08 October 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 69

How do you like to listen to radio dramas? I turn off the lights, close my eyes, and let my ears and my imagination do all the work. It seems only appropriate for Horror radio--and especially so for today's special feature.

This meeting is about the Lights Out episode "The Dark". If you haven't listened to it yet, here's your last chance.

It seems unfair for my first comment on The Dark to be a comparison to The Thing on the Fourble Board, but I do want to underline the difference between the old lady's laughter in this one and the Thing's cries in the latter. THIS is how you freak people out with inarticulate sounds! Her mad cackle, already unsettling at the beginning, made me shiver in my seat when I heard it again at a later part.

The Dark is short and sweet. But maybe too short and just sweet enough to keep us from complaining that it's all scare and no substance? There are so many unanswered questions at the end. Where did the dark shadows come from? Who was the first man they found? Who telephoned for help at the beginning--and if she wasn't the old woman in the house, where did she go? It's like the first part of a Horror plot, when the fodder characters get killed but at least one escapes, so that the audience may know what the real heroes are to expect . . . except that in this case, the first part is the only part.

Yet everything is technically fantastic. The script is tight, the scares are perfectly paced, the characters are distinct and voiced well . . . It almost doesn't matter that we don't know why the doctor is so intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery: we hear enough to consider it his hamartia and to let this short double as a tragedy. At first I felt that his companion fainting was an easy way out . . . and maybe it was, because the alternative would have prolonged the plot (Oh, I see what you did there!) . . . but it was also quite plausible. It seems wrong, though, to say that his tragic flaw was not leaving his friend there when his survival instincts first started kicking in. Yet if The Dark has a moral, it is that fear is not always cowardice to be overcome but sometimes a kind of intuition worth listening to and acting upon.

What are your thoughts on The Dark?

1) What did you think was the scariest moment?
2) Did you think that one of the two should have just left the other? If so, which one and at which point?
3) So how do you listen to your radio dramas? =)

The next meeting will be a discussion of "House in Cypress Canyon", which came highly recommended by literally everyone I asked about the radio series Suspense!, including the inimitable Mrs. Darwin and indescribable Brandon. You can find it on YouTube, Relic Radio, Ghost Radio, and Soundcloud!


Angie Tusa said...

I find myself once again being bothered by the execution of the story here rather than the story itself. There would be no need for the doctor to explain to his companion what is happening, he's there right beside him, seeing it himself. But because this is radio, he has to talk in a manner no one normally would. It works better once his friend passes out, but even then its unnatural at times. A narrator might have been better? I know it sounds like nitpicking, but if the story is making me think about things like this, I'm also not being scared very much.

1. The old woman's laughter was probably the scariest part. Especially her last laugh, as she seems to willingly go to her fate rather than live with the knowledge that this thing exists.

2. They certainly both had their chances to just leave. It's hard to say. Sometimes the nature of horror stories is people making bad decisions. :)

3. I've been listening to these at free moments at work, which I admit isn't the best place. Ideally, I would relax at home in the dark and listen.

Brandon said...

I think it's the laugh that really makes the story -- the dark itself is very nearly an anticlimax because the laugh raises the immediate question, "What could possibly make anyone that unhinged?" I think it almost ends up being a weakness in the story -- it has to leave a lot in mystery because no revelation could quite be adequate to explain what we actually find.

I think it probably helps to keep in mind that we're dealing with a doctor and a policeman here, even though the story doesn't really emphasize this as much as it could have -- in a sense, the doctor has to investigate the matter (people are being turned inside out, which is a pretty serious medical emergency, after all) and the policeman can't very well leave him, particularly given that they're pretty clearly friends. In any other case, it would be exactly the right thing (well, in some places they should have called for back-up, but if it's rural or small-town enough, there might not be any real back-up) -- it's just that they are in over their heads and don't know it until it is much too late. I think if one expanded the story, it would end up having to expand on this.

Enbrethiliel said...


Angie -- Just a few nights ago, I listened to an episode from another radio show in which the characters narrated everything: "Oh, no! It's ALIVE!" . . . "It's jumping off the table!" . . . "It just backed you into a corner!" . . . "It's crawling up my leg!!!" That was a bit harder to swallow. =P

The link between Horror and characters making bad decisions may be organic rather than incidental. I'll look into that some more!

I've listened to one play in the office as well--and it stands to be the first of many! Since I'm almost always one of the last people to go home, it's easier for me to sit in near darkness and near silence, and just enjoy the story. =)

Brandon -- After reading your penultimate sentence, I thought: "They've seen a man who was turned inside out and they don't realise then and there that they're in over their heads???" But that's partly because I would been out of there at the sight . . . or still hanging around but screaming so loudly at the doctor that he probably would have left the house just to shut me up. =P But that's easy for me to say . . . And investigating these sorts of things is what a doctor and a policeman do.

That's an interesting analysis of the laugh! I wonder whether we could also look at it in reverse and say that its inclusion actually covers the huge hole in the story, so that it can be as scary as it is short. If the laugh is so awful that nothing can top it, then perhaps nothing should even try to top it.

Sheila said...

Yeah, here I show myself as an utter philistine where horror is concerned. The whole thing just struck me as stupid. People turned inside out? Why? Without an answer to that question, I honestly don't see the point.

Maybe it would help if I listened in the dark. I like to work on something while I listen; this time I was knitting.

Have you ever seen the Bill Cosby sketch about the chicken heart? That's what this reminds me of.

mrsdarwin said...

This one I didn't listen to with the kids -- good thing too, or I would have had three or four more people in bed with me tonight. (Reminds me of the joke the guy told about his Irish grandmother, that she got married so that she could go down to two in a bed.)

