The Witch’s Tale, American Radio’s First Horror Show

The Witch’s Tale was the first horror-fantasy radio series, which aired from May 28, 1931, to June 13, 1938, on WOR, the Mutual Radio Network, and later in syndication. Creator Alonzo Deen Cole, a 34-year old Minnesota native, convinced the station to air the supernatural series that he wrote and directed himself. His goal was to draw audiences away from more conventional musical shows airing on rival stations.

Witchs_Tale_1The creepy 30-minute weekly anthology featured a cackling host named Old Nancy, a witch from Salem, who, along with her wise black cat named Satan, spun a new wicked “bedtime yarn” each week. The show terrified younger listeners and was a huge success with New York children, who adored Old Nancy, often imitating her cackles and quips, in efforts to scare younger siblings.

The shows were broadcast live, recorded for syndication, and then distributed to various national markets. It’s reported, that in 1961, Cole didn’t think the recordings held any value, so he destroyed nearly all of them (only about 30-50 recordings exist today).

Witchs Tale trio
Most scripts were original stories but there were a few literary adaptions as well. Cole played the cat Satan and enlisted the aid of his wife Marie O’Flynn to play lead female characters. Old Nancy, liked telling tales was created by stage actress Adelaide Fitz-Allen, who portrayed the spooky witch until her death in 1935.Auditions were held soon after to find a new Old Nancy and 13-year old Miriam Wolfe, a radio prodigy from Brooklyn, New York was chosen for the role after Cole heard the girl mimicking the character’s trademark cackling laugh. Wolfe would play the character for several years, in addition to other characters, before leaving to pursue other interests. Veteran radio and film actress Martha Wentworth (the famed Disney voice artist) then stepped in to lend her voice talents as Old Nancy. Top New York radio actors were often cast to fill roles of secondary characters respectively.

 

 

 

 

In 1936, a companion magazine called The Witch’s Tales was published by the small firm, Carwood Publishing Co., which reportedly failed to promote the radio show properly and completely mismanaged finances and distribution of the magazine. Only two issues (November and December) ever made it into print. Although Alonzo Deen Cole was named editor, real editorial work was believed to be done by Tom Chadburn. Cole did, however, write the lead story for the first issue and contributed the plot for the main story in the second issue. The magazine’s other stories were all reprints from the American version of Pearson’s Magazine. 

The spell cast by The Witch’s Tale came to an end in 1958, with talk of bringing the series to television. Cole was eyed as a consultant and story supervisor for the pilot, but the idea never came to fruition.

You can find many episodes over at Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/TheWitchsTale

The video shown below is titled Graveyard Mansion, originally aired in 1934, about two brothers who may have stumbled upon a New Orleans vampire. Take a listen.

Tuesday Terror – The Black Cat

The Black Cat (1932)
“Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the devil, of evil?”

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Today’s black and white classic is the horror-thriller The Black Cat from Universal Pictures. Horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff square off for the first time in a movie about a traumatized doctor with a cat phobia named Werdegast and an American newlywed couple, who seek medical aid at the home of the doctor’s nemesis, Hjalmar Poelzig, the dark high priest of a devil-worshipping cult. The doctor’s original plans of revenge on Poelzig are changed when it is revealed the priest plans to sacrifice the young bride at the dark of the moon.

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Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., the young studio head believed in director Edgar G. Ulmer’s vision enough so the man had free rein over the pic. Although presumed to be loosely based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe, there are not too many similarities here. It’s a bit strange really because the movie is good enough to stand on its own merits. This perhaps one of my favorite classic films. The story is excellent, with strong performances from the entire cast. David Manners and Julie Bishop pile on the melodrama with their romance, which is now part of the charm in some of these old films, but let’s be honest, they weren’t who we’re here to see anyway.  Lugosi playing the tortured Werdegast against Karloff’s evil Poelzig in a battle for screen supremacy is one of the best horror face-offs ever found in horror. I’d say Lugosi is the clear winner, due to a more fully fleshed-out character and more dialogue to offer, but Karloff does manage to say quite a lot with just a creepy stare. Madness and secret motivations are the whole reason why this film is so scary. Clearly, something evil has hold of these men.

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The film escaped the Pre-code guidelines but Ulmer’s first cut of the film, which included several scenes of satanic worship and skinning alive of Herr Poelzig, was deemed too dark and violent for the Laemmles (father and son). Between that and Bela Lugosi’s complaints that he appeared to be too villainous, Ulmer reshot several scenes,  downplaying the gruesome last scene, and added some sprinkling of humanity in the tragic Dr. Werdegast. In a touch of irony, while cleaning up the film’s ending, Ulmer snuck in some extra shots of Poelzig’s necrophilic menagerie. Already heavy with a dark look and satanic theme, studio execs managed to miss The Black’s Cat’s seriously taboo subject matter, or perhaps they ignored it.

