Thursday, November 6, 2014

Voices in the Dark: The Horrors of Dark Fantasy (1941-1942) Part Six

by Jose Cruz

22. Karari--LOST

Original Broadcast: April 17, 1942

23. The Screaming Skulls-- LOST

Original Broadcast: April 24, 1942

24. The Letter from Yesterday

Original Broadcast: May 1, 1942

**No Cast Listed

Adam Chase enters a library looking for a book on hydrokinetics and proceeds to act like a complete ass to comely librarian Cecily Marshall. He loudly apologizes to the other patrons and goes on to call Miss Marshall’s homestead a hick town, but she’s quick to show him what’s what when she easily rattles off the leading figures in the field after Adam laments that she probably doesn’t possess the resources to help him find the volume he needs.

Adam finds the librarian “darn cute” all of a sudden and thinks the natural thing to do now is ask the lady out for a date. And what’s his idea of good time? Going back to Cecily’s place so she can write down the notes he dictates from the book, seeing as how he is an inventor on the verge of a great discovery. Wow, what a winner he is! Astoundingly, Cecily accepts the offer. They stay up till one in the morning having themselves a gay old time, at which point Cecily reveals that her father was also an inventor, but he was ruined forever when someone else beat him to the patent just before he put his bid in.

After writing up the designs for his model, Adam heads off to Washington via train to put in his request for the patent. He yells out a marriage proposal to Cecily from the train and she says yes, proving that anything can happen in Dark Fantasy. Some time later, Cecily writes a letter speaking of her betrothal but remains apprehensive since she hasn't received any word from Adam. A radio broadcast reveals that Adam’s train was held up by gangsters, the engineer killed and unmentioned spoils plundered. The newscaster mentions that this incident took place 53 years to the day of a similar robbery.

Cecily calls the hotel Adam was due to stay in and is told that he checked out two weeks earlier. Her fiancée seeming to have vanished into thin air, Cecily searches for ten days but comes up with no further clues as to his whereabouts. Suddenly, Adam returns to their home looking frail and ill. He bemoans his sorry state and tells Cecily he wrote her about how his patent was usurped by another and that he pleaded her to come to him in Washington so that they could be married. Cecily never received this letter.

Two months later the happy couple has wedded and are renting a large house in the country. Exploring the attic, Adam finds an old-fashioned mailbag overstuffed with letters, some dating from the 1800s. Sifting through the parcels, Cecily finds a letter addressed from her father to Adam’s mother. Turns out the two were lovers at one point, and the message goes on to reveal that identical events occurred to both Adam and Cecily’s father in their attempts to complete their inventions. The exception is that Cecily’s father died lonely and miserable thinking that his love had forsaken him, never knowing that he was the victim of a supernatural mail snatcher (?) that attempted to break the present couple up in the same manner.

I think I might have been a little premature in dubbing “A Delicate Case of Murder” as the worst of the pack from Dark Fantasy’s run. “The Letter from Yesterday” is an incoherent mess of an undercooked idea. This episode runs more like a soap opera for the majority of its running time, which is bad enough, but its failings at suspense and mystery are further compounded by some of the densest writing that Scott Bishop has yet penned for the series. The whole romantic dynamic between Adam and Cecily is unintentionally risible, the notion that this seemingly brainy and independent lady would even give a chauvinistic creep like Adam the time of day is a massive stretching of credulity. As portrayed by the unlisted actor, Adam sounds like a hillbilly himself with a wad of tobaccy in his cheek, which only further adds to his charm.

The concept of Fate or some other dark force breaking up human relationships through the withholding of correspondence is not a bad idea in of itself, but its presentation at the climax feels so tangential that it ends up not conveying any sense of the ominous or the weird. This stinger could have had some bite if the drama leading up to it had utilized characters that we could invest ourselves in, but as it stands "The Letter from Yesterday" is a turgid account with a postscript of an ending that ultimately underwhelms.

25. The Cup of Gold

Original Broadcast: May 8, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Lee Saunders), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Ruth Candish), Muir Hite (High Priest), and George Ande (Kanta).

