Horror on the Radio

HP Lovecraft never desired his unearthly tales to be dramatized in the vulgar medium of film, and this foresight proved authentic. For Lovecraft and his cadre of weird fiction writers, the catalog of films is, at best (and this is being kind), mediocre. At worst they are more fear inspiring than any tentacular thing to ambulate out from ‘neath a crypt foreboding. Adaptations transform atmospheric works of dense psychological horror into monster/slasher flicks or pure hokum.

We readers crave to see these stories spring to life in a way that only dramatization provides. There is a validation brought by adaptation, a stamp of something beyond the printed page. Always there is the wish that the next one might get it right. Always there is the disappointment with the realization that it hasn’t.

And yet, even in the face of these wretched visions, there is hope, albeit a slim one. I offer for your consideration, the Theater of the Mind, audio drama.

Much more suited to Lovecraft’s unknowable, peculiar brand of cosmic insight, audio drama offers dramatization without the necessary compromise of the visual. Your own brain still fills in the gaps, draws the pictures, and manifests your most-personal nightmares. Cthulhu is YOUR Cthulhu, even while you can hear the dripping ooze of its flesh.

Even with the perfect compatibility of weird fiction and audio drama, quality productions are few and far between. In the past, Lovecraft stories were adapted for radio programs such as Suspense who did a fair job of it. Much less popular than visual media, the Theater of the Mind is still championed by a few stalwarts producing quality work.

Sticks: – ZBS Foundation (www.zbs.org)

This is it, the top rung of the ladder. ZBS Foundation puts out the finest in modern audio drama, blending old-fashioned story telling with modern sensibilities and craftsmanship. Sadly, their sole venture into the realm of weird fiction is an adaptation of Sticks by Karl Edward Wagner, one of the new Lovecraft Circle.

Sticks is everything you want it to be. Atmospheric, spine tingling horror filled with ancient cults maintaining their blood soaked rites and unknowable creatures flitting about the edges of your consciousness. The story follows two lovers, Carol and Colin, who discover an abandoned farmhouse demarcated by slender limbs of wood twisted into crude symbols. In the basement, secrets.

Recorded in Kunstkopf Binaural Sound, the production literally swallows you whole, creeping around your head, whispering in your ear…chilling.

Included on the Sticks CD are O Boy O Boy O, a science fiction drama about behavior modification, and two episodes of 30-second Horror Theater. All are equally excellent productions.

Note: The ZBS Foundation also includes Steven King’s The Mist in their horror line-up, also recorded in Kunstkopf Binaural Sound.

Herbert West: Re-animator – Beyond Books (www.beyond-books.com)

While not a full-cast audio production, Herbert West: Re-animator still delivers Lovecraftian atmosphere and chills. Narrated by Jeffrey Combs, the infamous actor who portrayed Herbert West in the Re-animator films, this is a complete telling of Lovecraft’s “gruesome tale for a vulgar magazine.”

The production quality is excellent, and Combs’s dry reading is just the proper voice to bring alive the narrative. Superior to both of the Re-animator films, Herbert West: Re-animator is just what a Lovecraft story needs.

Unfortunately, while they offer a selection of Lovecraft on film, this CD is Beyond Books sole audio offering.

Various Productions – Atlanta Radio Theater Company (www.artc.com)

Offering full cast, authorized productions of several Lovecraft stories, Atlanta Radio Theater Company may not produce the best but they certainly produce the most. Their contribution cannot be overlooked. Currently, in their catalog are At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror, The Rats in the Walls and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

One cannot fault their enthusiasm, however these are community theater productions, often performed and recorded live at Science Fiction conventions, sometimes incorporating volunteer actors. As they say on their website, “if you show up — and if you can read a script — you’ll probably get cast.”

While not the highest standard of quality and professionalism, the Atlanta Radio Theater Company is still vastly superior to 99% of Lovecraft film adaptations. They are flag wavers of Lovecraft on audio.

Various productions – Necronomicon Press (www.necropress.com)

A very small press putting out small runs of Lovecraftia and related, they have produced a few book-on-tape style recordings of Lovecraft stories. All productions are currently out of print, and unfortunately little is known of the quality. They are included here for the sake of completeness.

Included in their catalog are The Dunwich Horror, The Haunter of the Dark, The Rats in the Walls and The Outsider.

As you can see, the pickings are slender indeed. However, in capturing the intended spirit of weird fiction, even the least of these audio productions is easily superior to the top of the visual adaptations.

Lovecraft and his associates were never visual writers, but in the manipulation of words found their power. Film relies most heavily on the sense Lovecraft sought the least to engage. The Theater of the Mind on the other hand, transports the story directly into your brain like a Mi-go Braincase. Words and sound are all you need to generate a Lovecraftian atmosphere.

Turn off the lights and turn on the radio. Then see if you can fall asleep.

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