By now, you’ve been aware of the excitement — and that nagging sense of impending doom — surrounding the terrifying return of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, the old-time horror/suspense radio show created by genre heroes Larry Fessenden (HABIT) & Glenn McQuaid (I SELL THE DEAD). But that’s nothing compared to the thrill I received when the fine folks at Glass Eye Pix — who are quite busy celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year — sent me all 10 episodes of the show’s bone-chilling third season.
I had a pretty good idea what I was getting myself into; I once had the honor of providing some of the live music and sound effects for a Halloween TALES performance at L.A.’s historic Silent Film Theater, and it was one of the craziest nights of my life. But to experience a whopping TEN episodes of the show back-to-back? I doubt anyone has previously dared to subject themselves to such intense sensory overload in one sitting… but then, it’s only a radio show, right? I mean, what’s it gonna hurt?
So I did it… and lo and behold, I survived to tell about it. I think. Maybe.
Now that I’ve emerged from the other side, my brain beaten to a bloody pulp by the nightmares pumped straight into my ears for six hours, I can share a little bit of that experience with you…
You should probably consider me something of an unreliable narrator at this point, as I may have temporarily lost touch with reality. Proceed with caution, lest the same fate befall you!
THE FRAMING TALE
Fessenden is back as our politely menacing narrator, this time inviting listeners into the new “TALES HQ,” now located in a remote, wind-swept lighthouse… and if you listen to all the episodes in sequence, a creepy linking tale begins to unfold involving a… well, let’s just say the story “evolves” over time.
H.P. Lovecraft’s THE HOUND by Stuart Gordon & Dennis Paoli
The legendary RE-ANIMATOR team — which also includes star Barbara Crampton and composer Richard Band — is joined here by Gordon alumni Ezra Godden (DAGON) and Chris McKenna (KING OF THE ANTS) for another wonderfully twisted variant on a Lovecraft tale: this time, it’s HPL’s short story of two Victorian-era grave robbers who find the ultimate prize… and pay the ultimate price. This one’s packed with all the kinky sex and gore you’ve come to expect from Gordon’s gang; Crampton particularly shines as a very naughty lady of the evening.
JUNK SCIENCE by Brahm Revel
In the far future, a rogue scavenger (Nick Damici of STAKE LAND and LATE PHASES) roams the outer regions of the solar system looking for the big score, with only his onboard computer for company. When he follows a distress call to a centuries-old wreck, he thinks he’s found the mother lode… but something’s waiting there for him. One of the show’s rare sci-fi episodes, this one has an amazingly claustrophobic tone, putting you right inside the protagonist’s space suit as he explores the depths of the abandoned hulk.
THE RIPPLE AT CEDAR LAKE by Glenn McQuaid
A famous scientist switches on a device that creates a window into alternate realities — turning a bizarre love triangle into a comically twisted nightmare for three people with less-than-noble motives. The sound design and editing is top-notch here — and given the complexity of the storyline, it has to be up to the task, bouncing the listener from one crazed scenario to the next without warning. I had absolutely no idea where this tale was headed… and you won’t either.
FOOD CHAIN by April Snellings
The season’s (literally) drop-dead funniest performances enliven this gritty backwoods monster story, in which a family of bumbling hillbilly poachers show up in a small-town curiosity shop (BLADE RUNNER’s Sean Young plays the savvy proprietor) claiming to be on the trail of a genuine Bigfoot. To say their hunting expedition goes horribly wrong would be the understatement of the century, as every possible worst-case scenario plays out in the messiest ways you can imagine. Fessenden hilariously steals the show as the head of the redneck clan, managing to inject humor into one of the series’ most cringe-inducing scenes ever. (Extra kudos to Kevin Dawkins for the disgusting sound effects.)
THE TRIBUNAL OF MINOS by James Felix McKenney
PHANTASM’s Tall Man Angus Scrimm co-stars in this eerie, dreamlike episode, in which an American woman traveling through Greece awakens from an all-night bender to find herself and a wealthy old man trapped in the mythical labyrinth of King Minos. This minimalist, dialogue-driven tale, with its class-warfare social subtext, could have come off as a rather dry affair, if not for the lordly tones of Scrimm and an exotic score from Carrie Bradley, performed by a small string ensemble.
THE CHAMBERS TAPE by Graham Reznick
This experimental episode is basically the audio version of a found-footage horror film, taking the form of a ‘70s self-help meditation tape narrated by Dr. William Chambers (SUPERNATURAL’s Misha Collins). Not long after the soothing narration set the mood, I began to feel an increasing sense of dread… and, as it turns out, for damn good reason. Be careful if you listen to this one with headphones like I did — it contains some intense auditory shocks that might result in soiled underwear. Expert use of sound effects and filters (also by Reznick) perfectly captures the ominous “forbidden footage” tone.
NATURAL SELECTION by Larry Fessenden
I enjoy any TALES episode written by Fessenden, because he always finds a way to balance gut-wrenching shocks with social-ecological commentary… and NATURAL SELECTION doesn’t disappoint. LORD OF THE RINGS alumni Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd play the host and producer of an Animal Planet-style documentary show exploring the Galapagos Islands, where they discover — to their horror — that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster has spawned horrific mutations. Suspense quickly gives way to skeevy body horror, building to a literally explosive climax. Features cameos from Pat Healy (CHEAP THRILLS) and James Ransone (SINISTER).
GUTTERMOUTH by Jeff Buhler
An unhappily married man (Joshua Leonard of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) begins to hear a faint female voice echoing from the plumbing. Is he losing his mind, or has he found a new romantic companion? The answer to that question is actually something else entirely. This episode is a spooky example of how your imagination can conjure more horrific images than anything depicted onscreen; it plays out a bit more slowly than the others, but stick with it — the payoff is worthwhile. Buhler is best known for adapting Clive Barker’s MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN for the screen, and there’s that same sense of a dark, clammy underworld at work here.
LITTLE NASTIES by Eric Red
The scribe behind classics like THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK tackles this ambitious episode, based on his own short story and featuring an ensemble cast of mostly young voice actors (plus a cameo by horror author Jack Ketchum). Red and his crew take a devious jab at the junior beauty pageant phenomenon (which freaks me out enough as it is), giving a whole new meaning to “cutthroat competition” with a blend of twisted BAD SEED parody, bloody supernatural horror and epic revenge. Creepiest line: “Your hair looks like candy… I want to eat it.” Eww…
CANNIBALS by Joe Maggio
The director of BITTER FEAST knows a little something about culinary horror, and takes it in an interesting new direction with the season’s final episode. Vincent D’Onofrio (SINISTER) and James LeGros (PHANTASM II) play an aging horror film auteur and the up-and-coming director hoping for a chance to direct his new script; little does the ambitious young filmmaker know how much of himself he’ll be bringing to the production. Dialogue alone drives the tale here, with D’Onofrio turning in a tour-de-force performance. Sound design subtly underscores the tension, with each bubble of the soup pot bringing you closer to the climax… but the final twist is not what I expected (and I’m pretty good at spotting them ahead of time). Bon appétit!
If you’re brave enough to subject yourself to these horrors (exercise caution if you’re thinking of binge-listening… seriously, it’ll break your brain), you can download individual episodes, or a complete Season 3 bundle via the TALES web store. It’s also available as a flash drive bundle with limited-edition book, containing all the awesome poster art by Graham Humphreys and many more goodies. More audio formats are coming soon, so stay tuned!