It’s a close match between Truman Davis and John Mason during the intense golf tournament that has a radio audience listening aptly to the proceedings. In a literal masterstroke, Mason usurps old pro Davis’ place as reigning champ. There appears to be some commotion between the referee and judges regarding the gold trophy cup, and just as Mason goes to accept his prize he is shot down on the green.

Later in a hotel room, Ruth Candish stirs restlessly before a Mr. Lee Saunders comes calling at her door. He’s a sports writer doing some digging into the murder. He had followed Ruth back to her place after she almost ran her car into his on the drive back from the club. He suspects Ruth of the killing not just because of her suspicious behavior but because she wasn’t the original woman selected to hand the gold cup over to the tournament winner. The cup itself is of some intrigue--turns out it's made of actual solid gold and has some bizarre, alien writing on it. Ruth claims she remembers little of the incident. She can only recall waking up with the gun in her hand but insists she is not to blame.

Ruth tells Lee that she received a package containing three cones of incense that morning. Looking at the parcel, Lee notes that it was addressed to “Rotha Candish” and that she must have gotten it by mistake. Along with the incense are instructions telling to light one of the cones. Ruth said that she had done this earlier with the first cone and that she passed out shortly afterward. Lee’s the adventurous type though so he ignites the second cone despite Ruth’s protestations. Great plumes of smoke billow forth (“Look how it rolls in great clouds, hiding everything…”) and, choking, the two of them black out.

Upon awaking, the couple finds that they have been transported to some strange, new world. A figure known as Motah, the Holy One addresses Ruth and Lee as “Rotha” and “Leetha.” According to the old priest, they are on the planet of Vento, the bastard offspring that was spawned when Venus and Pluto collided eons ago, and the two humans are in fact the reincarnations of long-dead Ventonians. He explains that the incense has the power to transport beings to and from Vento as well as accomplishing other miraculous feats through the will of its bearer when lit. Motah also displays his “Ultra Penetrating Ray,” a great telescope that allows Lee to see the details of Earth ten million miles away, including the funeral of John Mason.

Dimming the lights, Motah shows Lee and Ruth some exclusive film clips from Vento’s recorded history, pointing out in a Minority Report-esque spin that this is why their planet never suffered from crime and evil. The footage shows the original Rotha speaking to her husband Kanta, a professional golf player! The couple distresses over the coming tournament and, sure enough, Kanta gets the short end of the putter and his opponent Yana takes home the gold. Rotha swears vengeance on Yana to be exacted at some indeterminate time in the future.

Motah reveals that he sent the incense to Earth-Ruth himself so as to see Rotha’s oath fulfilled. (So much for Vento’s spotless track record!) For her part, Ruth will be sent back to Earth to face the punishment for her crime. Lee has other ideas though and gives Motah a good old fashioned sock right in the kisser. He uses the last cone of incense and the magnifying scope of the Penetrating Ray to will Mason back to life (whom they see sitting upright in his coffin, no doubt sending many unfortunate guests to their graves in the process). Grabbing Ruth, Lee makes a final wish to return to the green hills of Earth.


I think that incense wasn’t the only thing smoking up Scott Bishop’s office when he sat down at the typewriter to write this episode of Dark Fantasy. Matching and, at times, surpassing the irreverent insanity of “Spawn of the Subhuman,” “The Cup of Gold” is one trippy number that seems to have all the hallmarks of a hallucinatory journey, with everything from excursions across the galaxy to the dead coming back to life.

It’s fascinating to listen to; we’re essentially hearing an author let his story take control and go wherever it feels like it should. This doesn’t seem like the type of writing that occurs through careful planning and outlining. Bishop just opened up his skull and let all the weird, dusty knick knacks in that mental drawer come pouring out, for better or worse.

For the most part, it's for the better. Despite the bizarre quality of this episode, it still manages to adhere to its own lunacy and has a charming "Let's do this" attitude about it that ensures it's always a good time.

26. Funeral Arrangements Completed

Original Broadcast: May 15, 1942

Cast: Alf Daniels (Richard Longmaker), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Emily Longmaker), Fred Wayne (Doctor Highley), Georgianna Cook (The Old Woman), and Muir Hite (Jason).

