Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Horror Lurks in the Hearts of Men?

By Jim Meals

Alas, the two proprietors of the RDHP have over-indulged in holiday cheer and are unable to execute their duties this week.
Through slurred voices, they have asked me to fill in for them. I immediately agreed.
Before 2010 concludes, I want to call to the attention of all horror aficionados a major anniversary that has been shamefully neglected:
2010 marked the 80th anniversary of The Shadow.

Regular readers of the RDHP know that at one time the movies had no voice. Well, there was also a time when television had no picture. It was called radio.
Horror was big on what is now called old time radio (OTR), and The Shadow was one of the major horror programs.

Zombies, Ghosts and Aliens
The Shadow had the power to cloud men’s minds so that they could not see him. He was a vengeful figure who destroyed evil doers. And, most memorable of all, he knew, "what evil lurks in the hearts of men."

During his long run on radio he did pursue common criminals, but more often he foiled the plans of vampires, zombies, ghosts, werewolves, invaders from outer space, and, of course, an array of madmen.
A glimpse at a few of the episode titles conveys what the show was all about: The Laughing Corpse, They Kill with a Silver Hatchet, The Isle of the Dead, etc.

But The Shadow who premiered on radio on July 31, 1930 was a somewhat reticent individual. He was the narrator of Detective Story, an anthology series produced by Street and Smith for the purpose of selling their Detective Story Magazine.

But folks showed up at the newsstands asking for “…that magazine about the Shadow.” Street and Smith got the message and initiated The Shadow Magazine.

The publication started out as a quarterly, but became so popular that in a few years the magazine was coming out twice a month, each issue featuring a novel length adventure of The Shadow.

The stories were penned by Walter Gibson under the house name of Maxwell Grant. Although uncertain about the exact number himself, Gibson penned at least 280 Shadow novels.

The Shadow Enters the Spotlight
In 1937 The Shadow ceased to be a narrator and became the hero of his own radio series. The character of The Shadow evolved through the efforts of Gibson and the writers of the radio program.

The Shadow was initially a product of the thirties and in many ways reflects that era. He almost embodies the fantasy life of a boy of that decade.
The Shadow's secret identity is that of Lamont Cranston, a "wealthy young man about town."

Cranston had learned "the hypnotic power to cloud men's minds so that they cannot see him." Of course, he employs this power to battle evil.

He is aided in his efforts by his "friend and companion, the lovely Margo Lane ."
Margo (the blonde below) is the only person who knows The Shadow's secret identity.

Incredibly wealthy gents who maintained secret identities as crime fighters were common in the thirties. Another example: Bruce Wayne/Batman. In the late forties, Cranston became a detective but the change was cosmetic and had little impact on the stories, which remained outlandish.

Time for Torture
For its entire 17-year run, The Shadow was heard Sunday evenings at 5:30 p.m. and was regarded as family entertainment. That fact raises eyebrows today. Here, compliments of Jim Harmon's wonderful book, The Great Radio Heroes, is an excerpt from a Shadow script of the late thirties.

Lamont and Margo are investigating a series of murders in a small New England town. Margo, as was her custom, becomes trapped by the killer, a madman named Edward.

Edward: In the days of the Puritans, they had a very satisfactory method for dealing with meddlers...they branded them upon the forehead.


Edward: Soon, young lady, soon you shall feel the searing agony of that brand biting into your flesh!

Margo: You're're mad...

Edward: (Laughing) You won't feel the pain too see, after you are branded I have another treat for you...the press...the torture press...

Of course, the Shadow arrives in time and gives Edward his comeuppance. As I recall, he backed Edward into one of his own torture devices.

The Shadow was regarded as harmless entertainment in its day. The stories were so over the top, that they took on a fairy tale quality. After he would dispose of that week's no good, the Shadow would close with this parting thought: "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit...crime does NOT pay...The Shadow knows!" A cackling laugh concluded the show.

