Saturday, October 30, 2010

Remembrances Of Halloweens Past



Note:   Each October since the start of this blog, I’ve featured some of the best (and, admittedly worst!) horror and suspense offerings available from online sources.   

Since many of the really `good’ shows are now buried deep in the archives, I thought I’d `resurrect’ a few of my favorites for this Halloween weekend edition.


So a few slightly burnt offerings from the past, humbly offered once more.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Three Radio Chillers For Halloween


Although the movies of the 1930s brought horror to mainstream America, with such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, and King Kong . . . it was the fertile ground of radio drama that produced the most (and arguably some of the best) horror entertainment.


So pervasive were horror and suspense programs on the radio during the 1930s and 1940s, that the outcry of clergy and teachers often reached a fevered pitch. The sordid and gruesome radio fare, from shows like The Inner Sanctum and Lights Out, they feared was going to be the ruination of the country’s youth.


That, and swing music by Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.


I’ve select 3 of my favorite horror/suspense OTR episodes, that will hopefully spur many of you on to explore the thousands of others that have been preserved and archived on the internet.


Unlike the movies, or TV, these episodes require your attention and mental participation.  The use of your imagination to fill in the horrifying blanks.


So turn the lights down low, gather your family around the computer, and enjoy . . .


Three Skeleton Key

Tired of the everyday routine? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all?

We offer you... Escape!      (cue dramatic music)

Escape. Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half hour of high adventure.

With that famous opening (often intoned by William Conrad) one of the best anthology series of the late 1940’s and early 1950s brought us tales of  ESCAPE!

Admittedly, this is one of my favorite series (you find another offering follows).


ESCAPE! was the little, low-budget show that could.


A summer replacement for the long-running SUSPENSE! - which attracted big name stars - Escape is well remembered for doing a lot with very little.


Nearly all of the episodes from its 7 year run are available for free download, including from.  (Internet Archive)  (Real Player Episodes)


The episode Three Skeleton Key stars Vincent Price in a radio adaptation of the George G. Toudouze 1937 short story which is available online to read.


Three Skeleton Key is the first, March 1950 production of this story.  It would end up being produced twice more by Suspense!, but this first one is considered to be the best.


Rats, Vincent Price, and an old light house . . . and almost no hope of ESCAPE!



Shipment of Mute Fate

Many of the radio scripts from ESCAPE! would end up being re-produced on ESCAPE! or SUSPENSE! a number of times, often with different casts. 

A Shipment of Mute Fate was produced at least 4 times, but I’ve always been partial to the first run-through, starring a young Jack Webb in 1947  (see You Really Don’t Know Jack). 

Escape! had a thing for snakes, and in this case, the story revolves around a South American Bushmaster – perhaps the deadliest snake in the world – loose aboard a small passenger ship.


`Mute Fate’ comes from the Latin name for the snake, Lachesis Muta, which refers to the silent rattle the snake possesses.  No warning for the careless trespasser onto the snake’s territory.


Aside from the suspenseful plot, and surprise ending, this is an opportunity to hear Jack Webb before he adopted his mono-toned Sgt. Friday persona.

The Thing on the Fourble Board

Jumping now to  Wyllis Cooper’s Quiet, Please, we get one of the most highly regarded horror scripts ever produced for radio.


Cooper, who had created Lights Out years earlier created Quiet, Please with Ernest E. Chappell, who had previously been a radio announcer.


He turned out, however, to be a terrific radio actor and used  silence, and the dreaded `dead air’ to great effect.


It is said that Cooper’s scripts, read by anyone else, would have run only about 11 or 12 minutes.   But the pauses that Chappell built in stretched them out to nearly 30 minutes.


You’ll find more than 100 episodes available at


In The Thing on the Fourble Board, we hear the story of a roughneck, working the oil fields, who discovers something remarkable up on the fourble board of his oil derrick.


If you like these, there are hundreds of other episodes from these two series, plus thousands more from Suspense, Lights Out, The Mysterious Traveler, Inner Sanctum, The Hermits Cave, and many, many more.


