped out!

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You can find "Papa Benjamin" here, "the Dunwich Horror" here (scroll to 45-11-01) and "the Judas Clock" here.

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