“ Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Rod Serling / Audiobook published 2010-12-01 by Falcon Picture Group „
The Grave is a Twilight Zone radio adaption from 2009. It's based on a television episode written by Montgomery Pittman and originally broadcast in 1961 as part of series three of the cult fantasy series. The Grave is a good solid ghost story set in the old west and begins with an outlaw named Pinto Sykes being ambushed and gunned down by a group of men in a small town. Soon afterwards, grizzled gun for hire Conny Miller (played by Michael Rooker here and by Lee Marvin in the television version) arrives in town. Miller had been on the trail of Pinto for a long time but had never quite managed to catch up with him for some reason. He enters the tiny saloon where the men who killed Pinto are waiting, these men also the ones who hired Miller to hunt and kill Pinto in the first place. He is told that Pinto is dead and goaded somewhat about the fact that he was unable to ever confront Pinto, almost as if he'd never wanted to and had failed deliberately. Miller is irritated by the suggestion he was scared of Pinto but spooked when told that Pinto's last words were that if Miller ever went near his grave he would reach up and grab him. The men offer Miller a wager. To win all he has to do is trek up to Pinto's lonely windswept cemetery alone at midnight and plunge a knife into the burial mound to prove he was actually there. Surely he still isn't afraid of Pinto, even in death? An uneasy but annoyed Miller agrees to the challenge and prepares to make his way out into the night and begin the walk to Pinto's grave. Will his old rival really come back to haunt him?
The Twilight Zone featured several episodes set in the old west and The Grave was probably the best of them. There is something about the period and setting that is quite conducive to a spooky ghost story and - both here and in the television version - all the possibilities of the time and place are used effectively to enhance the eerieness of the tale on offer. Most notably I suppose the fact this all takes place on a very blowy and wild night with the wind howling away outside as it whips around corners and rattles signs in the street. You can paint a vivid picture in your imagination of the little saloon very late at night, a tired and irritated Miller at the bar as he is questioned about his apparent lack of enthusiasm for finding Pinto. The story here is just a good old fashioned ghost story with the wonderfully simple but enjoyable device of Miller having to go up to Pinto's gave alone and stick a knife in it to win his wager and - perhaps more importantly - prove he isn't a coward. The music here is pleasantly spare and understated and the sound effects are incorporated into the adaption in an equally agreeable fashion. The old fashioned and rather desolate nature of the setting (small, quiet and empty cowboy town in the dead of night) is captured quite nicely too although the television version had a huge advantage of course.
Michael Rooker (currently playing the nasty one in The Walking Dead who got handcuffed to a roof in an early episode) has a very deep gravelly voice that is convincingly weary and cynical here and could believably be from another era. Lee Marvin was excellent in the original (which also had Lee Van Cleef in it too if I remember) but Rooker is well cast. He's able to convey the barely concealed apprehension of Miller. He's defiant and determined to not look or sound uncertain but he is really. As silly as it sounds, the dying promise of Pinto to reach out to him from beyond the grave has deeply unsettled Miller. Able support to Rooker comes from Stacey Keach, a regular in the radio series, who takes on the plot function mostly of the character played by James Best in the original and also has the monologue and Twilight Zone intro duties famously performed by the late Rod Serling. These audio stories are not straight transcripts of the television episodes and do change a few things here and there. In the case of The Grave there are no jarring modifications that will irritate fans of the series and it always does a decent enough job in capturing the dustball, lonely dark and stormy night old west quality of the original piece.
A strength here is the source material by Montgomery Pittman. Pittman was excellent at detail and language, how people spoke in certain places and periods. His three episodes, this, The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank and Two were all well above average and it's a shame he didn't do more. The Grave's intimate nature works well on radio and although the story here is rather slight it is clever and manages to keep the listener entertained over the 40 or so minutes that it lasts. Even if you are familiar with the original television version you should have fun with this, especially late at night listened to through earphones for extra effect. Out of the adaptions in this series I've listened to so far The Grave is certainly one of the best and more suitable for this radio format than some of the other stories. I think the fact that these adaptions don't try to be too flashy or showy with multiple actors and sweeping music and sound effects is a great help and makes them enjoyably understated at times. Any Twilight Zone fans who are interested in this radio series should certainly enjoy The Grave. At the time of writing you buy The Grave as part of an audio collection of these or download it individually for £1.19.