One of the most pleasant surprises of this year’s Stanley Film Fest was being able to witness a live recording of Tales From Beyond The Pale at the Historic Park Theater in downtown Estes Park. For those unfamiliar, Pale is a radio show produced and directed by Larry Fessenden (Habit, Beneath) and Glenn McQuaid (V/H/S, I Sell The Dead). Previous episodes have been penned by the likes of JT Petty, Simon Barrett and many other noted horror writers.
Fessenden filled me in on the show’s history several days before the performance, “we devised the concept some years ago and we went into the studio and did 10 of them, which allowed us to craft them very well. It’s an experience as an audio drama, it’s not just about dialogue. It’s also about sound design. And that did well, it was well liked. So we said, ‘let’s do it live.’ An opportunity came up with a theater engagement in New York and we pushed ourselves and approached different collaborators and did it live and that was great. But this is our first time traveling with the live show.”
That live show is surprisingly complex. If you’re thinking a radio show just involves a microphone and some prerecorded sound effects, you’d be wrong. There are several other performers onstage in addition to the voice actors, ensuring the room (and your ears) are filled with a palpable atmosphere. From plinking ice in a glass when someone pours a drink to stretching celery in unnatural ways to depict a werewolf transformation. McQuaid rightly insists that this stuff is every bit as valuable as the meat and bones of the narrative, “the foley because your performance too. The show is happening live and if someone’s digging a grave, the actor needs to hear and feel that.”
Despite having been familiar with and intrigued by the project for a year or so, I had somehow (ill-advisedly) never managed to check it out. So seeing this radio play unfold live, in a Stanley specific episode that drew inspiration from the haunted hotel we were all staying in, was a surprise and a delight. The Park Theater has a stately, pleasantly arcane atmosphere that nicely suited this old fashioned piece of entertainment.
Not only was the aforementioned foley work (and computer programmed sound design) immersive, the voice talent on display breathed full life into the characters. Here, Fessenden was aided by Martin Starr (Knocked Up), AJ Bowen (The Sacrament) Ana Asensio, Jocelyn DeBoer (Dead Snow 2) and Fangoria’s Sam Zimmerman (who displayed some nice chops in his professional stage debut). They all nailed it, nicely straddling what must be a difficult line to balance between going big on the stage and going intimate for the radio. DeBoer is an actress that was utterly off my radar until this performance (I haven’t seen Dead Snow 2 yet), but based on her work here I think she’s a real find. And if you’ve never heard Bowen vocalize the pleasures of eating placenta, you should definitely check this performance out when it becomes available for download.
The piece itself was nicely atmospheric, character driven, funny and chilling in a gleeful way. It evoked exactly the sensation I was hoping for, an oddly soothing old-timey experience that reached back to the genre elements that made me fall in love with horror as a child. Think of it as comfort food for the tortured soul.
I hope they come back to the Stanley next year (a festival you should attend, by the way). In the meantime, you can check out some older episodes here.
Photo by Annette DiGiovanni.