Review of Hammer Chillers Season 1: Sticks and Stone, The Devil in Darkness & Don’t Go There

SFFaudio Review

Hammer Chillers: Series One

Mr Jim Moon already introduced us to the legendary Hammer studios Chillers series. If you want to learn more about the background and the first three episode of Series 1 read his review here.

In order to avoid redundancy I will concentrate on the final three episodes, namely Sticks and Stones, The Devil in Darkness and Don’t Go There.

 

Episode 4 – Sticks and Stones

By Robin Ince; Performed by a full cast:

Released: ? June 2013

 

Neil Stanley is a nice man. He has a nice house, a nice wife, a nice life. But Neil has a secret. He’s an internet troll, spending every spare moment posting hate-filled messages online.

When he begins trolling talent-show contestant Sam Pinker, his threats begin to come true. Is Neil acting upon his online taunts? Or is something else to blame?

Oh man it does make me feel a bit like a troll myself starting off with a negative review. In short, I was a bit disappointed. Sticks and Stones failed to draw me in, and get me interested in the “what’s next?”

Is it because the connection that author Robin Ince attempt to draw similarities between medieval witch trials and modern day talent show contestants is not entirely convincing and rather forced? Or is it because he tries to pack too much into half hour or so of audio drama time? This drama could have done with a longer treatment to give it more room to build up the characters and the plot.

This is not meant to shake a stick at the production per se or the actors. In all fairness, it’s not like Sticks and Stones is really bad, it just left me with an unsatisfied feeling of “meh”.

 

Episode 4 – The Devil in Darkness

By Christopher Fowler; Performed by a full cast:

Released: July 5, 2013

Mia never takes the eerie old lift in the St Petersburg International Archive. But one night she leaves late and is forced to break her rule. She’s travelling down with the only other passenger when the lift jams between floors.

Andrei is a Russian electrician, and tries to free them, but he can’t get the doors open. As the days pass their bond grows stronger, while they grow weaker.

But what are those strange noises? Are supernatural forces trapping them in the lift? Or is the truth even more terrifying?

The fifth episode The Devil in Darkness starts of with a well-established scenario: the Locked Room, or, in this case the stuck elevator. It doesn’t help that it’s the weekend and the building is empty. Or is it? The old walls hold bad memories from the days when the basement housed the torture chambers of the Tscheka the Bolshevik secret police from the early days after the revolution.

Writer Christopher Fowler manages to avoid pretty much everything that was wrong with Sticks and Stones. The cast is reduced to two characters and the action boiled down to two people slipping into darkness and despair as the days run by. The acting is fine and the sound design is used to good effect. In the end the story surprises with a twist that at least had me thinking: Of course, but why didn’t I see this? I grant this to the believable and good performance of the actors Dylan Charles and Lauren Kellegher and the way the listener is subtly set up to think in the wrong direction.

 

Episode 6 – Don’t Go There

By Stephen Volk; Performed by a full cast:

Released: July 15, 2013

John and Laura Daulby’s son is lying in a coma in hospital, on a Greek holiday island. But John refuses to believe his son is just another victim of bad drugs.

He enters the hedonistic world of 18-30 clubbers to get to the truth, and meets the enigmatic and beautiful Stheno.

Finding himself increasingly attracted to her – in the same way his son was – he realises that she may just be a Greek myth come to life…

At 44 minutes this is the longest of the Hammer Chillers so far and this gives writer Stephen Volk ample time to develop the story. Volk whose love for the paranormal and horror genres has been widely demonstrated in his TV and film work (Gothic, Ghostwatch, Afterlife) visits ancient Greek myths.

The atmosphere of a small Greek island that is virtually deserted by day and a clubber’s paradise by night is transported quite effectively. Having said that though, at first I found the bigotry of John Daulby applied a little too thickly but it sets the stage nicely for the character’s gradual acceptance that there might be more to his son’s condition than just a bad trip. As with most of the other Hammer shows the motifs (soul-sucking femme-fatale seductress) is not new but well transported into the modern day. After listening you’re tempted to warn your kids to be careful whom they snog at techno parties in countries with a long mythological tradition.

This episode’s cast is great and benefits from Cyprus-born Daphne Alexander’s fluency in Greek. Few things ruin it for me as much as badly faked accents.

