Doug Bradley’s Spine Chillers
Volume One: The Outsider
Written by H.P. Lovecraft
Performed by Doug Bradley
Books on tape have long since been a staple of solitary road trips, commutes to work, plane flights, and even as background noise for important daily chores. Seldom does one sit down solely for the purpose of listening to a book on tape in the same way that one would prefer to sit in silence in order to concentrate on the book itself. Please, take a few minutes, turn out the lights, and allow yourself to be fully absorbed into the world of The Outsider. This one is worth it, and you won’t be disappointed.
This series was born of a casual thought from Doug Bradley that the audio book has progressed little in this age of technology, and so this production is more than your run of the mill book on tape. It can be enjoyed solely in audio format, but it comes on a DVD because of accompanying visual footage. A montage of still images and artwork intercut with live action of Doug reading the story floats across the screen and helps to create the world of the Outsider. This is not animation, and there is no attempt to make this into a fully fledged short film. The images are there merely to suggest. There is perhaps something even more sinister in their simplicity, in their stillness. Sure, they move across the screen, but they are frozen and calm, like an old painting that makes you uneasy without quite knowing why. One cannot simply walk the camera around the corner to see what lurks there, and yet there can be no doubt that there is something unseen. The shadows are deep and firm, and no amount of light will crack them. The artwork is merely a flint to help spark the imagination, and the mind of the audience must do the rest. It’s most refreshing in a time of instant gratification and lack of attention span caused by an overwhelming bombardment of details and information. The audience is not meant to be a passive observer, but is meant to actively enter this new world. As I listened, so convinced was I by the suggestion of my surroundings that I briefly closed my eyes and held out my hand, wondering if, as I reached out, my fingers would brush against the cold, crumbling stone.
The choice of text is perfect. It’s a small slice of Lovecraft, woven with Lovecraft’s superb choice of words that create dark moods and eerie chills, effectively delivered with Doug Bradley’s usual eloquence and sense of drama and pace. The story is shared through a monologue in which The Outsider describes his world and all of the mysteries therein. What makes this story even more perfect in this format is the fact that the Outsider has no visual reference of himself. His world is devoid of any kind of reflective surface that might shed light on his physical appearance. He identifies with images that he has seen in books, and he can only assume that he bears a similar likeness. All of his descriptions are focused outward, as are the images, and as the audience we have, initially, the same lack of visual self-reference as our narrator does. We are in his shoes, and must trust his observations and intuitions, perhaps even arriving at the inevitable truths before he does.
Doug Bradley is a consummate story teller, and it is clear that he has taken the time to develop an intimate knowledge of the text. He reads with a strong presence, and yet, with a sense of uncertainty that reflects the Outsider’s curiosity as to the nature of his surroundings. They are all he has known, and yet a gut instinct tells him that all is not quite as it should be. There is something more that he cannot access, both in his physical location and also within his own mind. Doug hastens his pace during moments of exhilaration and revelation for the Outsider. He deftly follows the emotional contours of the journey, always remaining faithful to the spirit of discovery and to the terrible realizations that is brings. He adds just the right amount of weight in all the right places, and alters his pace to deliver just the right effect. Throughout his performance, he maintains an air of stillness and control about him. He knows that he is merely a player, and that he must not draw undue attention away from the story. Again, the visual element is there merely to suggest, and Doug’s all black threads not only assist in setting the right tone, but they also help to avoid a distraction from the spoken word. It’s important that the audio track remains the focus for the audience, and can stand firmly on its own without the additional imagery. One must be able to listen to it in on a player and still receive the same atmosphere, and the same chills.
This is simply the first volume in what will hopefully be a long and successful series. If the quality of this first volume is anything to go by, there can be no doubt of a strong future. Such quality and imaginative productions will always find favor with the audience. This is a tale that, after experiencing, makes one hungry for the sunlight. I myself wanted nothing more than to step outside and stand in the fresh, open air and receive the sun’s rays. Any tale that can draw the listener/viewer in so completely is worth more than the few minutes of your time it takes to complete to journey. Indeed, it may stay with you long after wards.