Good evening! Come shivering on in through the garden side door, my friends, and distance yourselves in a semi-legal fashion around the flickering flames of my recently installed firepit while I guide you through the best horror listening for the depths of this December dark and drear.
The Magnus Archives is an unslagoffably enthusiastic anthology series stuffed with monsters, ghouls and redundant adjectives. If you can get over the Alan Partridge touches (‘I didn’t move… I just stood there… sipping my tea… not even noticing it was still far too hot to drink comfortably’), this show features the scariest story I have heard this month, ‘Lost Johns’ Cave’.
There is a huge and willing audience for all this stuff: horror fans, like heavy metal fans, are hopelessly devoted. This column takes its hat off to scare-enthusiast H. Washington Sawyer, who has recorded 60 favourite horror stories on his personal YouTube channel. A particular highlight is ‘The Tower’ by Marghanita Laski — a devious variation on the old theme of pit and pendulum. Browsing the related videos, you can find Edgar Allan Poe’s complete stories read brilliantly by the late Sir Christopher Lee.
Also on YouTube, you’ll find the golden age of old-time horror radio, broadcast in the Pathé newsreel tones of the early 1950s. This particular voice, so rich with corn starch, whiskey and condescension, is irresistible to me. It is the best voice humanity has ever had for saying things like: ‘Well, slow down there, Billy, what’s all this about an alien?’ Or: ‘Now now, darling, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you.’
Suspense was broadcast on CBS Radio between 1942 and 1962. The show had pulling power and regularly featured Hollywood stars: Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Orson Welles playing a brain. Listen to ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’, a little wind-up thriller that takes place entirely over the phone. It was an audience favourite, frequently rebroadcast; my only notes for the episode read: ‘That was super-duper!’
It was a great time to be unashamedly corny. The host of CBS Radio Mystery Theater signs off every episode with his glorious catchphrase ‘until then, pleasant…dreams?’
I find these shows attractive for their quaintness, and there is something quaint about the classic model of the ghost story. Most have something in common with detective fiction: there is a conundrum, a turn and a resolution, after which the tale shuts with the audible click of a box. If only our own lives were so contained.