Overall, I would recommend the second half of Hammer’s first season of Chiller audio dramas. The episodes are short and self-contained so they are easily accessible and don not require you having to keep up-to-date with a massive multi-episode storyline ends with a cliffhanger every season. That also means that the occasional “miss” might stick out more but one in six isn’t a bad ratio so far.
All episodes can be downloaded individually or purchased for a modest subscription fee right from Hammer Chillers online. There is also digipack CD version for those who still like to have a hard copy.

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

Review of Dark Adventure Audio Theatre: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

June 15, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

SFFaudio EssentialThe Shadow over Innsmouth cover artDark Adventure Radio Theatre: H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Adapted from the novella by H.P. Lovecraft; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – Approx. 77 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: HPLHS
Published: October 27, 2009
Themes: / Horror / Cultists / Deep Ones / Cthulhu Mythos /

The final installment of a great series of faux Old Time Radio dramatisations of Lovecraft stories by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s very own Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is probably the easiest to convert in their point of view. By no means do I want to belittle their skill and effort but of all of Lovecrafts stories “Innsmouth”‘s dramaturgy comes easier to audio than, say, The Shadow out of Time [Review]. Bear in mind that Lovecraft was not exactly known for his use of action or suspense in the traditional sense, but  this novella about a degenerated community on New England’s seaside features his attempt of a chase and narrow escape plus a final plot twist.
I assume that most readers will at least be vaguely familiar with the plot but for those who are not here’s a very brief overview.
A young man tours New England, more precisly the fictional area that became known as “Lovecraft Country”, in a search for antiques and his family’s history. He learns of the town of Innsmouth which used to be a prosperous fishing and trading port but which has long ago fallen into gloom and decay, shunned by outsiders and inhabited by secretive people on whom generations of inbreeding have not been kind.
Of course, he disregards all warning not to go there and buys a ticket for the bus to Innsmouth. Ahh, the carelessnes of youth!
Sure, he only wants to get a quick peek and then leave again with the evening bus. What he learns from his own observations and the only two people willing to talk to him – an outside shopkeeper and the town drunkard – is bad enough. All the churches of Innsmouth have  either been abandoned or have been converted for use by the town’s sinister cult the Esoteric Order of Dagon. The cult that was brought to Innsmouth from the Pacific by one of its most prominent captains at a time when Innsmouth’s economy was failing. The new gods helped but at what terrible price our young protagonist is abuot to find out. Too bad that the bus that was supposed to bring him out of town in the evening has most inconveniently broken down leaves him stranded and cut-off in a town filled with people who are not entirely human anymore and even less keen on snooping outsiders than your usual run-of-the-mill hillbillies. Fortunately, there is a room available in the best (and only) hotel in town… and this is where the fun begins – our protagonist has to escape from Innsmouth.
But remember… you may take a man out of Innsmouth but can you take Innsmouth out of the man?
Find out more and watch <a title=” Shadow over Innsmouth Trailer” href=””>the trailer on Youtube.
There is not really much more  to say about the last and thus far final installment of DART that is different from the previous ones. Although the crew does not produce audio dramas for a living they take this serious enough to be on par with most professional publishers, and indeed even better than some. Luckily they don’t take it so serious as to avoid the tongue-in-cheek humour which stands ol’ Lovecraft better than you might think.
The story has been dramatised well, music and sound design are great, the acting convincing and the feeling of an Old Time Radio show has been well preserved. The fact that DART have invented a visit from a government official to the protagonist (a fact actually mentioned in the original story) not only provides a convincing reason why the narrator keeps going on in the typical Lovecraftian monologues but also made it possible to tell  the  story’s ending a bit more dramatic than its literary predecessor.
Every DART show comes as both MP3 download and “enhanced” physical CD. The Shadow over Innsmouth  is no different and the CD contains such props as a “real” match book (with one final match left) of the Gilman hotel, a handdrawn map of Insmouth, a fake newspaper clipping, and a postcard. A nice extra (and free for all) service is the downloadable script to read along.
To round off this the final audio drama the HPLHS offers a nicely designed box in the shape of a classic tube radio that holds all four currently available CDs.
The only thing that this leaves me wanting is more. I want more Dark Adventure Radio shows! Alas, the HPLHS has been awfully quiet on the audio front recently. One can only assume that their resources have been eaten up mainly by their film endeavours.

