FANGORIA’S DREADTIME STORIES & THE REVIVAL OF HAUNTED RADIO
FANGORIA’S DREADTIME STORIES & THE REVIVAL OF HAUNTED RADIO
Interview with host Malcolm McDowell, Fangoria editor-in chief & composer Chris Alexander, and producer Carl Amari
By David Bertrand
The word is out, old-school terror junkies: FANGORIA is back on top. In spring 2010, ex-Rue Morgue scribe & all-around horror encyclopedia Chris Alexander took over as FANGORIA Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, and now more than ever, Hollywood chillers and set-report filler have been shoved to the side, replaced with huge vats of blood & ink spilled each month in tribute to vintage horror.
So it’s only fitting that, riding this new wave, FANGORIA should launch a project so “vintage” in concept it predates the very cinema that spawned the magazine in the first place – a straight-up, old-time horror radio drama. The timing is perfect, oddly enough, as this long-thought-extinct medium is now creeping back to prominence in the streaming ease of the podcast age. So give thanks, my fiends. And welcome to the darkside, where the night never ends, as FANGORIA presents DREADTIME STORIES with your ghoulish host… MALCOLM frickin’ MCDOWELL!
Promising one new horrific episode each month, this audio frightfest launched September 1st, 2011, with flagship episode “The Late Shift” written by Dennis Etchison. FANGORIA editor Chris Alexander gives SPECTULAR OPTICAL the gritty details: “The show is the brainchild of FANGORIA publisher Tom DeFeo and producer Carl Amari – who was behind the popular TWILIGHT ZONE radio drama adaptations on Sirius. DREADTIME STORIES is Carl and Tom’s bid to use the format and push it even deeper into the dark, into horror. The tone is eerie, the stories grim yet blackly funny and playful, incredibly macabre and infinitely amusing…”
But even with the FANGORIA seal of approval, an iconic face (and voice) was needed. With the exception of maybe a resurrected Vincent Price, who could be better than the legendary Malcolm McDowell (CALIGULA, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, I don’t need to intro Malcolm McDowell, do I…?) as the voice beckoning us to our doom? This ace up the sleeve was an acquaintance of veteran producer Carl Amari, who, in the old-time radio revival world, is the guy who makes things happen. Says Carl, “I got hooked (and I mean hooked bad) on radio drama as a young boy. As a teen I collected thousands of radio dramas on cassette tape. By the time I was in college, I decided to turn my hobby into a business, licensing classic radio shows from the rightsholders so that I could broadcast them and sell them on cassette and later on CD. I spent a decade licensing more than 60,000 radio dramas from the producers, estates and networks that owned them for my company Radio Spirits (www.radiospirits.com). In 2001 I began producing the TWILIGHT ZONE radio dramas – I convinced CBS to license me the rights to do so; hired Stacy Keach to host; and now 10 years later, we have nearly 200 hour-long episodes in the can.”
Carl Amari met McDowell while producing his most ambitious project yet: the TRUTH & LIFE DRAMATIZED AUDIO BIBLE, a star-studded audio recording of the entire Good Book, from front to back (seriously!). SPECTACULAR OPTICAL was able to speak briefly with a busy Malcolm McDowell over the phone from his home in California. Malcolm unravels this Biblical tale: “We did the New Testament and the Old Testament for a huge CD set. That was great fun and really, really beautifully done. It was a huge undertaking that took months and months – there was a heck of a lot to do to make sense of it. Of course, they recorded everybody individually, wherever they were; you can just go into any recording studio and send it over the airwaves these days, so it’s incredibly convenient. It’s got an incredible cast [John Rhys-Davies, Sean Astin, Blair Underwood, plus 70 more...]. I played Solomon. It’s a huge role, I think it took me six hours to do it, and I literally just went right through it all at once.”
