Friday, September 28, 2007

Stuff: Video killed (and skinned, and bled, and ate) the radio star.

The Believer, the lit crit and human interest rag spun off the pop-indie McSweeney's franchise, has an interesting profile of Arch Oboler: Skinning the Americans, by the wonderfully named Jason Boog. Clickee the link to get the teaser intro.

From 1936 to 1943, Oboler (on the left in the pic above) wrote and produced radio horror programs for the program Lights Out. While his name is no longer common currency among horror fans, no less a fright-figure than Stephen King called Oboler the "prime auteur" of radio horror. To get an idea of the sort of punch Oboler's radio dramas had, let me quote a bit of the article:

In the course of his research, [Kurt] Kuersteiner [radio historian and host of an online guide to radio horror shows] met a World War II vet who recalled listening to one of Oboler's most famous episodes during basic training . . . "It had just ended, late at night," Kuersteiner told me. "Just then, the power went on the base and the whole barracks freaked out. These weren't housewives reacting to War of the Worlds. These were battle-trained soldiers panicking when the power went down. It goes to show you how Oboler had the pulse of America back then.

Oboler tried to make the jump to film after television killed off the radio drama, but he never really made it. He helmed such forgettable oddities as Bwana Devil, a great white hunter pic that was the first 3-D feature film.

Through a comparison of Oboler's plots and scenes in modern horror flicks, especially the works of the so-called Splat Pack, Boog tries to make a case that Oboler is the father of that unique brand of extreme horror. I don't know if I buy all that Boog's selling, but he's done a great service in bringing Oboler's neglected work to light.

To hear some of Oboler's plays, check out Kuersteiner's wonderful site.

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