The year of 2012 has THREE Friday the 13th dates. (2011 only had one!)

1. Friday, Janurary 13th, 2012

2. Friday, April 13th 2012

3. Friday, July 13th 2012

In the spirit of Friday the 13th, I’m starting a series of blog posts reviewing the Tales from the Beyond the Pale radio plays.

What is this, you ask? Well, Tales from Beyond the Pale are a series of radio plays in the age old tradition of Orson Welles’ frightening radio dramas. In their own words: “Radio Plays for the Digital Age.” The creep-tastic geniuses responsible for this revival are Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid. They honed their chops in world of horror as they have both written, produced, directed and acted in various film projects.

I am someone who enjoys scary movies and when I heard about these radio plays on NPR, I knew I wanted to listen to them and share them with my friend who is literary, loves podcasts/storytelling and a huge fan of horror. (They’re available in MP3 and CD format. You can buy the discs through Amazon or their website.) We both really really really loved these radio plays. As an avid podcast listener, it was great to be able to hear something different and new, yet comforting in its format and high quality audio production.

However, we found that we could only discuss the episodes with each other and there is a dearth of internet places to read about Tales from Beyond the Pale. We decided to write some SPOILER CONTAINING reviews of each episode. While they are reviews, hopefully they will provide some discussion about the mysteries and twists in each episode.

Since Cam’s boyfriend, Stephen, is also a horror fan and he’s easily the biggest fan of the three of us, he will also be providing another perspective on each episode as someone who is well versed in all things supremely scary (i.e. horror fan forums).

Here are some general reviews from each of us about the entire series:

The Tales from Beyond the Pale collection is a goddamn treasure. One of the strongest aspects of Season One is that each story is very different and you get a really wide range of scary settings and storylines–twists to straight up gore, tales on the high seas to communications from a distant moon. The intros are just as fun as the stories themselves and they really set the mood. In shaping these episodes Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid definitely took a page out of the old timey Orson Welles style programs. Larry Fessenden’s voice is perfectly creepy, he enunciates beautifully (refreshing after the sometimes weird and unexpected voices on This American Life, for example), and has a flair for drama. While you might think that radio plays are more mild than scary movies, think again. I got some chills listening to these at work, never mind those times when I was alone with my headphones in a dark room. A couple stories are so creepy that I can’t listen to them late at night. If you like podcasts, if you like creepy stories or if you just like high quality audio crack-cocaine, then you will truly enjoy this collection.
The stories, the actors, and the sound staging are generally awesome. There’s a wide genre of horror represented: goofy pulp to suspenseful terror to gothic ghosts to demonic innocents to psychological and physical torture. And some stuff in between that I don’t even know how to define. Like with any ambitious story collection in any medium, there are hits and misses. But even the misses still had me thinking about them, and listening close. If nothing else, it was amazing to hear how a few well-placed sound effects can set a mood. The attention to details was outstanding, these guys obviously love what they are doing here. And will hopefully do it a lot more!
This collection is amazing. Maybe it is the fact that horror as a genre always feels kind of old fashioned to me (after all, since the coming of the cell phone every horror movie is required to have the no-cell-service-scene), but doing horror as a radio show just seems so perfect. And for the most part, the stories live up to the concept. As I listened to them at work, slacking off from doing anything productive as the stories started to take hold, I felt more like I was sitting in front of an old fashioned radio in a dimly lit room, leaning in as the tension built. Most of these stories did what only the best types of fiction are capable of– they created a world of their own, one I was more than happy to step into for the length of the tale.







Disc 1
Man on the Ledge
Story summary: A man and a cop face off on top of an apartment building in New York City.

I have to admit that the first time I listened to this I was super annoyed and didn’t really enjoy it. It was mainly because Vincent D’Onofrio plays a cop on Law and Order: Criminal Intent and I find his character on that show irritating. Still, with each additional listen I enjoy Man on the Ledge more and more. The story is tightly written and unfolds wonderfully, strengthened by sound effect placements, imagery, metaphors and superb line delivery by the voice actors. D’Onofrio really brings a lot to the audio table. His cadence and voice acting make his character and the entire story strong. Additionally, this episode really uses the medium of audio to its full potential–not only to keep up suspense and to add specific atmosphere building bird chirps and police radio static, but also to add twists and to bring the creep factor up to 11.


The slow build and pacing of this Tale is a great introduction to the series. Not much happens, but the story’s meaty mix of Twilight Zone and Memento tones jolt you into the Tales from Beyond world. D’Onofrio’s ability to hold the listeners’ attention with some long segments of monologues and philosophical ramblings is impressive, and speaks to his strong acting and the Tale’s great writing. So much of the story hinges on his ability to be subtly threatening and engaging, and he’s spot on. Like Viv, I enjoyed this one more on a second listen-through; it’s told by an unreliable narrator, with some twisty-parts that you have to listen for, so after I’d been through all the other CDs I was better at the close listening and could appreciate it more.


Being a fan of D’Onofrio on Law and Order, I looked forward to his performance here and he did not disappoint. From the peaceful sound effect of chirping birds to the fact that several minutes go by before the reveal that D’Onofrio’s character is covered in blood, the writing shows a mastery of the radio format that is unmatched by any other story in the collection. While the stream of consciousness speech occasionally seems to be wandering here and there it sets up a picture of a totally broken man, and I loved the idea of being in a holding pattern on a plane as a stay of execution of sorts. I also like that this story successfully makes the horror and darkness come from within, from one man’s view that life and love are nothing more than millers, grinding us down until there is nothing left. And that the cop, who we know very little about, is just as dark, as the end of the story reveals.


Stay tuned for a review of the other story on Disc 1:  The Hole Digger!