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

Review of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out Of Time

June 7, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

HPLHS - Dark Adventure Radio Theatre - H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Out Of Time SFFaudio EssentialDark Adventure Radio Theatre: H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out Of Time
Adapted from the novella by H.P. Lovecraft; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – Approx. 77 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: HPLHS
Published: October 27, 2009
Themes: / Horror / Science Fiction / Aliens / Consciousness Swapping /

It their line of faux Old Time Radio shows the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has also adapted the old master’s The Shadow out of Time. After the slightly disappointing At the Mountains of Madness and the great Dunwich Horror we now look the The Shadow Out Of Time – not quite what I would have expected for an audio drama treatment.

As usual you can get the audio both as a download and in the physical CD form, the latter is enhanced with certain goodies. The HPLHS started off as a supplier of props for Lovecraftian role-playing games (both pen-and-paper, and live action). This CD is no exception and so you can find a cutout from the fictitious Arkham Advertiser printed on real newspaper paper, a sealed Marconigram (a telegram), torn pages from a psychological journal detailing the case of Nathaniel Peaslee, and finally a very well made faux facsimile page from the infamous “Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten“. The latter being in absolutely perfect German. Not that you will actually need any of these things but they are fun to look add and just add to the impression that this is a quality product.

HPLHS - The Shadow Out Of Time - Ephemera

But what about the audio?

The story tells of Nathaniel Peaslee, Professor of Political Economics whose mind gets exchanged by an alien entity from the Great Rave of Yith who are time travelers from earth’s distant past. The strange behavior of the entity in his body alienates Peaslee from his family and friends, and he becomes a celebrity patient among psychologists.

When the real Peaslee is being sent back into his body with no memories of his experience he is shocked to find his life in shambles and is soon confronted with nightmarish visions of his life as a captive of the Yithians. Eventually he becomes involved in an archeological dig in Australia that is about to uncover the remnants of the ancient pre-human city along with the Yithian arch-enemies that still dwell there.

Lovecraft’s usual topic, of showing the insignificance of human kind in light of some alien being or race who could eradicate it in the blink of an eye, is emphasized by the fact that even these powerful beings can be overcome by some more powerful than they are.

Let’s face it, you don’t read an individual Lovecraft story for the action or suspense. It’s more the joy of unveiling the cosmology that connects most of his literary works. The Shadow Out Of Time is no exception, if anything it is an even more than typical example. I mean it starts with an alien hijacking a professor of *Political Economics* of all things! (Dear students of Economics, this is nothing personal but you must admit that the discipline does not quite come to mind as the starter for a horror story of cosmic dimensions) A sizable part of the story consists one massive infodump detailing the culture and society of the Great Race of Yith. In it Lovecraft even goes so far as to classify the economic and political system (I can see a pattern evolving) of the Yithians, which he dubs some form of “socialist fascism”. All of this is delivered in the form of a letter to Peaslee’s son and the world at large.

Not an easy thing to turn into an audio drama.

However, the HPLHS managed surprisingly well to create a more dynamic form of presentation. First of all, when the story starts on the ship bringing Peaslee home from Australia the audio drama introduces the ship’s doctor as a counterfoil so that Peaslee can actually tell his story to someone. Peaslee’s research into the lost years of his amnesia during which his hijacker traveled the world in search of arcane knowledge is made more vivid through a conversation with a Swedish librarian, and so are the flashbacks into his incarceration in Earth’s distant past together with fellow prisoners from other ages and places. These diversions from the original story all serve to liven up the dramaturgy without changing the essence of Lovecraft’s Shadow Out Of Time.

As usual, the production and voice acting are great, especially considering that this is not an entirely professional production. The HPLHS are hobbyists who, in spite of the love and attention to detail they pour into their products, have not lost their sense of humour. Thus, The Shadow Out Of Time is the first Lovecraft adaptation to my knowledge which features product placement (Fleurs de Lys anyone?). It is not least this tongue-in-cheek humour that helps to turn an slightly stuffy tale of pre-historical kidnapping with cosmic, nay, titanic dimensions into an enjoyable audio drama. Highly recommended.

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

Neil Gaiman blogs about reading (audio) books

July 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News 

SFFaudio News

NeilGaiman.comNeil Gaiman, who reads most of the audio versions of his books himself, (and I can testify for his amazing skills as a performer from having seen him live in London last November) shares some thoughts and advice on how to best books aloud. Interesting post and potentially useful for all the aspiring audio book narrators out there.

