FANGO Flashback: “TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, SEASON 1”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Ken W. Hanley
For all of the people in the world who follow each little step the technological world takes, especially in the way of consuming media, it’s no surprise that others clamor for a taste of the old and antiquated. Whether it be the resurgence of vinyl, the cult of VHS swapping or the renewed interest in the comic book industry, there’s definitive proof that there are people out there who will never be satiated by the offerings of the digital era. However, there does seem to be new middle ground in the form of podcasts, which offer old school radio aesthetics via a modern on-demand digital platform. And with the popularization of podcasts in the past several years, the format has seen new, innovative experiments to bring unique experiences other than the standard talk radio program.
For horror fans, one of the best podcast offerings has been Glass Eye Pix’s TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, which offer the classic radio play experience complete with strong voice acting, newly composed music and stellar foley work with a twisted contemporary edge. Produced by Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid, and hosted by Fessenden himself, TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE was started in 2010 in order to bring risque terror tales to life in a riveting, effective and cinematic experience that could exist outside the confines of film production. And in doing exactly that, TALES captures the mischievous spirit of horror’s past and trusts the audio experience to help the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks.
Of course, this writer, a keen podcast enthusiast, recently revisited the first season of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, having experienced the live TALES performance at the 2015 Stanley Film Festival. Unsurprisingly, this writer ate up the TALES with fevered excitement, with so many providing an aesthetically pleasing and narratively unpredictable storytelling that is often looked over among the bigger picture of the audio universe. While some podcasts, like NERD POKER and THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR, provide linear narratives with often humorous yet compelling results, TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE swaps out serialized drama for the anthology format, providing contained and chilling stories that go to places that even the most hardened fright fan may find maddening.
The first episode, Joe Maggio’s “Man on the Ledge”, sports excellent vocal performances from Vincent D’Onofrio, Larry Fessenden and Nick Damici, and is a much more dramatic affair than one might expect until the third act when the more horrific elements come to light. In fact, “Man on the Ledge” feels like the less supernaturally-driven episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, in which more emphasis is paid to the bitter irony of the horror rather than its explicit cause. And Maggio’s direction is quite strong here, offering a balance between the theatrical and everyman chatter while operating in sync with Shaun Brennan’s strong foley work.
Episode 2 of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, however, brings the horror front and center, offering a genuinely disturbing and incredibly graphic tale of manipulation and nationalism. Written and directed by genre auteur Simon Rumley, “British and Proud” is among the most modern of the stories on display, offering content closer to what would be accustomed to on MASTERS OF HORROR or TALES FROM THE CRYPT. With a dedicated cast, gruesome foley work and a shocking. politically incorrect narrative, “British and Proud” is the type of tale that listeners won’t soon forget.
“Is This Seat Taken?”, the third TALES episode in the first season, is another impressive entry and is among the first to explicitly inject the tale with humor. At its core, Sarah Langan’s tale would be criminal to spoil here, as the unraveling of the frightening facts behind the characters is one of the most engaging parts of the whole experience. And the naturalistic yet eccentric vocal performances from the likes of Joe Swanberg and Vonia Arslanian under the adept direction of JT Petty, “Is This Seat Taken?” is a solid, memorable mix between aesthetics both old and new.
The next episode, Jeff Buhler’s “The Oracle Moon”, is definitely going to depend on the audiences gage for sci-fi, as oblique, specific vernacular and storytelling style impressively mirrors that of old school science fiction radio serials from the ‘50s and ‘60s. While this writer had fun with the tale, especially once it goes into batshit insane philosophical territory in the latter half, I could also see some audiences expecting more horror from “The Oracle Moon” instead of a more foreboding descent into science fiction. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to like about this installment, including a vocal reunion of HELLBOY actors Ron Perlman and Doug Jones, as well as some insane twists and turns.
However, the fifth episode of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE’s inaugural offerings is likely the best of the bunch, with JT Petty’s “Johnny Boy” delivering a genuinely terrifying and captivating tale of parental terror. With the verbiage of a Stephen King story and the horror of H.P. Lovecraft, “Johnny Boy” tells the story of a pair of newlywed parents (voiced by Amy Seimetz and Shea Whigham) who find that there is something horrific haunting their infant son. “Johnny Boy” takes its time setting up the sinister aspects of Petty’s visceral vision, but once all is said and done, it’s guaranteed to leave goosebumps.
Speaking of Stephen King, the childhood horror themes that run so regularly through his writing is also quite apparent in Larry Fessenden’s “The Hole Digger,” the sixth episode of TALES’ first season. With vocal performances from James Le Gros, Owen and Tobias Campbell, Heather Robb, Joel Garland and Kevin Corrigan, “The Hole Digger” tells the story of two boys coping with the absence of their father during a summer vacation when they’re haunted by the ominous nightly work of the title character. Fessenden brilliantly sets up the horror via environment and inherent mythology, deciding to leave the viewers to nightmarish ambiguity rather than indulge them with mythological exposition.
Yet the true litmus test for the audio horror experience would be Paul Solet’s “The Conformation”, a tale of a mad surgeon and his masochistic seductress that is guaranteed to unsettle listeners with its stomach-wrenching sound design. Solet’s brand of perturbing horror is front and center in “The Conformation,” and those with aversions to medical horror might want to steer very, very clear. However, for those willing to make the leap, Solet and Co. offer a visceral and unsettling tale of desperation and perfectionism that will push the limits of how gruesome your imagination can be if given a push in the wrong direction.
Things certainly return to the weirder and more off-beat aesthetics of the earlier offerings with Graham Reznick’s “The Grandfather.” Another tale that would be unfortunately sullied by spoilers, the best way to describe “The Grandfather” is a tale of a family visiting their Grandfather and his cat, and how an unfortunately inherited trait may drive them apart. Reznick’s tale is simultaneously creepy and bonkers, both of which are at a breakneck pace and offer some fantastic performances from the likes of Angus Scrimm (in the title role), Kate Lyn Sheil, Matthew Stephen Huffman and Brenda Cooney.
McQuaid himself enters the fold with his own Lovecraftian tale, “Trawler”, as the penultimate episode of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE’s first season. Starring genre vets Christopher Denham, AJ Bowen and Fessenden, “Trawler” is the tale of three men on a fishing trawler who discover something much more terrifying than the ever could imagine on the high seas, and the rapport between our figures offers one of the more funny and freaky tales among the bunch. While not as visceral or bloodthirsty as the other TALES, McQuaid’s character work and imaginative reveals makes for an effective audio creature feature, and one that ends on a wonderfully wicked note.
Lastly, TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE rounded out it’s first season with the closest the series has ever gotten to Hammer Horror in Ashley Thorpe’s “The Demon Huntsman.” A tale of obsession, insanity and destiny told against a historic British backdrop, “The Demon Huntsman” is not the strongest of the bunch but defies the tropes of mythological monster tales quite well, and offers exceptional foley work from Joe Troia that helps sell the period-appropriate dialogue as well. And Thorpe’s tale travels the route of ambiguity over outright terror, a brave move on the part of the writer especially via the audio medium.
As a whole, TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE is an experience horror fans would do well to experience firsthand. Despite the presence of a single advertising break, likely the cost of doing business (although a 2010 teaser for Petty’s HELLBENDERS is a bit of a time capsule), TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE offers a truly creepy outlet for some imaginative, original storytelling that is so often sought after by fright fans. And via the audio medium, the Glass Eye Pix gang have found a way to make something both viable, nostalgic and ferocious that you can consume in your car, on the run or at home on a dark and stormy night.
You can pick up individual episodes or the entire first season of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE at their website here. Check back here at FANGORIA.com for more on TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE!