The weekly radio program, Inner Sanctum Mysteries (airing from January 1, 1941 through October 5, 1952), opened and closed with the creaking of a door to take listeners into the world of story that combined horror and humor to a striking and moody auditory adventure. Each short story was introduced by a host who put the story into context, often with gruesome and painful puns and ended with a twist, often with supernatural vengeance visited upon a deserving mortal.
Comics legend Ernie Colón, who recently turned eighty, revisits several of the old radio scripts and renders them into the comic book format, in black and white, for this hardcover volume. Six of the seven tales are reworkings while the seventh tale is a product of Colón’s own imagination and creativity. Colón created the entire book himself — the adapting and writing, and the drawing, lettering and coloring in Photoshop — as a homage to the old radio shows. The settings for these stories remain fixed in the middle of the last century. Creative panel arrangements, including full page spreads, aid in the pacing of the tellings.
Colón’s illustrations are worthy of notice, but unfortunately, for the most part, the adaptations do not create the same sense of horror and dread as the original shows, partially, perhaps, because any surprises can be easily viewed by flipping through the pages. In the opening tale, “Death of a Doll,” an unidentified corpse of a beautiful young woman intrigues a newspaper reporter who seeks the devil and the answer to the woman’s death with the aid of a doll found with the corpse. While the story flows fairly well, a depiction of the corpse with one eye closed and then a close up on the same page (7) with both eyes open distracted me from the actual story itself as I kept looking for the answer to that anomaly in the tale. “Alive in the Grave” immediately follows the first story accompanied by a very concise introduction. This story, with its O. Henryish flavor, is more successful than the preceding one for me. In order to keep the pacing of the plot line in conjunction with the turning of pages, the third tale begins and ends with a blank page. In “The Horla,” a pianist is obsessed by a voice and a creature that only he can hear and see. This possession is ruining his career, his marriage, and ultimately his life. Unfortunately for his wife, the Horla immediately transfers its attentions, leaving the reader apprehensive for this character’s future well being.
Colón’s original tale, “Mentalo,” is a very short exploration of the dark dangers of embracing magic and is followed by a page of character vignettes of some of Colón’s most famous comic book endeavours in the past: Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich, amongst others. This page is immediately followed by the story of “The Undead.” Told by the narrator, the story follows the experience of a young actor who fears that her husband may be a vampire. She soon discovers that her fears are misplaced but, in a Twilight type of ending, all ends well for her and her husband. The next tale states that it was adapted from Irish folklore but does not give any other source notes. “Lived once—buried twice” is also a very short story that would have been enhanced by a bit of character development of the main characters. The final tale, “The Voice on the Wire,” is the most complex and lengthy of all the stories in this anthology and while it began with great promise, was disjointed and disappointing by the time it ended. The illustrations were arresting, but the plotting and writing did not hold true for a satisfying reading experience.
The original radio scripts for most of the stories are available online so it is simple to find them to see how Colón adapted them for his anthology.