HORROR GENRE – RADIO:
It has been said, and most believe it to be true, that the scariest things we see are with our mind’s eye. This makes radio a great medium for horror programs.
Although in modern times, with special effects and computer generated imaging, etc., very real looking monsters and other creatures can be created, in the early days the evil characters presented on film were, let’s face it, sometimes more comical than frightening. This could spoil the effect of the horror the audience was intended to experience.
But on the radio, with only sound effects, good timing and a voice to create the mood, the listener has to use his imagination to create the monsters, and sometimes the images conjured up are even scarier than the creator planned.
While the subject of horror radio programs could run the gamut from space monsters, to supernatural creatures and happenings, and even human monsters, there was usually one constant, and that was the program’s host. No matter what happened to the characters in the stories that were heard, the audience could rely on the host to be back for the next episode, and this provided continuity for the listener.
Old time radio horror shows were extremely popular, not only with the audience, but also with performers, and many big name stars were eager to play a part.
An early offering on the radio was the horror series Lights Out, which aired from 1934 to 1947. With many stories created by Wyllis Cooper and Arch Oboler, the series was billed as "a midnight mystery serial to catch the attention of the listeners at the witching hour". This radio program was about horror and suspense, with episodes such as The Author and the Thing, Creature Off the Film, Poltergeist, Until Dead, and Lord Marley's Ghost. It is reported that Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, said that Cooper and Oboler both inspired him.
Hosted by Raymond Edward Johnson, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, airing from 1941 to 1952, opened with the sound of a squeaking door opening and organ music, and Johnson announcing, “Good evening friends of the Inner Sanctum. This is Raymond, your host”. The audience was horrified by stories in episodes such as Mystery of the Howling Dog, The Death Ship, Death Has Claws, The Skull That Walked and Dead Man's Vengeance. Actors appearing on the program included Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles and Burgess Meredith.
Broadcast on the radio from 1943 to 1945, The Weird Circle offered dramatic horror stories in 30-minute episodes. Many of the tales were taken from classic stories written by French authors. Episodes include The House and The Brain, A Terribly Strange Bed, What Was It?, A Terrible Night and The Heart of Ethan Brand.
Murder at Midnight, airing from 1946 to 1947, offered eerie stories of supernatural suspense and macabre crimes. The series, hosted by Raymond Morgan, included episodes like The Dead Hand, The Man Who Was Death, Death's Goblet, The Dead Come Back and Terror Out of Space.
Another creation of Wyllis Cooper, Quiet Please was broadcast from 1947 to 1949. The series was simplistic in its production, with few sound effects and small casts, but written in such a way as to capture the listening audience’s attention and hold it. Narrated by Ernest Chappell, episodes from the program include I've Been Looking for You, We Were Here First, Bring Me to Life, Not Enough Time and Don't Tell Me About Halloween.
The Creaking Door was a South African offering in the horror radio genre, and was broadcast from 1964 to 1966. Episodes of horror and suspense were presented with intriguing titles like Alive in the Grave, Bring Back Her Bones, Death in Your Hands, The Haunted Hangman, and Yesterday You Died.
Other programs presented in the horror genre include I Love A Mystery, Peril, The Price of Fear and Obsession.
Interestingly, Orson Welles, Vincent Price and others were against sponsorship of horror radio programs since they felt commercial interruptions broke the mood. If they had their way, there quite possibly wouldn’t have been the number of horror series that there were.
Here at Matinee Classics we’re glad that didn’t happen, or we wouldn’t be able to offer you all these hours of eerie entertainment!