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The eerie movie score runs 80 minutes contains many classical selections, including the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, only the second time a horror film featured the now cliched song.  The set of Poelzig’s mansion is considered somewhat of a masterpiece in the industry, part art deco, part haunted house. In contrast to The Old Dark House, this film is well-lit, casting defined shadows in a way that you’re unsure if you’re watching a horror film at all.

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The Black Cat is considered to be the first movie to use psychological horror, capitalizing on public interest in psychiatry at that time. Despite the audience’s distaste for the dark subject matter, it was the biggest box office hit for Universal that year, due in part to the popularity of its stars.  What didn’t work then is exactly why it works now. The Black Cat is creepy, scary, and a masterclass in great classic horror.

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Ten Freaky Vintage Costume Photos

Whenever someone mentions vintage Halloween, the first thought that jumps into everybody’s head are those creepy costume photos we see online. It took an awful lot of courage to be a Kodak developer back in the day.

10. The Real Mickey and Minnie

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9. Ann looking raggedy without her Andy.

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8. Has anyone seen my dearest Lamb Chop?

sheep man circa 1915

7. Take us to your former leader.

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6. You’re next!

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5. But, I like cornbread.

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4. These are the Wild Things you’re looking for.

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3. Bette and Joan, the early years.

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2. Coming this Christmas, It’s a very very Texas Chainsaw Reunion!

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  1. Is it a man?  A beast? A pig?  The Hulk? Skeletor’s dad?  Whatever it is, it’s terrifying!

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Horror’s Worst Vacations Ever

Happy September! School is back in session, summer is winding down, and that recent holiday in the sun is now a distant memory. Everyone knows vacations can sometimes be more stressful than relaxing. Between the airlines losing luggage and hotel rooms not looking anything like the brochure, to pricey tourist traps or flat out being robbed, the reality of exotic trips not living up to their expectations is a top reason why people just stay home. Let’s be honest, a lot of the disappointment could’ve been solved with better research and a Lonely Planet travel guide.

No matter how awful your trip was, just be glad you weren’t a character in an Eli Roth movie.

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Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th (1980) dir. by Sean S. Cunningham

Years after a child’s accidental drowning, a group of young camp counselors prepare for the summer camp’s reopening, only to be stalked and murdered by an unseen force.

This one almost didn’t make the list because for all its posturing and preparation for summer visitors, Camp Crystal Lake never actually opened to the public. That’s right, no vacations were had, which is a good thing because after all those brutal murders, they never would have survived the Yelp reviews. The locals called it ‘Camp Blood’ for short. I mean, can you imagine the BBB rating on this place? “One star for the blood-stained bunk beds!” Never before has the mere uttering of a vacation destination sparked so much fear, because no one steps foot in a forest these days without hearing Jason’s theme ‘ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma‘ in their head.

Continue reading “Horror’s Worst Vacations Ever”

Haiku of the Week

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Nicepik.com

hostile strangers
kidnapped from your own bed
vacation nightmares

Midsummer Scream 2019 Recap

Midsummer Scream in Long Beach, CA, kicked off the 2019 Halloween season with spooky flair and a fair amount of nostalgia. Now, the largest Halloween and haunt expo on the west coast, this year’s theme was the dark side of Tiki, featuring artwork from world-class artist Jeff Granito and Tiki Terror entryway designed by SoCal’s famed haunt builders, CalHaunts.

Continue reading “Midsummer Scream 2019 Recap”

Haiku of the Week

night whispers
listen to what they say
asking me to leave

Haiku of the Week

sinister thoughts
dark voices never stop
save me from myself

Worst Dads in Horror

Posting this blog a day late and a dollar short, just like dear ‘ole dad. If you were one of the millions who spent Father’s Day pining over your lost, non-existent volatile relationship with daddy dearest, cheer up, and be glad you weren’t the offspring of any of these bad dads of horror.

10. Satan – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

It doesn’t really get much worse than having Satan for a dad. Sure, there are probably perks to being the Antichrist, but the trade-off is lifetime of micromanagement from mid-level staffers on daddy’s payroll. Satan’s coven rape, conspire, commit murder and drive the chosen mother-to-be to the brink of insanity, all to ensure Satan’s son is born on the exact date that will make him 33 years on the millennial, the same age as Jesus when he came into his own. Who would’ve guessed the devil would be so petty?

Rosemarys-Baby

Continue reading “Worst Dads in Horror”

Scary Bites

Some of you may have noticed there was no Haiku of the Week.  Please forgive me.  I suffered a sudden health scare this week.  Recently, during a trip to a local botanical park in Austin, TX, I was bitten up by mosquitoes. The bites turned out to be more serious than I thought because I fell ill with a blood infection. Luckily, no serious disease. I’m now recovering and should be totally fine. Haiku will return next week, but as summer approaches, I can’t help but remind everyone to please use insect repellant.

Also, think twice about using those flowery shampoos and fruity lotions when camping and traipsing through the woods. We wouldn’t want insects to take over the world just because we want to smell good.

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Bogleech: MagictheGathering Insects- heartstabbermosquito by Jason Felix

For more heartstopping terror, go here: http://www.bogleech.com/magicinsects.html