Scream at maximum volume

It’s hard to believe now with all the CGI and make up wizardry, but horror fans were once terrified by monsters on the radio, and in many ways the radio monsters of the 30’s and 40’s were the most terrifying of all because they were created in the listener’s imagination. The best radio shows gave their listeners plenty with which to create their monsters – top quality acting, knowledgeable directors and atmospheric sound effects.

Radio seemed very real to its listeners – the young Orson Welles famously brought Martians slithering into living rooms and caused a nationwide panic in the radio adaptation of War of the Worlds. The Martians were slug like creatures with long tentacles but the worse thing was their heat ray which could reduce a person to ashes. Welles decided to present his play in documentary style in the shape of a series of newscasts and created a fury which has become legendary. This recording can be found easily enough online and although it doesn’t have the same effect to modern ears, we can still appreciate its novelity and brilliance. Welles did several other horror related radio plays, including a reportedly great version of Frankenstein – I say reportedly because these recordings no longer exist. Welles also did a version of Dracula with his Mercury Theatre Company and thankfully these recordings still exist – because of the unique aspects of radio Welles was able to play both Dracula and Van Helsing.

Radio has always had a love affair with horror and at one time horror anthology series were common on the radio – X Minus One, Lights Out, The Man in Black. The latter show is still produced by BBC Radio Four and is well worth looking out for. It is often repeated on digital channel, Radio Four Extra and I would recommend it highly. Try and track down the episode entitled, The Horn which is one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. Try listening to it in the dead of night with the lights off and you’ll get some idea of how radio listeners felt all those years ago.

Because there is no CGI and due to the fact that we have to create the monsters ourselves, in our imagination, a good radio play can have a profound effect. There’s something special in a well produced, well acted play that brings the listener into the story in a way that TV and cinema never can – it’s like 3D turned up to eleven.

You can check out some vintage radio horror on the excellent Vintage Horror podcast – shows can be listened to online using the link or by subscribing via iTunes of similar podcast tool. Most of the show feature an introduction giving some information on the relevant show. There’s a mantra in Hollywood that to be effective, a screenplay has to make your organs squelch three times while reading it. With radio it effects your  tear ducts, stomach, heart, bowels, the skin on the back of your neck, throat, toes… and so on.

So tune in…go on we dare you.


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