1. The laugh was indeed creepy, but I thought the most awful sound moment was when they realized that the man turned inside out was alive, and then he started to moan. The laughter was just stagey enough to be dismissible, but that moan -- ugh.

If I were going to play unhinged laughter, I think I would throw a bit more sobbing into the mix, because just cackling (though of course we accept that she's gone mad) seems a bit telegraphic.

2. I think they probably had an obligation to open the second door to find the injured person (I'm assuming it was the woman called in the alarm before she collapsed), and maybe even the third door. Still, after they saw the dark, they should have grabbed the woman and hightailed it out of there and sent in a larger team later. How can you safely move a man turned inside out? Can he even survive much longer?

3. This one I listened to while the youngsters played upstairs, though I did have to pause it a few times to shoo people away and buy them off with cookies in the kitchen. I prefer to listen to my scary dramas with people around, and never late at night without anyone around (not like that's ever the case here) because I'm a big squish and don't actually like to be scared. Heck, I rarely watch movies by myself. I prefer the camaraderie of watching or listening to anything mildly creepy with other people. I'd be the ultimate horror movie date, except that I hate horror movies.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- LOL! It really is the weirdest thing they could have stumbled upon, isn't it? I think that they were going for suggestion over substance in this one. As Mrs. Darwin said, children's imaginations will definitely have a wilder experience!

I haven't seen the Bill Cosby sketch, but I can look it up. =)

Ultimate Horror Movie Date -- Are you also the type who is easily taken by surprise when others think something is "so obvious"? My favourite example is the ending of Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster. So far, I am the only one I know who didn't see that twist coming!

Back to The Dark . . . I was also shocked when the man on the floor turned out to be alive. It certainly makes the fates of our two main characters more horrible to contemplate!

I'm usually very jumpy after watching a Horror movie, so I've been surprised to learn that it is the visual elements that have been tickling my fear bone all this time. The memory of the silent old woman in Insidious (for instance) will send me scurrying through dark rooms in terror, but recalling the disembodied laugh in this play, though much scarier in its own context, doesn't have nearly the same effect.

love the girls said...

mrsdarwin writes : "she got married so that she could go down to two in a bed"

I doubt it. The most blessed enjoyment of the marriage bed is having all the children piled into the bed at night.

I didn't find the story the least bit frightening. Probably because like the first story, they're not grounded in the possible.

Stories of accounts of contact with fallen angels are on the other hand virtually always frightening to where I don't listen to them downstairs in the studio when everyone else (except of course the older children who pile up together in their own bedrooms) is upstairs in the family bed sleeping.

mrsdarwin said...

LTG -- Your marriage bed, maybe. I like to have my husband to myself without being kicked through the night by anyone over the age of 6-9 months. Anyway, right now we're three in a bed, only the third is kicking from the inside, so adding another child to that mix is beyond uncomfortable for me. I solve this problem by piling all the children in one bed in some other room. They like it, most of the time.

E, I find that the visuals of horror movies affect me far more strongly than these audio plays, which is why I'd rather listen than watch.

love the girls said...

mrs darwin,

I expect your preference is the most common american one because just as the nuclear family is now seen as the norm, contrary to tradition, so likewise with the nuclear bed that isolates parents from the extended family of children, likewise contrary to tradition.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Take it down a notch, please. Nobody should have to defend the sleeping arrangements in their homes to a virtual stranger.

Back to the point . . . I'd also rank fallen angels as the scariest "Horror villains," with ghosts as a close second.

Mrs. Darwin -- Something we'll never get in Horror radio is the sudden scare of someone popping out where there was no one just a second ago. It is the tension of waiting for the villain to emerge and the mini-catharsis of the emergence itself which really do me in. And I find it interesting that the key to making Horror work in a visual medium is balancing "seeing scenes" with "not seeing scenes."

On the other hand, we could say that the laughter in this video, which interrupts the speakers when it is least expected, serves a similar purpose. We also need a balance between sounds and silence.

Sheila said...

I think the only scary part of this radio show is that the inside-out guy is still moving. It bothers me that Sam wants to shoot the man .... what gives him the right, just because he's horrified? It bothers me also that the doctor doesn't stop to see what he can do. It isn't fear that stops him from helping the man, but curiosity, and that's worse.

However, this part was a little spoiled by all the gabbling. Sam just gibbering to himself, repeating over and over "inside out, inside out" ... wouldn't it be better for it to be almost silence, him to gasp "he's inside out!" only ONCE, and then a looong pause, then a creepy muffled sound as the inside-out guy tries to talk?

Because my main feeling at the time was, "Dude, you already SAID he's inside out. And I am AWARE that men aren't supposed to be inside out. It was UNDERSTOOD that inside-out meant his insides were on the outside. Stop talking."

Oh, I'm such a harsh critic. I guess I shouldn't be in a "book club" of a genre I don't even like, but it is kind of fun listening to the stories.

Enbrethiliel said...


Believe it or not, Sheila, your critiques are right on the nose! Angie was just pointing out that the Horror genre and characters who make bad decisions go hand in hand, and you're proving that the bad decisions in this case weren't made just for the sake of getting two characters into hotter water, but to take human flaws to their fatal conclusions.

I think you'll prefer the next radio play on our schedule, because it totally avoids all the "gabbling"! The post is already up. =)

Bob Wallace said...

"The Dark" is huge on Halloween over here, and has been for years.

Bob Wallace said...

Arch Oboler was probably the most influential during radio's heyday, and you can't go wrong with anything he did.

Enbrethiliel said...


Since The Dark is so short, I'll probably feature another one by Arch Oboler before my series runs out. =)