McDowell has never shied away from working as a voice actor – in cartoons, video games, and other “lesser” mediums – as any quick flick through his imdb.com listing will prove. But working in radio drama allows him to tap into something a little more personal and nostalgic, “I remember as a child, listening to the BBC with my mother. They would have scary half hour shows, and I always remember the pleasure that I got out of it. It’s wonderful, drama on radio, because you really make up your own thing. You have to use your own imagination.”
If radio drama forces us to spin our own movie reel inside our minds, the experience of recording a voiceover role is similar – usually a very solitary undertaking, as McDowell emphasizes: “Except in rare occasions, you just go in [to the studio] on your own and do your bit. But I have done them – actually it’s quite fun – where you sit in booths and you have, like seven actors doing voices in real time, everybody jumping in and doing it. At one point, I went in once to do a cartoon and in the booth next to me was David Warner (THE OMEN, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES) – I had no idea! We’d been in Stratford-upon-Avon together, in the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1965. And so I just looked over the partition and said, “Wow! Well David, who would’ve thought, way back when we started?”
Malcolm can’t recall the name of this cartoon – it’s likely the “Showdown” episode of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – but doubly strange is that Warner and McDowell have clipped each other’s acting heels like this before: both have played the role of “Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn” in WING COMMANDER (McDowell in the video games and TV cartoon, Warner in the 1999 feature film) and both were at different times the voice of villainous “Zarm” in the eco-friendly kid’s TV hit, CAPTAIN PLANET AND THE PLANETEERS! This kind of thing happens, I suppose, for two actors cornering the American market for grizzled, British character voices – something McDowell knows all too well, as he’s regularly hired simply for that “Malcolm McDowell voice”: “There are some wonderful actors that just do voices. I’ve got great respect for them. I mean when I do [voice work], they just want me to do my voice – they don’t want me to do silly voices.” Consequently, voice work is often an easy but satisfying gig for the film veteran: “Usually, I’m pretty quick at it, I’m in and out in 10 minutes – I’ll just go in and rattle ‘em off. But I love it, because it’s not a physical thing, and you have to nuance it with the voice only.”
McDowell aside, another treat in store for DREADTIME STORIES listeners is the music – all-original material courtesy of FANGORIA’s Chris Alexander. Certainly best known for his genre film journalism, Chris has been composing, recording and self-releasing catchy, creepy analog horror soundscapes for years, and was an obvious choice to fill the spooky DREADTIME ambience. Says Chris, “I do music because I have to. It’s another tool to communicate ideas and it’s a much purer medium than language-based wordplay. With DREADTIME STORIES, when I was asked to do the music it was a dream. With these radio dramas, music sells it – the tales pass or fail based on the atmosphere created by the sound design. So we’re in a rhythm now where every 30 days I get a new story and have to turn around a complete, wall-to-wall original soundtrack. It’s a heavy load of work, but incredibly satisfying. It’s an evolution of my sound… analog keyboards, vocal manipulations, treated guitars, loops… the last one I did, a really wild, grim parasite zombie thriller called “A Fungus Among Us” [written by Steve Nubie, available Dec. 1st] felt like a pulpy mix of John Carpenter action horror and [Henry Mancini & Michael Kamen’s] LIFEFORCE soundtrack, so I went the distance making the soundtrack to the best Carpenter movie never made… seriously, it may be the coolest thing I’ve ever done!”
Interested? Lurch over to www.fangoria.com, where on the first of each month, a new edition of DREADTIME STORIES can be streamed for free (with commercials), or downloaded for $1.99, commercial-free with extended scenes (“The director’s cut,” jokes Carl Amari), and will be available on CD in the near future. Malcolm McDowell has a heart and high hopes for the work put into DREADTIME STORIES, earnest that, “They do a damn good job with the writing, and I think they’ll be popular. I hope they will be,” while Chris Alexander offers a fine summary of the inherent appeal at the heart of audio drama: “there is indeed a certain power in radio dramas of the 30′s and 40′s, an experience trapped between theatre and literature where the action unfolds in your head as you lay in the dark, listening… they required imagination and subjectivity.”
Tune in during the twilight hours and give it a spin.