“ Genre: Crime & Thriller / Author: C. B. Lovehill / Audio book published 2010-11-16 by Falcon Picture Group „
The Howling Man is a 2009 Twilight Zone radio adaption featuring Fred Willard and Stacey Keach. It was written by Charles Beaumont (I think this was the first episode not to be written by Rod Serling) and first broadcast as a television episode in 1960. The Howling Man is highly regarded and makes for a suitably atmospheric spooky radio drama. The story revolves around David Ellington, an American on a walking tour through Europe. One night he becomes lost and a terrible storm breaks out, lashing him with rain and wind. He stumbles across a remote Gothic castle that (we soon learn) serves as a hermitage for a strange religious order living there who all wear robes like monks. The drenched, cold, hungry and exhausted Ellington wanders inside looking for shelter from the storm and some grub but hears a howling noise coming from somewhere. When he investigates he finds a man locked in a cell down below. The man seems perfectly ordinary and harmless though, cultured even, and tells Ellington he is being held prisoner against his will just because he kissed someone in public and that the sect who run the castle are all insane. Before he can think about releasing the man though, Ellington is shepherded away by the order to meet their boss Brother Jerome.
Jerome doesn't seem very keen at all for Ellington to stay. "Why in such a hurry for me to leave?" demands the rain sodden visitor. "What are you afraid I'll find out? It's the man you have locked up in the cell, isn't it, Brother? Well, that isn't a secret anymore. I know about him. I don't know much about this cult of yours, what's permitted, what isn't permitted, but I seriously doubt if you have the authority to imprison a man against his will!" When Ellington threatens to contact the Police, Brother Jerome tells him that he doesn't understand. This is no ordinary prisoner. "What you saw is not a man..." According to Jerome, the prisoner is the Devil himself!
I've always wanted to get lost in a storm and stumble across an old castle with some lights on. Wonder if it ever happens in real life! The Howling Man is not quite at my top table of Twilight Zone episodes but it's good and works very well as an audio drama with the echoes of the stone walled castle and heavy footsteps on the cobbled floors. The rain and winds battering the windows as the storm rages outside and the creaks of the wooden doors and distant howls of the prisoner. You generally can't beat an old castle as a setting for this type of story and it's great fun in an audio medium and really allows your imagination to picture Wolfring Castle in vivid fashion with flickering lights, lingering shadows and huge windows. There are a couple of nice twists in the last third of the story and they don't lose too much in this audio format. Some Twilight Zone twists are purely visual but The Howling Man doesn't quite fall into this category so isn't too bad on this front. There is a wonderful spooky coda too (which of course I can't discuss).
The main intrigue and appeal of the story derives from the quandary of Ellington in whether or not to trust Brother Jerome or the man being held prisoner. His inclination (of course) is to believe Jerome because no one really believes in the Devil. However, the prisoner is only kept in his cell by 'The Staff of Truth' - basically a piece of wood which looks easy enough for him to remove. So why hasn't he done so? Brother Jerome maintains that they've kept the world peaceful for 5 years by holding the prisoner there and it would be a disaster for everyone if he escaped. There is some good confrontational dialogue for Keach and Willard (both are good) as the prisoner and Jerome both try to convince Ellington that they are telling the truth and that the other one is insane. The character of Ellington is pitched quite nicely here I think. He's intelligent and rational but ends up not knowing quite what to think. In the end though he must make a choice. Does he put his trust in Jerome or the mystery man?
Charles Beaumont was great at coming up with these strange tales full of otherworldly charm. He died very young but his stories still remain weird and wonderful fun. This particular drama is 40 minutes long and full of atmosphere and enjoyable sound effects. The music is good too but pleasantly spare and not too distracting. I like the mournful voice of Stacey Keach here and in these dramas generally and he also handles the narration and intro monologue duties that Rod Serling of course used to do in the original television series. You have to watch the telly episodes first of course but this is one of the better radio adaptions primarily because the story is rather Gothic and mysterious, very old fashioned really and much more about atmosphere and things you imagine rather than always have to see.
I found this one good fun in the audio format and it's certainly worth a listen late at night with the lights dimmed. At the time of writing you can buy this as part of an audio cd collection or download it individually for £1.19.