The Longmakers are called to a little hamlet when Richard’s obscure relative Aunt Priscilla passes away. Entering an old inn, the couple spot a figure sitting in a chair but become uneasy when they see the cigarette it’s holding has burnt down to the fingers. The sitter remains still; they realize with horror they must be seeing a corpse.

Just then innkeeper Jason pops up, but when the Longmakers direct his attention they see the figure in the chair has vanished. The Cockney-accented proprietor muses that it might have been the ghost of the inn’s original owner, Trafalgar. After having built the place, Trafalgar was murdered in the very same spot the couple indicated, stabbed by a servant girl through the chair’s back. Blood now drips from the area of the fatal strike; Jason says it’s been the third sighting in a month.

When Richard explains his business there, Jason marvels at the timeline: according to him, Priscilla has been dead the past five years. Her body was never found though, and some of the villagers claim that she lives on as a zombie. He also reveals that Dr. Highley, the agent through which Richard received this news, passed away himself two days prior to Priscilla. After getting directions to his aunt’s property at Maryville, the couple heads off… but not before noting that Jason has “deep, angry burns” on his knuckles where a cigarette might have rested.

Upon arriving, the Longmakers find the manse all boarded up. They go to an outdoor toolshed and find it surprisingly open. Emily is apprehensive, sensing another presence in their midst. Guided by candlelight, they find a trio of solid-black coffins with little silver handles and plates. Reading the inscriptions, Richard fearfully notes that two of them have their names on them with the day’s date. A gust of wind snuffs out the candle, advancing footsteps are heard, and Emily screams deliriously. A husky voice calls out to Richard. “Don’t let him hear you talking,” it warns.

Relighting the candle, Richard sees that he is the only one in the shed. One of the coffin lids starts to shift and the person inside chastises Richard to help him move it. Turns out it’s the good Dr. Highley, recovering from an attack by dastardly innkeeper Jason and hiding in one of the coffins in the ensuing confusion. Highley tells Richard that Jason murdered his aunt and left him for dead. He never left Maryville to accuse Jason because he never had enough evidence to indict him. Jason resorted to murder after discovering that Priscilla's estate was home to three tons of British silver left over from the American Revolution.

Revealing a trap door hidden underneath the hay-strewn floor, Highley guides Richard into the secret cellar which is also equipped with a quicklime pit. They recover Emily and come upon a glass coffin of sorts where old Aunt Emily’s body rests. Richard smells something funny, and it isn’t the quicklime. Highley breaks out into a mad laugh now that he has brought the whole family together.

Turns out the physician has been in cahoots with Jason the whole time. It took him five years to track down the last of Priscilla’s living relatives and with all of the Longmakers dead he plans on acquiring Maryville for himself. Too bad for Jason. Highley promptly knocks him over the head with a gun and dumps his body into the quicklime. Just as Highley goes to dispose of the couple, Emily awakens (from slumber or death is uncertain) and wreaks her vengeance on the evil doctor.

The passage of time has played its part in revealing some of the flaws inherent in “Funeral Arrangements Completed” (originally titled “Coffin for Two”), but it has done little to spoil the amount of glee to be derived from the Scooby Doo hijinks on hand. Bishop employs the same kitchen sink approach to his storytelling that he’s used in past entries, giving the narrative an unpredictability and colorful atmosphere that works in its favor.

For the most part. Bishop’s opening episode with the “the cigarette smoking ghost of the inn” only becomes confusing in retrospect. How could the sitter have been Jason when he came upon the Longmakers unexpectedly? What purpose was there in discussing the ghost story--besides to build atmosphere--with even a livid bloodstain appearing as evidence of the haunting? Does Jason just like to screw around with people? Is that a side effect of having fingers numb to pain?

Still, the Grand Guignol conclusion with Priscilla, Queen of the Undead rending unspeakable horrors upon the body of evil Dr. Highley as the heroic couple can only look on aghast is a juicy morsel to leave things on. It may not be healthy for me, but I know what I like.

27. Dead Hands Reaching

Original Broadcast: May 22, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Allan Blaine), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Judith West), Muir Hite (Yung Si Fu), Georgianna Cook (Mrs. Evans), and Darryl McAllister (Aaron Blaine, the Voice from Beyond).