Some, today, would be considered camp, or even silly.  A few, like The Hermits Cave, were admittedly over-the-top.


But before we’d been jaded by CGI movies, and had seen a thousand rip offs of these early plots on TV, these shows were very chilling indeed.



Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Night America Trembled


With Halloween rapidly approaching, this is the time of year we look at some of sci-fi and horror offerings of radio, early TV, and the movies.  None is more famous than the infamous `War of The Worlds’ broadcast of Halloween night, 1938.


Although this Orson Welles broadcast was the subject of one of my earlier blogs (see The Most Famous Halloween Broadcast Of All), written back in 2008,  I’ve an interesting addendum for classic TV fans.


A Studio One presentation called `The Night America Trembled’.


But first, a brief revisiting of the original radio broadcast.


Among Halloween radio broadcasts, there is none better remembered than the Mercury Theatre's  War of the Worlds,  broadcast on Oct 30st, 1938.  My parents were listening that Sunday night, and having tuned in from the beginning, knew this was a dramatic presentation.


Anyone who listened to the first 2 minutes of the show heard the introduction by producer and star Orson Welles.   But the next disclaimer wouldn’t come until 40 minutes into the show.

Orson Welles

Orson  Welles

The Mercury theatre – while a critical success – was considered a a bit of a `highbrow’ show, and had far fewer listeners than their competitor on NBC, the popular Chase and Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy.


So the truth is, most of the country wasn’t even listening that night.


Those that did tune in late, however, found that their local CBS station was broadcasting a program of `dance music by Ramon Raquello’ and his orchestra instead of the Mercury Theatre.


Within moments, however, there would be a simulated `news flash', indicating that astronomers had detected explosions of `hydrogen gas' on the planet Mars.


With increasing frequency (far too fast, but hey, it was only an hour show), more news flashes would break into the `music program'.


First, with an interview with an `astronomer' named  Richard Pearson (quite obviously voiced by Orson Welles), who discounts any concerns over Mars being inhabited.


Within seconds, however, there are reports of seismic activity in New Jersey, and the next 30 minutes are a series of flash news reports covering the landing of a space craft in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, and its subsequent attack on the people there.


Soon New York City is under attack by "five great machines" wading across the Hudson River.


Now, the story goes that more than a million people believed this radio broadcast to be real.     I doubt that.


There were disclaimers during the shows intermission, a full disclaimer in the first two minutes, and quite frankly it has the `sound and feel' of a radio drama.


Anyone alarmed by this broadcast  would certainly have checked other stations to see if they, too, were carrying the`news'.   The next day, there was a great to-do make over the broadcast, and recriminations against Welles and his radio troop.


While the `panic' caused by this show was probably exaggerated, some people did apparently take it to be real.   In any event, legend or fact, it is a piece of history now.


Listen to the most famous Halloween radio broadcast of them all.

1938-10-30 War of the Worlds

Twenty years after that famous broadcast, Studio One  opened their 10th season with a dramatic re-enactment of that broadcast, and the reaction of America.


Narrated by the most famous newsman of the era, Edward R. Murrow, this was a prestigious presentation that captures the mood of the nation in those nervous years just prior to World War II.


You’ll spot a lot of young, not-yet-quite famous actors in the cast including Ed Asner, John Astin, Vincent Gardenia, James CoburnWarren Oates and Warren Beatty.  The `stars’ of this production, however, are Ed Murrow and Alexander Scourby.

The Night America Trembled

This was the film debut of both John Astin and James Coburn, both destined to stardom in the decade to come.


As you watch, remember that this was live television, with no chances for re-takes, no post-production editing.  This was acting (and directing) without a net.   And something that few TV shows dare to attempt today.


The days of live drama were nearly at an end by 1958, with video tape and film soon to replace the `stage bound’ production so common during Televisions first decade.