Men (and Women) Behind the Mic
The Shadow employed the skills of many fine actors. Only a few can be named here.
In 1937 the lead role was played by Orson Welles who was assisted by Agnes Moorehead as Margo. Ray Collins was heard frequently on the program in its early years. Both Agnes and Ray had major roles in Orson’s Citizen Kane.
 Agnes (seen right) would later become known to TV viewers through her role on Bewitched while Ray took on the role of Lt. Tragg in the long running Perry Mason series starring Raymond Burr.

The comedy relief part of Shrevvy, a talkative cab driver, was originally played by Alan Reed. Reed was a very talented actor best remembered today as the voice of Fred Flintstone. Any picture of Alan Reed will reveal that he was also the model that the artists used when they drew Fred.

Enjoy the "Theater of the Mind"
Attempts to transfer The Shadow to a visual medium have not fared well. There was a pilot done for a TV series but it didn’t sell. A Shadow comic book was short lived. There have been a few Shadow movies, none of them successful. Considering this situation, The Shadow has endured remarkably well through reprints of Gibson’s novels and reruns of the radio program.

I have a New Year's suggestion for all readers of the RDHP. Enrich 2011 by listening to some of the great horror programs of radio’s golden age. You have a large variety to choose from: The Shadow, Inner Sanctum, Lights Out, Quiet Please, Hall of Fantasy and many more.

Thanks to Chris and Nick for allowing me to stand on their soap box. I just learned The Shadow has come to their aid and helped pump their stomachs of all that tinsel, egg nog and evergreen needles that put them out of commission.

The lads will return next week and the universe will once again unfold as it should, thanks to... THE SHADOW!

-Jim Meals is a novelist, literary agent, and devoted radio aficionado who resides in San Diego, CA.

RDHP Presents:
Random The Shadow Magazine Covers and Pics

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Krampus’ Claws Are Coming To Kill

By Chris Dimick

He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good.
So be good… or Santa will order Krampus to molest, beat and drag your crying ass to hell.

That is how “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” would have been sung in old-school Germany, where Jolly St. Nick didn’t take too kindly to naughty boys and girls – and had a demon compadre slave named “Krampus” he could summon to “correct” bad behavior.

Push your brother’s face in dog shit last May? Pelt a painfully shy girl with tampons in the school house locker room?
You’d still get coal in the old times of St. Nicholas/Krampus-belief, though back then it would have been delivered flaming hot and stuffed up your corncob pipe by Krampus.

Among all the promises of peace and love and other such BS spewed during Yule, the tale of Krampus provides some refreshingly horrific undertones to the otherwise joyful season. Friends of horror and horror movies, behold the tale of Krampus – a horror junkie’s quick back alley fix during these days of tinsel, merry wassailing, and those damn annoying Santa hats.

Seems Christmas time wasn’t always just about how much meaningless crap Santa could stuff under your tree. Old-time Santa had a dark side. A Yang to his Ying. Misbehave, and there were dire consequences.

One word, Krampus, could once send Eastern Europe children pissing down their leg and crawling into the nearest wooden beer barrel.
When you think about it, isn’t this a much better way to get kids to behave during the time of Xmas. You do something bad and you don’t just get coal in your stocking; Santa will torture you via a horrible beast!

What the Hell is Krampus?
Here is a brief explanation of just who and what this horny hellion of Christmas is, thanks in part to several random Krampus websites.

Popular in the Alpine regions centuries ago, Krampus (old High German for “claw”) is represented by a black, horned, Gene-Simmons length-tongued, demon looking sadist who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his various travels.

Krampus acts as an anti–Saint Nick, who instead of giving gifts to good children, hands out warnings and punishments to the naughty. Krampus is called from Hell by Santa when he needs some kid’s ass kicked, and Krampus is happy to rise to the occasion.

Santa outsources all his dirty deeds to Krampus, keeping his white gloves free of all that kid blood (Mrs. Claus can only do so much washing). With Krampus handling all the punishment, Santa is free to oversee his elf/slave factories and deliver joy to the worthy.

