One of the most famous Hallowe’en radio broadcasts was on October 30, 1938, with Orson Welles’ version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. This re-telling of the science fiction story about Martians attacking, probably didn’t actually panic as many people as legend has it, but it used a news-bulletin style which may have genuinely confused some people tuning in late to the show. I’ve seen some speculation that some people may have thought they were hearing reports of invasion lead by Nazi super-weapons.
Confession: I feel asleep half way through listening to this. But, I was tired, and have read the original story several times. It is still worth listening to, simply to honour it’s historical significance, if nothing else.
Here are five anthology radio series which were designed to frighten and thrill their listeners:
Quiet, Please – While this relatively short-lived show apparently failed to find a sponsor or a regular time of broadcast, it attracted a loyal listener following.
Most Famous Episode to Start With: “The Thing on the Fourble Board” – be careful when you drill for oil, you never know what you might disturb down below.
Dark Fantasy – Somewhat unusually based in Oklahoma City. Not everybody’s cup of tea, slower and less expensively produced then some.
You could try “Pennsylvania Turnpike” for a ghost story.
Suspense – Probably the premier thriller anthology show of ‘golden age’ American radio drama, this series was on the air for twenty years, and invited many Hollywood celebrities as well as well established and talented radio actors to perform their stories. It’s hard to pick only a few episodes, many many are excellent.
Most Famous Episode to Start With: “Sorry, Wrong Number” A bed-bound woman hears a telephone call that she is not meant to hear… someone out there is about to commit a murder… This story written by Lucille Fletcher was so popular it was re-performed and re-recorded at least seven times within about fifteen years. Agnes Moorehead owns this radio play. However, Barbara Stanwyck turned in an Oscar nominated performance in Moorehead’s role when this story was brought to film in 1948.
I would also recommend for Hallowe’en – “Donovan’s Brain,” and “Zero Hour,” which is about a strange game the children in a neighbourhood are playing, the script for which was also performed on Escape.
Escape – Not exclusively a program for horror or thriller stories, this was also a place for “half hour of high adventure” stories and home to several excellent science fiction story adaptions, as well as adaptions of classic tales, for example, several Kipling stories.
Episodes to start with: “A Shipment of Mute Fate” as performed by Jack Webb. You are on a ship. The cargo on the ship includes one of the world’s most dangerous snakes… (I wonder if the ‘Snakes on a Plane’ people knew this story. I know you shouldn’t judge a movie you haven’t seen, and I haven’t seen Snakes on a Plane, but I am 99% sure this radio drama is better.)
“The Game” is a very suspenseful story of two boys playing Russian roulette. It gets perhaps a bit too intense.
“Evening Primrose” is just…pretty weird…As with Suspense, it’s very hard to pick a ‘best’ Escape episode. But “Three Skeleton Key” as performed by Vincent Price must be in the top five. Just don’t listen to it if you’re claustrophobic and really afraid of rats…
Lights Out – One of the earlier horror anthology programmes, although most of its early broadcasts have not been preserved. The visionary writer/producer/director Arch Oboler is closely associated with this series of stories about the supernatural and weird. Sometimes went meta, such as with the ridiculous final episode “The Author and the Thing”
What are you favourite Hallowe’en listens?