The original radio show, followed by the TV re-enactment, would make a fine (and educational) evenings’ double feature in the days ahead.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Lon Day’s Journey Into Nightmare






While cowboys, detectives (public & private), and variety shows pretty much ruled America’s prime time TV airwaves in the late 1950s and early 1960s there were a few exceptions.


Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone ran for 5 seasons on CBS, and continues to be shown on cable stations around the world a half century later.


One Step Beyond, perhaps less well remembered, was a forerunner to The Twilight Zone and sufficiently spooky that many of us still regard it fondly. 

I blogged about that series in Going `One Step Beyond' about 18 months ago, and provided links to numerous episodes.


Another contemporary series called `The Veil’ was hosted by Boris Karloff in 1958, but incredibly, while 10 episodes were produced, they were never aired.


Studio problems led to the cancellation of this project, and with just 10 episodes in the can, no one felt it could be syndicated.   These `lost' episodes languished, largely unseen, for the next 30 years, although they have now been released on DVD.


You can read about (and watch) these `lost’ episodes in my blog Lifting The Veil On THE VEIL.



There were earlier suspense and horror-related offerings, most notably Lights Out and Suspense! back during the live days of televised drama.   You can revisit some very early, classic TV horror I blogged on earlier this year by checking out Tales From The Disembodied Head.


Today, an oddity.


A Swedish horror series (with English speaking actors), hosted by Lon `The Wolfman’ Chaney Jr., and briefly syndicated for a 13 episode run back in 1959.


It’s called 13 Demon Street, and it is – like most of the other horror offerings back then – an anthology show.


Different casts and unrelated story lines were featured each week, introduced and thinly strung together by the narrator (Chaney) who is condemned to live at (you guessed it) 13 Demon Street until he can find a crime more unspeakable than his own.

We never learn what horrendous crime Chaney committed, but it might have had something to do his rather infamous performance in a Live broadcast of Tales of Tomorrow in the early 1950's. 


Over the years, the retelling of the story has embellished it a bit, but it is an example of how things didn't always go as planned during a live broadcast.


Chaney was to play Frankenstein’s monster, which at least kept his lines to a minimum.

The legend is that Chaney, under the influence of alcohol, became confused and thought that they were doing a dress rehearsal, and not a live broadcast.


During his `rampage scene' in the first half of the show, instead of busting up props, he picked them up and then set them down carefully and muttered `break later’.

I’ve seen the episode, and for whatever reason, Chaney does pick up, and set back down, a number of props - particularly in the first half of the show. 



Cheney, the son of Lon Chaney – who is regarded by many as the greatest of all film actors during the silent era – never achieved the stardom of his father. Nevertheless, he appeared in 30 Universal (mostly horror) movies during the 1940s.


In the late 1950s, when Universal released their catalog of 1930s and 1940s horror films to Television, Chaney saw a sudden resurgence in popularity and a whole new generation of fans.


Today, we’ve 3 episodes of this obscure and rarely seen Horror show – plus 3 more episodes that were stitched together (with reworked introductions by Chaney as `The Devil’) into a drive-in movie .

All are available on The Internet Archive.

Three TV episodes.

13 Demon Street (The Black Hand)

13 Demon Street (Fever)

13 Demon Street (The Vine of Death)


And the `moviefied’ version, which was released as The Devil’s Messenger in 1961, consisting of the episodes `The Photograph’, 'The Girl in the Glacier' and 'Condemned in Crystal'.


The Devil´s Messenger (1961)

All guaranteed to be horrible, and all just in time for Halloween.



Chaney, who appeared in some abominable roles late in his career, was actually a fairly effective actor. He appeared in some high profile films during the 1950s, including High Noon, A Lion in the Streets, and The Defiant Ones.

Unfortunately for every `A’ movie, there were 4 or 5 `B’ movies. Chaney did find frequent work in Television, sometimes as a regular on a series (Pistols 'n' Petticoats) but more often as a guest performer (3 appearances on Route 66, including one particularly memorable one playing himself along side Boris Karloff!).



He could also be found guesting on early 1960s TV shows like Adventures in ParadiseWagon Train, and Rawhide.  As the decade progressed, his health, and his  film roles declined.