The practice of wearing masks and scaring people around the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) was an ancient one for Slavic and Germanic folks, and some scholars feel this tradition carried over into the modern form of Krampus when some in the area converted to Christianity. As St. Nick grew in popularity, people felt he needed a wicked counterpart to teach kids the balance between good and evil. And Krampus was born.

Up until the late 1800s, Krampus even had his own unofficial day with the church-crowd, celebrated Dec. 5 on the Eve of St. Nicolas’s Day.
Krampus Day was and still is traditionally celebrated the first two weeks of December by young (likely wasted) men who dress up as Krampus and roam the streets frightening children and women, usually by clanging rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes “birching” or canning young females by Krampus-dressed aholes.

Oh My, So Naughty!
While the tradition was mainly regionalized, Krampus had a world-wide resurgence in the 1800s thanks in part to greeting cards that bared his image. From
“As Santa Claus was expanding shop and selling product in mid-1800s America, the holiday greeting card craze exploded in Europe, with printed cards filling mailboxes and post offices each winter.

“In Austria, Germany, and other central and north Europe regions, the figure of Krampus became a focus of attention, with thousands of compelling postcards designed and printed for season's greetings, many emblazoned with "Grüß Vom Krampus" (Greeting from Krampus).

“The peak of the Krampus card craze was from the turn of the century to the beginning of WWI in 1914.
“Obviously Krampus represents the naughty side of the season, as sexual connotations abound in the postcards through suggestive and cheeky images.
While the lurid and transgressive images paraded in the cards are currently suffused with a modern sense of the comic and the surreal, some images seem to embody a genuine touch of primordial fear and dark animism.”

Modern Krampus Comeback
By the late 1800s, the Captain-No-Fun-Church decided Krampus was too wild for their tastes, and both Krampus Day and his celebration were kiboshed almost into oblivion.

However, it seems Krampus is making a recent comeback. Amused by the horrifically graphic drawings of the 1800s postcards, Krampus clubs have begun to spring up in the Austria/Germany area to rekindle the tradition. The Austrian state of Salzburg alone has 180 Krampus clubs, more than half set up since 1990, according to a recent National Geographic article.

Satan Santa’s rise in current popularity might have something to do with the recent neutering of Jolly Saint Nick and his ability to get kids to eat their broccoli around December, according to

“Over the decades Santa Claus seems to have lost his punishing edge,” the website says. “In this age of consumerism there are very few children who receive a lump of coal in their stockings, or a gift of cleaning supplies under the tree. Is not the service that Krampus provides sorely needed in the land of spoiled and dissatisfied children?”

Krampusy Christmas for the Dimicks
There is an RDHP personal connection to the Krampus revival. I’ve made it my personal mission to bring Krampus back in fashion in the U.S. (I’d have help, there are Krampus Celebrations popping up in cities like NYC and San Fran.)

Several years ago a member of the Marysville Dimicks came across one of the 1800s postcards and put it on the fridge around Yule for a “larf.” The card depicted the hideous Krampus riding on a rocking-horse with a terrified German boy, switch in hand and long-red tongue dangling near the boys head (see below).

Naturally, the card was a wild hit with my fam and I (who couldn’t love something that bizarre) and at first we couldn’t believe such a figure would be associated with the typically uptight traditions of a Christian Christmas.

Each year as our family would gather to celebrate the season, more details on Krampus would emerge from various family members who had researched the myth.

Today, in addition to wishing each other a Happy Holidays, the Dimicks also are sure to warn their loved ones to beware Krampus and his antics – some even recanting personal bushes with the horned manimal.

It’s all great advice. After all... just last week I pushed my wife’s face in a pile of dog mess, and I’m seriously considering PELTING that mousy girl who works down the hall with a hail of tampons.
Yikes, I’m probably not going to get that official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle I asked Santa, am I?

Well, here I am Krampus, come and whip me.



For Your Holiday Enjoyment,
Random Krampus Pictures and Cards: