“ Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Rod Serling / Audiobook published 2010-08-06 by Falcon Picture Group „
If you put a gun to my head and asked me to name my favourite television series ever a strong candidate would be Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. I can never resist any books I find on the show and I've recently discovered many of the episodes were adapted into radio dramas quite recently by producer Carl Amari. Amari wanted to use them to recreate the spirit of the golden age of radio - before television - when everyone used to huddle around their sets and listen to mysteries, adventure stories and spooky tales of ghosts. The original scripts by Rod Serling and many others are dusted off here and given a polish by writer Dennis Etchison to make them a bit fresher and adjust them to the radio format (these are not straight transcripts). You can buy these in several bumper CD collections but at this point I've only sampled some individual ones in an audio download format. I'm reviewing The Thirty-Fathom Grave here which is 44 minutes long and - at the time of writing - available to download for £1.19. The adaption features Stacy Keach, who serves as actor and host throughout the series and therefore reads the famous Twilight Zone intro, and Blair Underwood as the guest star. The Thirty-Fathom Grave, originally written by Rod Serling, is not quite at the top table of Twilight Zone episodes wearing a cravat and nibbling cheese and biscuits but it's a pretty solid ghost story and Stephen King actually gave this a mention as one of his favourite episodes in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre.
In The Thirty-Fathom Grave, a US Navy destroyer is on duty off Guadalcanal. This quiet, routine and usually dull patrol is interrupted though when the ship sonar picks up a persistent and creepy metallic banging sound coming from somewhere in the depths below. The crew - under Captain Beecham - contact naval command to report this strange occurrence but are told there are no reports of any activity or sinkings in the area. Attempts to make contact with any nearby submarine are not successful but the eerie clanging sound continues, much to the puzzlement of the crew. Captain Beecham orders that the ship's expert deep sea diver McClure should be sent down to see if he can find anything but this spooky mystery becomes even spookier when a crew member named Chief Bell starts to exhibit paranoid and hysterical behaviour and see ghosts who beckon him to follow. As the strange noises from beneath the waves continue, McClure makes his slow descent to the bottom of the sea...
The Thirty-Fathom Grave is taken from the fourth series of the classic sixties Twilight Zone, this being the series that featured hour long episodes rather than the usual 30 minute ones. It's often said that the hour long episodes were not as strong as the shorter ones but I think this series actually produced some of the most memorable stories in the entire series. There was Death Ship, where the crew of a spaceship find a crashed ship identical to their own with dead versions of themselves onboard, and Miniature, where Robert Duvall fell in love with a doll in a museum exhibition! I love The New Exhibit too where Martin Balsam played a curator in a museum full of waxworks of famous serial killers. Like The New Exhibit, The Thirty-Fathom Grave is one of the creepier Twilight Zone episodes and for this reason works really well as an audio book - primarily because of the setting and the ghostly atmosphere of the story. We have the sonar beeps and background hums and noises of the ship (even footsteps on the bridge are wonderfully atmospheric for some reason) and the unsettling clanging noise that the ship picks up and is rather unsettled by. If you had pick several episodes that were most suitable for a radio adaption this would definitely be one of them.
The adaption uses all of these ship noises (and silence too at times) to good effect and it's always enjoyably creepy when the metallic thumps begin again from beneath the waves, sounding exactly like someone methodically tapping on a metal door with a hammer from the inside. The Thirty-Fathom Grave is just a good solid Rod Serling mystery where you might see the ending coming but have a lot of fun getting there anyway. This is one to listen to through earphones - preferably late at night in the dark - so you can become immersed in the spectral aquatic ambience of the story and feel like you are on the ship with Captain Beecham and his men as things become ever stranger. The use of music and sound effects is nicely done and never too intrusive or overblown. I like Stacy Keach from all manner of things (The Ninth Configuration, Body Bags, Escape from LA etc) and he's a dependable presence throughout with both intro narration duties and as a supporting character actor. Keach plays a part here that was originally played by Bill (The Incredible Hulk) Bixby in the television version with Blair Underwood as the the Captain. I'm not sure who Underwood is but he has quite a deep voice that works quite well here as Beecham (played by Simon Oakland in the television version).
Obviously, this can't beat the original television version of The Thirty-Fathom Grave but it is a lot of fun as far as audio books go and never strays too far from the source despite tinkering around the edges. I enjoyed this enough to seek out more of these adaptions and feel that everyone involved did a decent job of making this slightly different from the original without feeling like they were just cashing in on the Twilight Zone name and Rod Serling. The format of these by the way is that Stacy Keach is a constant and then each episode has different guest stars. The Thirty-Fathom Grave is good fun with the only drawback being the shortish running time. Like the series you immediately feel like moving onto another one.