Chaney died in 1973, at the age of 67.


While never coming close to achieving the acclaim of his father, for a generation that grew up watching `The Wolf Man’ on Friday Night Shock Theatre, Chaney Jr. will be Lon(g) remembered.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween OTR: Tales From The Morgue






Sometimes OTR (Old Time Radio) programs aren’t all that old.


In the case of Chet Chetter’s Tales From the Morgue, they hail from the early 1990s, and are the brainchild of two boyhood friends who met 15 years earlier and shared a love for old radio shows like X Minus One and The Inner Sanctum.


The show consists of a series of short horror, sci-fi, or just plain weird tales introduced by its amiable host, Chet Chetter, a morgue attendant and licensed embalmer.


Humor and unlikely situations play a major role in these stories that are set in the deep south. 


Mark Sawyer and Jay Reel – who do most of the voice work - produced their first Chet Chetter episode in 1989 (Highway of Death), and submitted it to National Public Radio.


To their surprise, NPR liked it . . . and ordered 3 more stories. The following year, NPR requested another 9 episodes, making a total run of 13 episodes that ran on NPR Playhouse.  

Not all of the stories submitted were accepted by NPR, since some of the subject matter was considered `inappropriate’ for that network in the early 1990s.

In all 95 episodes were produced, and were aired extensively during the 1990s on  radio stations in England and Australia.


Paying homage to some of the great-but-cheesy horror radio shows of the 1940s, Tales from the Morgue is frequently over-the-top, but always entertaining.


About half the episodes feature the outrageous adventures of manure hauler Elmer Korn, who manages to get himself into some pretty wild predicaments.

The voice work is excellent, and the audio quality is (as would be expected given its age), terrific.

If your tastes are `eclectic’, your sense of humor a little warped,  and if you are looking for something a little different to put you in the mood for this year’s Halloween . . . then Chet Chetter may be just the ticket.


The Internet Archive has 21 half-hour episodes available for your online listening or for download, which you can access at the link below.


Chet Chetter's Tales from the Morgue - Single Episodes


You can also download an entire CD of MP3 files all at once, from this link.

Chet Chetter's Tales from the Morgue

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Project Tic Toc






Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time. – Opening voice over credits




During the mid-1960s science fiction returned to network television in a big way.


While the 1950’s had seen shows such as One Step BeyondThe Twilight Zone, and even earlier efforts like Tales of Tomorrow – very few of their episodes provided anything in the way of special effects or `hard science’ fiction.


That is, until Irwin Allen brought Voyage to the Bottom of The Sea to TV.  And it’s first year – 1964-65 – produced a well-remembered block of solid episodes with both sci-fi and cold war elements. 

The network (ABC) apparently decided the show was too `dark’, and for its second season (filmed in color), pushed for more of the `monster of the week’ type episodes.  


As the series progressed, things just got sillier.


In 1966, Irwin Allen would launch two other sci-fi series; Lost in Space  and The Time Tunnel.


1966 will also be remembered for the launch of the most durable sci-fi franchise of them all . . .  Star Trek.


While popular with the younger generation, none of these 3 shows would make the top 30 in the Nielson ratings that year.


Lost in Space, which began with promise - like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - descended into juvenile antics and `camp’. By its second season, every 12 year-old I knew had decided it was a `kids’ show, and had migrated to Star Trek.


The Time Tunnel, however, was for the most part more of an `adult’ series (although it too had its low moments).


The stars were Robert Colbert and James Darren, both popular actors in the 1960s.


Colbert had reluctantly played `Brent Maverick’ in two episodes of the long running western series, but was mercifully not called back for the final season.  He also showed up in popular series like The Virginian, 77 Sunset Strip, 12 0’Clock High, Perry Mason, and Bonanza.


Darren started out as a teen idol, appearing as Moondoggie in several Gidget films, and had a successful recording career.  His biggest selling record – which is still played 50 years later – was Goodbye Cruel World.


