First released back in October of 2012 by the BBC Audiobook publishers, AudioGo, ‘Chilling Ghost Stories’ is a two CD audiobook-set that offers up readings of four classic horror tales.  The collection was later followed on with a further release entitled ‘More Chilling Ghost Stories’ (2013).  Sadly, in October of 2013 the BBC’s AudioGo arm ceased to trade with their website finally closing its doors in February 2014.

The collection as a whole runs for a total of 1 hour and 55 minutes and includes the following unabridged spoken word adaptations:

The Signal-Man – Charles Dickens
– 11 tracks - 30 minutes 45 seconds
The signalman’s post was in a cold and gloomy spot, positioned at the bottom of the railway cutting, hidden away from any natural sunlight.  But when he is called down to, the lonely signalman seems strangely reluctant to admit his inquisitive new guest to his isolated spot by the railway tunnel entrance.  However, upon making his way down to where the signalman’s signalbox is located, the newcomer is finally welcomed into the signalman’s small cabin where the two men spark up a conversation surrounding the signalman’s duties.  However, all is not quite right in this lonely out-of-the-way post.  The signalman, who has been at this exact post for many years, appears deeply troubled by something.  Strangely, he seems to glance at his signalling bell, even when it is not ringing.  Furthermore, when the newcomer visits him the following day, the signalman reveals to him his troubles.  Complaints of a strange spectral figure that appears to be warning the signalman of danger imminently before an accident occurs.  A ghostly figure that is predicting, warning, or instigating accidents along this stretch of the railway line…

Dicken’s classic ghostly short ‘The Signal-Man’ was first published back in 1866 as part of the Mugby Junction collection of short stories within the Christmas edition of ‘All The Year Round’ periodical.  And indeed since its initial publication, the story has been one of the author’s better-known shorts, delivering a quietly unnerving ghost story that ends with a particularly well-executed twist – very much in vogue with authors such as Ambrose Bierce and E.F. Benson.  Andrew Sachs (yes, ‘Manuel’ from Fawlty Towers) delivers a clear and captivating reading of the story, keeping a nice pace throughout without it becoming difficult to keep up.  Furthermore, Sachs manages to put on a particularly fitting voice for the signalman’s dialogues – with tired and weary tones encapsulating the absolute essence of the troubled character.  All in all, an excellent first story to start the collection off with.

The Haunted Doll’s House – M.R. James – 10 tracks - 29 minutes 53 seconds
Mr Chittenden seemed remarkably happy about selling off what was undoubtedly one of the finest examples of a gothic doll’s house that money can buy.  And as the buyer, Mr Dillet, drove off, he certainly felt he had the better side of the deal.  A full six-feet in length, including many intricate extensions and attachments accompanying the miniature gothic manor house, there was really only one place for it to go – into Dillet’s own room.  However, that night whilst Dillet slept in his bed near to the doll’s house, he was awoken by a bell tolling one o’clock.  Sitting up in bed, he witnessed a strange drama played out within the miniature house.  As if viewed from a long way off, the minute yet beautifully realistic characters enacted a scene of escalating concern, the lights within the doll’s house illuminating the scene perfectly for Dillet’s unbelieving eyes.  All of a sudden it seems the grand doll’s house wasn’t such a bargain after all…

First published back in 1925 as the first tale within the short story collection ‘A Warning To The Curious And Other Ghost Stories’ (1925), M. R. James’ short ‘The Haunted Doll’s House’ is one of those weirdly surreal stories that fascinate and amuse rather than really ‘chill’ its audience.  Apparently written specifically for the Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the story is an odd sort of tale-within-a-tale that plays out quite a simplistic ‘murder for greed’ storyline, all within the strange setting of a doll’s house ghostly re-enactment.  Sachs does a sterling job at setting the mood, with his soft voice working in perfect harmony with the 1am mood and ‘quietly observing’ atmosphere of the tale.  And although not the most engaging of stories, Sachs’ reading does perhaps a better job of delivering the story than one would achieve from reading it themselves.

The Room In The Tower – E.F. Bensen – 11 tracks - 32 minutes 42 seconds
He first started to have the strange recurring dream when he was about sixteen years old.  Ever since then the dream has come to him again and again, always the same setting and always with much the same occurring.  He would dream of arriving at a big red-brick house, where his friend lives and he would be staying the night.  He would go out into the garden and be greeted by his old school friend, Jack Stone, and the same group of people enjoying a tea party.  Before long he would be escorted to his room for the night – the room in the tower.  His heart would inexplicably sink.  And then up in the room, he would encounter something truly dreadful and worryingly significant.  However each night he experienced the dream he would wake not knowing what it was that distressed him so.  Something that remained out of reach of his mind.  Something that would only reveal itself when he finds himself staying at that very same room in the tower – abut this time it’s not a dream…

First published back in 1912, E.F. Benson’s haunting horror story ‘The Room In The Tower’ is quite a slow-moving short story that very gradually builds upon a feeling of infiltrating unease surrounding the recurring dream our narrator has been experiencing for some time – only to finally finish the story off with a spectacular ‘James Herbert-esque’ finale that packs in the horror to a pretty-darn surprising degree.  As a written short story the tale works well, and as a thirty-minute audio presentation it works just as well, if not better.  True enough, Andrew Sachs’ reading is absolutely spot-on, captivating the listener with his elegant voice and delivering the plot with just the right pace and tone to set the mood and atmosphere off to a tee.  In particular Sachs’ pronunciation of the work “exuberance” in the latter section of the story is said with such flare that it’s hard not to grin at the sheer delightfulness of the storytelling alone.  Furthermore, the change in voice used for the dialogue of the handful of characters in the tale is not overdone or too showy, but nevertheless emphasises character speech enough to save confusion.  All in all this is possibly one of the best ‘single-reader’ audio presentations around – and certainly the highlight of this collection.

The Bus-Conductor– E.F. Benson – 7 tracks - 22 minutes 46 seconds
After staying at a house in the country with a sinister repute for hauntings, during which they witnessed nothing at all that was remotely supernatural, Hugh Grainger turns to his sceptical friend with a story about his own experience of a ghostly apparition some eighteen months ago.  He had been staying with his friend at his home along Graeme Street whereupon Grainger had been put in the front room on the third floor that overlooked the street.  And it’s there, in the middle of the night, that he witnessed a hearse pull up directly outside the house where he was staying and a gaunt looking man dressed like a bus-conductor beckoning to him “Just room for one inside, sir”.  A vision that chilled him to the very core.  A vision of a bus-conductor whom he would meet with again very soon…

First published back in 1906, E.F. Benson’s classic ghostly-premonition short story has been adapted on a number of occasions since its initial publication – most notably within the portmanteau horror film ‘Dead Of Night’ (1945).  The story is a reasonably straight forward one, but it’s the delivery of the haunting premonition and the unnervingly cheerfulness of the bus-conductor that really makes this simple story such an exceptional horror short.  The twist-ending is somewhat predictable, but this doesn’t hinder the overall blood-chilling impact of the story.  And Andrew Sachs’ reading for this audio presentation does the story absolute justice – keeping a reserved and cautious tone to his reading for the most part of the tale – only injecting a quiver of fear into the dialogue of Hugh Grainger as the significance of what he witnessed is revealed.  An excellent story to finish the audio collection with and another solid and compelling performance from Sachs.

© DLS Reviews

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