Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Thing On The Fourble Board
In the distant past before television, our remote ancestors used to take breaks from fighting T-Rexes and Pterodactyls to listen to dramatic programs on a crude device called a radio. Radio plays were great vehicles for horror, since they could conjure frightening images using your own imagination (It was also cheaper than special effects). I came along well after the heyday of radio drama, but as a child I used to listen to these programs, recorded onto another archaic device called a cassette. Nowadays, the great programs are easily available for download on the internet, and their typical 25 minute runtime makes them perfect to listen to on the way to and from work.
They are not perfect. The product of a different sensibility, they can be corny and overly melodramatic, and limitations of the medium call for way to much description through dialogue (“Look, Jim! How it pulses and grows! Now it moves toward us.” Unless Jim is blind, you don’t know why he needs the description.). There are still gems to be found there, however.
There were a number of great horror-oriented programs. Lights Out, Everybody, Inner Sanctum, some of Suspense, and many others. One of the better ones was a program which aired on the Mutual Network from 1947 to 1949 called Quiet, Please.
Quiet, Please was the creation of Wyllis Cooper, a writer who had been the original scripter for Lights Out, Everybody, as well as many other classic radio shows. He also wrote the screenplay for Son of Frankenstein. I thought it might be amusing to look at some of his stories.
“The Thing on the Fourble Board*”, which originally aired on August 9, 1948, is one of Quiet, Please’ better known (and better preserved stories. It is told in the form of an interview with a retired oil field roughneck named Porky about some events that happened twenty years previously. It seems the well was digging core samples when it brought up an engraved gold ring – from a mile beneath the surface. The ring was around an invisible (!) rocklike severed finger.
This is a pretty startling discovery, but there is more to come. It seems the rest of the creature was somehow brought to the surface with the sample. Soon men are dead, and the well is permanently abandoned. Not before Porky confronts the invisible creature, however. He uncovers it by splashing it with paint, revealing it a creature with the face of a beautiful girl – and the body of a large spider.
This is an incredible story, but the interviewer is in for an even bigger shock. Wait until Porky’s mysterious “wife” comes out of the kitchen…
The crazy scientific errors and a bit of hokeyness aside, this episode works pretty well. The foley effects of the sounds coming from the creature (something like the shriek of a cat) are especially effective.
If you are interested in this sort of thing, it is easy to find downloads of this episode, and virtually every other old radio program, at multiple places on the internet. They are commonly assumed to be in the public domain, although from time to time there is some controversy about that.
*According to the program, a fourble board is the platform located part way up an oil derrick.