Darren also appeared in 1961’s The Guns of Navarone, but it was The Time Tunnel that really helped him shed his teen idol image.


Venerable character actor Whit Bissell, and  the winner of the 1955 Miss America pageant – Lee Meriwether – rounded out the cast.



The plot was simple (and would be reused by Voyagers! and to an extent, by Quantum Leap).  Our two heroes would `jump’ into a new time (always at an important moment) and have to try to change history.


Each episode would end with one of Irwin Allen’s patented cliff hangers, as Tony & Doug landed in a new predicament.


Using stock footage from the vast 20th Century Fox library of historical dramas, and selective `editing in’ of the central characters, the show had a `bigger budget’ feel than most TV shows of the day.


Despite that advantage, the pilot episode cost an astounding $500,000 and was the most expensive hour produced to that point.


The series lasted but one season.  While the ratings weren’t terrible, the story goes that studio executives wanted to promote The Legend of Custer, but there was no open slot in the schedule.


Something had to go.

Given the costs of production, the decision was to cut the Time Tunnel loose.   Custer was panned by critics and viewers alike, and went down in flames after just one season.


FANCAST has all 30 episodes of The Time Tunnel available for you to view online.  

You can access them at this link.


The cast would move on successfully to other projects, with James Darren becoming a regular on T.J. Hooker and later making appearances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.


Colbert would spend a decade on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless, and later appear on Baywatch.


Both actors remained active into the 1990s.


Lee Meriwether worked steadily, including such famous roles as Catwoman on Batman (1966), she replaced Barbara Bain on Mission Impossible for 6 episodes during its 4th season, and spent 7 years helping Buddy Ebsen solve crimes on Barnaby Jones.


Whit Bissell passed away in 1996, with nearly 300 credits listed on the Internet Movie Database.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010







Sign generator link.  Try it. Very neat.

Not only is October the month for ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, it was one of the best months of the year to enjoy drive-in movies as I grew up here in Florida.


The mosquitoes were mostly gone, as were the early evening thunderstorms (windshield wipers were always an annoyance at the drive-in), and the temperatures were just right.


Showtime was always just past sundown, so the first few minutes of the film was often washed out a bit by the twilight, but the experience was pure 1950’s and 1960’s Americana.  

Consuming bad movies (usually a double feature), along with heart-attack provoking food, from the comfort of our land yachts.

An experience that today’s high-tech multiplex cinema's simply can’t match.


To get us started, first a sampling of some of the old intermission and coming attraction reels . . .  then a pair of horrible double features, complete with a cartoon.


Drive-in intermission 

Drive-in Intermission 2

Drive-in Intermission 5

Drive In Intermission 7

Drive-in Intermission 9


If the intermissions listed above aren’t enough, you can view the entire list available from the Internet Archive  at this link.


Although drive-ins certainly showed first-run `A’ movies (I saw How The West Was Won and Star Wars at a drive-in), their real claim to fame were those cheaply made sub-B movies that were so bad, they only aired on the late-late-late show on television years later.


But that was half the fun.


You didn’t have to pay attention to the plot (there usually wasn’t one), and if you fell asleep (passed out, went to the restroom, etc.) you could easily pick up from when you regained awareness of your surroundings.


Today a double double-feature.


First, a pair of low budget cheesy sexploitative movies of the early 1950s that some kind soul on the Internet Archive has stitched together into a double feature, complete with cartoon.


Call them guilty pleasures, or research into the peculiar mores of our parent’s generation.  Just don’t expect them to be anything more than horrible old movies  . . .  the kind we used to watch at the drive in.



Shocker Internet Drive In Week 1



Of course, for hardcore horror fans, these first two movies are a bit tame, and for you we’ve got the granddaddy of them all – George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the 1960s classic Carnival of Souls  again served up as a drive-in Double Feature.


Shocker Internet Drive In Week 4 - Night of the Living Dead Double Feature



So pop some popcorn, grill up some hamburgers, and remove your window screens to let in a few mosquitoes . . .



And enjoy the show!