THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH (Dark Adventure Radio Theatre)

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I don’t know who the individual members of the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre are but it is obvious they are hugely enthusiastic fans of H P Lovecraft. I find it difficult to sleep at night without an audio book playing at my bedside so I bought this cd….The cast specializes in melodrama and as an introduction we have a fake ad for Fleur de Lys cigarettes. This is to set the scene in the listeners mind that for the next hour plus this will be the 1920s/30s or whenever Mr Lovecraft wrote his tale. The wireless crackles and hisses away in the back ground.

Our narrator is named Robert Olmstead, a typical Lovecraft antiquarian who likes to delve into forbidden realms. Because of this (plus genealogical reasons) he ignores local advice and sets off to explore Innsmouth, Massachusetts. This is an isolated decaying town, accessible only by a single rickety bus. The town and its funny-looking inhabitants are described in excruciating detail, and our hero is surprised (but the listener won’t be) when his plan to get out-of-town before dark is foiled and he’s forced to spend the night in a dilapidated hotel room. The voices of the fish-like citizens he interacts with are hoarse and inhuman. You can feel the tension build.

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An attempted kidnapping and chase scene follow, with much clambering over roof tops and hiding around corners. I could imagine his pursuers looking like the Sea Devils or Silurians–creatures from the Jon Pertwee era of TV’s Dr Who. Our hero then figures out that the locals have been inbreeding with malevolent fish gods that they worship in disgusting ceremonies. And then he discovers that he himself is descended from such interbred stock, leading to a shocking ending that is not in the original story. The team at DART like to sprinkle little surprise changes to the stories, probably to give long time Lovecraft fans an unexpected jolt.

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The climactic chase scene is both thrilling and scary, and what’s really good is that we are never explicitly told exactly what the fish men want with our hero. Up till then the horror is only glimpsed briefly out of the corner of the eye through descriptions of run down, boarded up buildings in lonely country side. Typical Lovecraft in that respect but what I like about this story is that it utilizes the sea as the source of its horror. I think the sea is under used in horror fiction. It’s dark, largely unexplored, and teeming with strange creatures that may want to prey upon us.

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The back-story of strangeness and horrors in Arkham are conveyed to the narrator by three individuals: the female curator at the Newburyport Historical Society , an anxious youth working as a grocery store clerk, then finally the most intriguing character in the story– 96 year old Zadok Allen, the town drunk. Each actor is doing their best to convey a gradual sense of dread while the snippets of music and sound effects easily transport the listener there. Maybe not so much if you listened to it in daylight, but at night, in the dark, it’s very effective.

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Comments

  1. I hadn’t read any Lovecraft till a couple of years ago when I reviewed a collection of his horror stories, of which this was one. I freely admit I had a lot of fun at the time mocking his style of writing, but I’ve been surprised by how the stories have stuck in my mind – doesn’t often happen with me. My appreciation of him has definitely grown over time. And the fishy aliens of Innsmouth are the ones I remember most – I think I might try to get hold of this version for winter horror season…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought the Dark Adventure people surpassed themselves with this one. Another excellent audio version of this story is read by Richard Coyle, who gives it a more British flavour. That one also has music and sound effects. Lovecraft can be very convincing in certain stories like this one, but in others he can be too weird and I give up without finishing them.

    Liked by 1 person

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