Two chilling tales of horror, monsters and things that go ‘scrape’ in the night.
Having grown up listening to audio books and radio dramas, all the while developing a taste for horror and record players, reviewing the limited edition vinyl release of a double feature from TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE has been a treat for me – and much better than THE ARCHERS.
The two stories are well-suited to each other, each utilising a small, well-chosen cast, a simple but ultimately terrifying storyline and the regular but useful trope of being cut off from the rest of the world.
THE HOLE DIGGER focuses on a pair of brothers and ‘the summer that everything changed’. The titular digger, never seen or heard apart from the noise of their digging, is all the more frightening due to their intangible nature – the only time someone might be in contact with them is during their last moments. We are told next to nothing about the digger – Officer Grant offers a theory, but we know as well as the characters that it falls as flat as the boys’ Uncle Clancy after another afternoon of drinking.
The listener is kept constantly on edge thanks to the use of liminal spaces and situations: the bedroom wall so thin that the boys can talk through it; Nick’s FINAL DESTINATION-type debt to Death; the increasingly unlikely visit from an absent father. With the knowledge that the digger – and a man-sized hole in the beach – will keep returning until Nick’s debt is paid, the listener is kept uncomfortable and uneasy until the story’s inevitable and terrible conclusion.
THE TRAWLER also keeps its listener on edge, with one out of its three characters already going insane from the beginning of the tale, the obsessive, Captain Ahab-like Hackett and, as in THE HOLE DIGGER, a largely unseen and unknown monster pursuing something taken from it. The very idea of a fishing trawler in the middle of the ocean is claustrophobic and unsettling – with a heavy amount of influence from both Lovecraft and Poe, THE TRAWLER is more continuously scary than THE HOLE DIGGER, with no breaks for card games or private family drama. Like the tragic climax of THE HOLE DIGGER, the fate of Cal, the ‘greenhorn’ of the trio, is genuinely shocking and sickening, even with the anticipation created by a simple, foolish action earlier in the story. Both stories are frightening, but there’s something about THE TRAWLER that makes me want to swallow a few times. Just to check.
Both tales benefit from incredible sound design – the listener accesses various characters’ points of hearing, so as to share the fear and the pressure of water during a drowning or the toxin-induced hallucination of a seagull. The tales, at least initially, have a firm foothold in reality – neither a summer holiday in Cape Cod nor a case of cabin fever on a fishing trawler are extraordinary situations. Even when things start to get fantastical, the rich and consistent tapestry of sound effects keeps the listener’s disbelief suspended. The music, too, is excellent. In the climax of THE HOLE DIGGER, discordant jangles and scraping string instruments begin to echo and enhance a character’s cries for help, before reaching a sympathetic and disturbing crescendo. Similarly, in THE TRAWLER, a tale largely devoid of music, the horrible fate of the crew is enhanced with music, which sends more than one shiver down the spine and crashes into the listener’s imagination.
Larry Fessenden’s narrator, his voice reminiscent of such horror greats as Peter Lorre and Vincent Price, invites the listener to forget where they are and what they are doing and immerse themselves in this world ‘beyond the pale’. Like WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE’S Cecil Palmer, Fessenden creates an intimacy with each individual audience member, as various sound effects create the classic image of a benevolent narrator sitting in an old-fashioned study, with a grandfather clock ticking unobtrusively in the background. The touches of comedy in Fessenden’s introduction, reminiscent of the audio jokes utilised by programmes such as THE GOON SHOW, lure the listener into trusting this mellow-toned narrator, even when he’s rummaging around in a dead fish for the next tale. Even his instruction to turn the record over, if listening to the vinyl edition, is a welcome interruption; you’ll almost want to sit at his feet and call him ‘Uncle Larry’.
Well-constructed, with talented voice acting and beautiful sound design, I can’t sing the praises of these tales highly enough. While the old-school styling might not be for everyone, the stories are memorable and frightening enough to stay with you long after you’ve heard them.
All Three Seasons of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE are available digitally from http://talesfrombeyondthepale.com/ for $2.99 an episode or $20.00 a season. You can also hear Ash sit down and have a quick chat to welcome Vanessa to the House of Hammered here.