CD Review: The Shadow over Innsmouth

When I purchased Whisperer in the Darkness from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS), I also bought a set of their radio plays on CD, charmingly boxed in a cardboard recreation of an old-fashioned, gothic-style radio cabinet. These plays are performed for The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre–the conceit being that these are episodes from a 1930s radio series, complete with an opening announcer and a sponsor, Fleur-de-Lis cigarettes.

The first one I listened to was The Shadow over Innsmouth, Lovecraft’s story of a young man from Ohio who takes an historical and genealogical tour of New England, including a visit to the decayed port town of Innsmouth. Once he starts poking around and talking to a crazy, drunken old man who knows all about the town’s history, he draws the ire of the rather fishy-looking inhabitants of Innsmouth and his brief visit ends in terrifying events that will change his life.

The difficulty with adapting The Shadow over Innsmouth for the radio is that it’s almost entirely one man’s first-person narrative, with one section given over for a second person’s long narrative speech. Large parts of this radio drama therefore sound as if actor Matt Foyer* is reading passages directly from the text.

The HPLHS team do their best to break this up, however: the young hero, Robert Olmstead (a name that does not appear in Lovecraft’s story), is repeating his account of his horrific adventure to an FBI agent, so that these long speeches are occasionally interrupted by the agent’s questions or comments. Other characters mentioned in the tale–the Newburyport librarian and historian who first interest Olmstead in seeing Innsmouth, the bus driver who takes him there, and a chatty grocery-store boy**–are used to add conversational flashbacks to the long narrative. When Zadok Allen, the drunken old man, tells his tale of how Captain Obed Marsh brought about the shadow that first cast itself over Innsmouth in the 1840s, it becomes Olmstead’s turn to interject remarks and questions.

The drama ends with a conversation between Olmstead and the FBI agent that builds upon Lovecraft’s ending, but leaves us with a tantalizing unanswered question. The last sound heard is a gunshot–but just who shot whom?

Innsmouth map The box for this CD also contains some wonderful prop extras:

  • A newspaper clipping about the FBI raid on Innsmouth, a matchbook from the Gillman House hotel, where Olmstead spends part of one terrifying night (only one match remains).
  • A postcard from the Newburyport Historical Society featuring a photograph of a weird tiara of unknown origin.
  • Best of all–the grocery-store boy’s hand-drawn map of Innsmouth so that you can follow along with Olmstead’s travels around the town, as well as trace his route of escape. I certainly did!

* Who also starred in Call of Cthulhu and Whisperer in the Darkness; even though only one of those films was a talkie, I recognized his voice right away.

** As a shout-out to the fictitious sponsor, Olmstead buys a package of Fleur-de-Lis cigarettes at the grocery store.