Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: Inner Sanctum - Tales of Mystery, Horror & Suspense

Inner Sanctum Mysteries is one of the best-remembered programs of old-time radio and definitely the most easily recalled of the horror shows. Although the series had a few memorable episodes and occasionally featured stars like Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Richard Widmark and Agnes Moorhead, it's primarily renowned for the opening of the "creaking door" at the start of each program and the subsequent narration by the host, Raymond, whose dark comedy was usually in contrast to the content of the series.

I have no idea why, but earlier this year NBM publishing released the graphic novel Inner Sanctum: Tales of Mystery, Horror & Suspense by artist Ernie Colon.

This novel features seven tales of the supernatural: "Death of a Doll," "Alive in the Grave," "the Horla," "Mentalo," "the Undead," "Lived Once -- Buried Twice" and "the Voice on the Wire," together totalling 106 pages in black & white. Most of these were adapted from the radio series. In the book's back matter, Colon talks a bit about his career and how Inner Sanctum was a favourite program of his while growing up.

I'm not sure how people without a fondness for the radio program will approach Colon's Inner Sanctum, but as a fan of the series, I can say it's an odd duck. Colon primarily uses the adaptations as a launching point for him to indulge in whatever weirdness he likes to put on the page; for instance, "the Horla" (the famed Guy de Maupassant story, which was also adapted for Inner Sanctum) he depicts the creature haunting the protagonist, even though the point of the story is that the Horla is invisible; it worked just fine for radio, but comics being a visual medium, I suppose it makes sense to render the Horla; the original story makes the audience wonder if the protagonist is haunted or simply insane, so Colon's depiction of the creature seems to suggest what the protagonist imagines is haunting him.

On the other hand, "the Death of a Doll" begins as a fairly faithful take on the radio program, opening with a reporter about to meet the Devil, then flashes back to describe how he was led to the Devil after a drowned woman was found holding a baby doll; the baby doll seemed to pronounce the Devil's name. In the radio program, "the Devil" is just a normal man, but Colon takes some creative license and makes the antagonist "a" Devil who transforms into a giant monster. The odd thing is that his adaptation has the same opening - the reporter about to meet the man thinks is the Devil at a 3 o'clock rendezvous - but in the climax of the story, no such rendezvous is established.

Similarly, take "the Undead." This story was about an actor's wife who fears her husband is a vampire. In one scene from the original story, she finds a newspaper clipping in her husband's possessions with his obituary having been printed years earlier; in the radio show, she confronts her husband and he claims he clipped the article because he thought it was a funny coincidence that a dead man had the same name - in reality, he's trying to drive his wife insane by making her think he's a vampire; in Colon's version, the wife never confronts her husband about the article and instead the twist ending is that she's a vampire but doesn't know it while the husband wants her to make him a vampire too. In which case, why is the business about the newspaper article still in Colon's version with no explanation for why it exists?

Probably the best story in the volume is "Alive in the Grave," wherein a man pickpockets a newly-deceased man on the street, but later finds a card in the wallet explaining the man suffers from cataleptic spells and isn't dead; it's a oft-used gimmick in radio mystery shows from the era and Colon's spin on the tale is pretty good.

I haven't sampled any work by NBM before; this is a slim hardcover, standing 6x9". It's nice that Colon's name is in big letters on the front, but I'm little concerned at the pages in the back of the book promoting other titles in their catalogue - they only identify the creators in 1 out of 6 products.

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