Check it out on Neil Gaiman’s blog

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

Review of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror

May 15, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society - Dark Adventure Radio Theatre - H.P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich HorrorSFFaudio EssentialDark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Dunwich Horror
Adapted by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman; from the story by H.P. Lovecraft;
Original music by Troy Sterling Nies; Performed by a full cast
1 CD or MP3 download – 75 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: HPLHS
Published: 2007
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / Weird Tales / New England / Cthulhu Mythos / Yog-Sothoth / Degenerated Backwater Communities /

After their first venture into Lovecraftian audio theatre with At the Mountains of Madness in 2006, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society have recently increased their efforts to bring Lovecraft back, if not to the airwaves than at least to our CD players and iPods.

The Dunwich Horror is one of the best known Lovecraft stories set in the Miskatonic Valley with its degenerate backwater folks and cultists, Lovecrafts fictional literary playground, and was first published in 1929 in Weird Tales. There is a classic 1940s radio drama version around – an episode of the famous Suspense show, now in the public domain and freely available on the internet.

The first Dark Adventure Radio Theatre production, At the Mountains of Madness, showed some dramatic weaknesses, however,  The Dunwich Horror provides a thoroughly enjoyable audio drama experience. Whilst most Lovecraft fans would want it to be as close to the original as possible (which it is) it does take into account that an audio drama has to follow different dramatic conventions to keep its listeners entertained for more than an hour. Don’t expect an action packed audioFX orgy, though. It’s a Lovecraft story after all, so there will be lots of monologues and narrated bits, all adding to the charme of the original and the faux old time radio show format that this audio drama is presented in. Incidentally, Dark Adventure Radio Theatre has refreshingly politically incorrect fake advertizing (for cigarettes!) The cast does a great job of bringing to life the varied range of characters – from backwater farmers, to New England academics. Production values are overall good and fortunately they did not go wild with freely available sound effects as some other dramas of the semi-professional kind sometimes do. A commercial publisher with bigger budget might have been able to do better, but the guys from Dark Adventure Radio Theatre did a great job with a lovingly rendered version of the Dunwich Horror that shows an eye for detail.

The Dunwhich Horror: All the goodies

As the HPLHS started off by producing Lovecraft collectibles and high-quality “authentic” props, for the Call of Cthulhu pen & paper and live roleplaying games, it is not surprising that the CD contains a lot of goodies. Namely, a map of the Dunwich area complete with a note stapled onto it, a page from the dreaded Necronomicon and one from Whateley’s diary plus a clipping from the Arkham Advertiser showing Wilbur Whateley himself – all of which are of superb quality. Whilst no one really needs any them, these props make nice gimmicks nevertheless.

For anyone who does not need a physical audio storage medium or shies the shipping and duty costs involved with a mailorder from the USA, an MP3 download is available for about half the price. The file is properly tagged but it does not contain the cover art – this is a minor flaw in all of the HPLHS’ audio dramas downloads.

Another nice extra is the freely available script which helps learners of English to follow the show (download available from the HPLHS website as a PDF)

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

Discworld live on stage

January 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

SFFaudio News

Some of you might know Stephen Briggs as the award-winning narrator of the unabridged Terry Pratchett audio books (e.g. on Audible). Not as many people will know that the occassional Pratchett collaborator is also heavily involved in bringing Pratchett to the stage. Indeed, he has exclusive rights to produce stage adaptations of Sir Terry’s novels and all world premieres happen in the small town of Abingdon in South Oxfordshire.

Programme for Wyrd SistersI was lucky enough to get a ticket for last Friday’s show of “Wyrd Sisters – The Director’s Cut”, marking Discworld’s 25th anniversary and the Studio Theatre Club’s 18th (as far as staging Discworld adaptations is concerned). The plays are staged in the Unicorn Theatre in one of the few remaining buildings of Abingdon’s medieval abbey. The play was good fun, amdram, yes, but good amdram, staged with a love for detail and a good bunch of actors that obviously enjoyed themselves as much as the audience did in the sold out theatre.

Although Mr Briggs only had a small part in this play his performance reminded me again why I wanted to check out his audio books. If his ability to brings Discworld to live as a playwright and actor is any indication I reckon I won’t be disappointed by the audio books either.

If you intend to pay a visit to Oxford and are into Pratchett you might want to check out the Studio Theatre Club’s website. But be warned! Tickets are not expensive but they usually sell within a couple of weeks and you should be willing to buy several months in advance. But if you’re lucky to get one you can be there for a world premiere – and a lot of fun.

Anyone who would like to stage one of the 16 available adaptations or is interested in some (fairly reasonably priced) Discworld merchandise and/or Stephen Briggs himself should check out his website, C.M.O.T. Dibbler.

Posted by Carsten Schmitt

Next Page »