Allan Blaine is busily clacking away at his typewriter when he hears someone calling out his name. It’s a little troubling since he’s the only person in the room. The voice begins to ask Allan questions. “How much money are you making?” it inquires. Allan’s answer of a cool twenty-five bucks a week leads the voice to tell him that he deserves more. And the voice knows just how to do this. “There is much I can do for you,” it says. Allan’s loud protestations against his invisible benefactor get the attention of the office manager Mrs. Evans. The voice goads Allan to ask her for the assistant manager position that has recently opened up. Unsure but willing, Allan does so and soon him and Mrs. Evans are talking business.

Things are less great in regards to Allan’s steady girlfriend Judith. She calls the office but tells Allan that she won’t be coming to see him. Allan suspects that she’s avoiding him. The voice warns him not to trust her. When he tries calling on her later, Judith tells Allan she’s breaking off their date for a prior engagement. The voice tells Allan to hold back on his anger, saying that if he tries to confront Judith he’ll only end up killing her. To add a final salt rub on the bruise, Judith writes a “Dear John” letter to Allan calling him foolish and telling him that she only dated him because she felt sorry for him, but now she’s off to marry her South American beau!

Reading the letter, Allan gets steamed and whips out the gun. His unseen Jiminy Cricket is there to placate him but Allan isn’t listening. “I wonder if she’ll feel sorry for me with a bullet in her cheating heart!” he fumes, and with that he heads for her apartment and shoots the wench down. Later, the voice is back to chastise Allan for his actions now that he has the police hot on his trail. Miserable and drunk, Allan seeks out Yung Si Fu and his opium den to forget about his troubles for a while. The voice tries to tell Allan that drugs are bad (mm’kay) but it isn’t long before the murderer is aboard the S. S. Dreamland.

Awakening later, Allan finds himself in a cave wearing clean, neat clothes and the diary of his grandfather Aaron Blaine at his side. Reading the pages by the light of a fire, Allan discovers that his grandpappy had stowed Civil War-era gold under the horse stall of his barn. Seeing a quick way out of his current misfortunes, Allan beats a quick path to the farm and finds an "old Negro" staying at the place. Together they dig up the metal box housing the treasure, in all worth eighty thousand dollars.

A series of shots from outside alerts the old-timer that those dastardly Pearson boys have come to lay siege on the barn. Allan and his friend barely make it back to the cave with their skins intact. Days later the voice suddenly comes back to Allan telling him the coast is clear. Journeying outside, Allan sees a boneless hand jutting out from a grave mound. It is the resting place of Aaron Blaine hisownself, buried alive after having passed out in a cataleptic shock. The voice reveals that it is in actuality Aaron’s spirit who has been helping him this whole time. A rattlesnake springs forth from the grave and bites the inquisitive Allan. The squatter takes to the hills as Allan dies whimpering. “Now you’ll never get back!” Aaron’s spirit laments.

I seem to remember “Dead Hands Reaching” being closer in robustness and macabre flavor to “Funeral Arrangements Completed,” but relistening to the episode has revealed it to be more sedate and patient, taking a leisurely approach to the narrative that seems at odds with the genre tropes and iconography like skeletal hands reaching from graves and buried treasure that it utilizes.

This is not to say that the story is entirely unengaging, but it does go a little way in cooling the fire of what could have been another raucously pulpy tale. Bishop adopts the anything-goes approach again and it works effectively here, though the finale feels a bit limp even as it delivers the cosmic justice to our wrong-headed protagonist as so many other genre stories are apt to do.

Though he is only credited as playing the Chinese opium dealer (it is the use of this that transports Alan's spirit to the farm, by the way), Muir Hite likely supplied the voice for the squatter as well. Bishop supplies him with dialogue that is at turns riotous and painful, with such stereotypical ejaculations as "Boss man" and my personal favorite "You dun hear a spook talkin'!" Yes. Yes he did.

This was the only episode from the series that received a full photo spread in an issue of Radio-Movie News. It's evident from some of these shots and their corresponding captions that Bishop's script was still in the working stage, as the whole subplot of Allan's friend "Philip" fighting his way into Yung Si Fu's den never made it to the recording. One wishes some of the other stories had received this illustrative treatment!

Two weeks from today: Don't miss the seventh and final installment in our look back at Dark Fantasy!

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