Recently I’ve become a huge fan of the ‘weird menace’ pulps. They tend to be very satisfying and melodramatic short horror stories that are much different in their approach to the genre than those that constitute the bulk of ‘modern’ horror stories. When I saw that Radio Archives had released an audio book for Terror Tales my mind raced with possibilities and cautious anticipation.
The resurrection of the weird menace tale is an important development in the history of horror literature. Long shunned as the ‘black sheep’ of the pulp world and unjustly maligned for many years, pulp readers are now discovering that the weird menace stories are in fact much better written than was indicated by their reputation. The fact that many of the authors like Hugh B. Cave and Wyatt Blassingame also went on to write for the ‘slicks’ is a testament to their quality.
While many modern horror authors seem to be more concerned with excessive character development, convoluted plots and showing off their literary dexterity rather than spinning a ripping yarn that maintains a sense of impending horror, the weird menace pulps show just what modern horror storytelling has lost. I find them to be incredibly charming in their unabashed desire to ‘creep out’ readers with melodramatic and sometimes lurid depictions of horror, usually featuring bizarre villains such as mad scientists, crazed cultists, and disfigured fiends menacing lovely ‘damsels in distress’.
Terror seems to be lurking around every corner and the hero isn’t always the usual detective that populates other pulp stories, but is often the ‘everyman’ simply battling horrible odds to try to save the woman he loves. These stories often get down to business right away and don’t tend to waste the reader’s time, moving along with masterful techniques that build suspense (which at times can be positively nail biting). When the peril kicks in the depictions of horror and torment are often shocking even by today’s standards.
It’s actually a refreshing revelation to know that such strong horror stories were being published during a time of great despair in American history because horror stories are cathartic and they no doubt helped many readers feel better about their own lives after reading about the awful perils and torments of hapless characters in weird menace stories. Suddenly things weren’t so bad after all.
It only makes sense that these long overlooked stories are making a comeback during modern troubled times as our great nation is divided more so than it’s been in quite some time and many are in the grip of anxiety.
Speaking of anxiety it was in this unnerving state that I began to listen to the first Terror Tales audiobook. I was eager to know if it would be the artistic success I was hoping for or a crushing disappointment.
I was pleasantly surprised when the first story reader Joey D’Auria began telling the tale of ‘The Mummy Maker’. Mr. D’Auria’s talents are perfect for this type of material as he has a great reading voice for mystery / horror tales and a nice technique for continually expressing urgency. At no point did he seem to lose his passion for the material. He masterfully ratchets up the tension during times of horrific peril and is on par with the best audio horror / OTR voice actors I’ve ever heard.
This suspenseful story about a woman who visits a dark museum after hours is finely rendered here and is a great introduction to the world of ‘weird menace’. Mr. D’Auria’s story readings are always welcome as far as I’m concerned and I thoroughly enjoyed all of his story readings in this audiobook.
Michael C. Gwynne, the other reader, has a very deep voice and is an excellent reader as well, especially for stories that require a serious and solemn delivery. He has an incredibly rich voice that is very enjoyable to hear and when he’s fully engaged and delivering creepy imperative action Mr. Gwynne is among the best I’ve ever heard. He did a fine job of delivering the proper atmosphere and creepy tone to his stories.
It is with great relief that I can say that the first Terror Tales audiobook is indeed an artistic success. It could have been a disaster if it had been approached from a ‘campy’ perspective with readers hamming it up for over-the-top comedic effect. Thankfully this was not the case.
This is a fine introduction for those not familiar with the deeply satisfying pleasures of experiencing great ‘weird menace’ stories and those who are already fans of the material will most likely love this presentation. It’s like experiencing new ‘midnight horror movies’ in your mind.