First released back in October of 2011 by the BBC Audiobook publishers, AudioGO, ‘Vampire Horror!’ is a three CD audiobook set that offers up four classic vampire tales.  The collection as a whole runs for a total of 3 hours and includes the following bloodcurdling spoken word adaptations:

The Vampyre - John Polidori – 21 tracks – 63 minutes
Aubrey is a young English gentleman, who after meeting with the suave Lord Ruthven, decides to accompany the nobleman on a travelling tour of Europe, beginning with a visit to Rome.  Upon arriving at the picturesque heart of Italy, the two soon part ways after Ruthven becomes involved with the daughter of a mutual friend.  Whilst Ruthven is busy becoming romantically entangled back in Rome, Aubrey has moved on to Greece where he too meets with a beautiful young woman, and a close relationship begins to blossom.  Ianthe intrigues the young Englishman, speaking of great legends surrounding vampirism that have cast a dark shadow upon the world.  But unbeknown to the young Greek woman, these legends are dangerously real.  And when Ruthven finally meets up with Aubrey again, Ianthe finds herself at the mercy of a bloodthirsty vampire.  But there are still many more miles planned in the duo’s travels through Europe...

First published back in April of 1819, John Polidori’s classic novella ‘The Vampyre’ came about from expanding upon and finally finishing an early idea for a vampire story that was originally thought up by Lord Byron.  After being published in the New Monthly Magazine, the tale became the first vampire story to be printed in English.  Its importance in gothic fiction is unquestionable.  And it does still hold a wealth of dark charm for the reader (or in this case listener).  As is with much of the literary work of the time, the story does spend a large proportion of time lavishing in the largely mundane depths of elaborately-intrinsic characterisation.  Here, the first two chapters of the audiobook are spent purely on setting the early scene and describing our two main characters and their particular social circles.  Bill Wallis’ narration of the tale is delightfully suiting.  Indeed, the reader’s deep and enchanting tones, as well as his mild acting within the characters’ dialogue, make for a very strong and engaging telling of the classic gothic story.  It’s certainly true that the story is particularly slow-paced by modern standards.  It does also become more than a touch too preoccupied with characterisation, and romantic interplay.  But nevertheless, the short tale still has its compelling dark charm, and Bill Wallis’ spoken version does the story absolute justice.

Wailing Well - M. R. James – 8 tracks – 25.5 minutes
Although they looked remarkably similar, in direct contrast to Arthur Wilcox, Stanley Jenkins was the complete opposite of the high-achieving young scout.  Stanley had no badges to his name.  He had little care for the ambitions of a good scout, or indeed a want to improve himself.  It was therefore somewhat fair to say that he was of no credit to the scouts whatsoever.  And so, at the beginning of the midsummer holidays, it was no surprise that Junkins together with fellow scouts Wilfred Pipsqueak and Algernon de Montmorency found themselves away from the main Scout camp, exploring the surrounding fields.  And it is here that they came across the shepherd.  A shepherd who tells them of a haunted well located with a nearby overgrown field.  Three women and a man are said to haunt the area by the well.  It’s a story that instantly pricks Stanley Junkins’ curiosity.  So much so that he is determined to investigate the well himself...

First published back in 1927, M. R. James’ short story ‘Wailing Well’ showed the writer’s jovial sense of humour along with his contrasting passion for the dark and truly terrifying.  The story starts off in a very light-hearted and jocular fashion, with plenty of comedy at the expense of Stanley Junkins’ stunted success at being a scout, thrown in for comedy effect.  With this humorous mood established, the tale plods on, with a run-of-the-mill scout camping scene and the ‘to-be-expected’ trio of scouts going off on their own.  And this is where the shift in atmosphere first starts to creep into the tale.  Although the utterly over-the-top Somerset accent that the story’s reader, Anthony Head, puts on is far from convincing, the surprisingly eerie story still has the desired effect.  With the ‘haunted well’ premise now in place, the story quickly begins to build up its tension when later on Junkins goes off to investigate the well.  The resulting climax is chilling in its suddenness as well as its overbearing threat.  The ending is dark, eerie and somewhat subdued after the sharp impact of the breath-taking attack.  One hell of a terrifying climax.  And altogether a darn good audio presentation of the chilling short story.

For The Blood Is The Life - Francis Marion Crawford – 14 Tracks – 43.5 minutes
Up in the heights of his lone tower, our narrator sits looking out at the rural landscape of Southern Italy with his Scandinavian artist friend Holger.  In the shine of the evening moonlight, his friend spots an odd mound of earth not too far away from the tower.  The mound looks strangely like a grave.  But most puzzling of all is that, from where they are sitting, it looks like a body is lying on top of this grave.  Holger proceeds down to the mound to investigate.  However, our narrator knows that it is indeed a grave.  And he has a story to tell about the one who is buried there.  A poor young woman named Cristina who was murdered after discovering thieves burying the inheritance of a trusting young man named Angelo.  An unfortunate victim of circumstances that has since reaped a terrible vengeance...

First published back in 1905, Francis Marion Crawford’s short ‘For The Blood Is The Life’ is regarded as one of the gothic author’s most revered stories and as such is often found within supernatural collections and vampiric anthologies.  The tale is in fact a story-within-a-story, with our narrator telling his story to his friend of the mound that has now had a perverse effect on both their lives.  His story is strangely unnerving, with a pitiful theft resulting in this haunting story of vengeance and eternal misery.  The descent into a bleak vampire tale is sudden and brutal – with the harsh open-ending leaving the listener feeling chilled to the very core.  It must be said that John Telfer’s soothing vocal tones make for a suitably calming and as such, an altogether more atmospherically chilling audio rendition of this classic vampire short story.

An Episode Of Cathedral History
- M. R. James - 15 Tracks - 47 minutes
Early in December, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Lake was appointed the task of examining and then reporting back details of the Cathedral of Southminster’s extensive archives.  Indeed the task was so lengthy that it would involve the investigator to seek accommodation in the city over the period.  Upon arriving at the Cathedral, Lake is met by the principal Verger – Mr Worby.  Worby duly takes the investigator around the Cathedral, until he shows the man the tomb for which they have no records.  The investigator’s curiosity spiked, Worby offers the man a story surrounding the mysterious tomb, which goes back to the time of renovation work that was being performed on the Cathedral.  Internal alteration work to the choir, which seemed entirely without reason to Worby’s father who was undertaking the work.  Work that was being performed at a time when strange ‘crying’ noises were heard late at night.   And an odd gap in the stonework surround the tomb was proving to be quite troublesome to fill.  When Worby’s farther finally glimpsed whatever lay inside that tomb, it made the made doubt his own eyes, and scared him half to death.  For something entirely unnatural is buried there...

M.R. James’ short ‘An Episode Of Cathedral History’ was first published back in 1914.  The short is certainly a slow-burner, with the plot of the mysterious unknown occupant of the tomb brought into the storyline early on and then only very slowly is the tale behind the tomb unravelled.  Utilising a story-within-a-story structure, the tale takes the reader back to a story which is told through the eyes of Worby as a young lad.  Although there is indeed a degree of menace and unknown eeriness involved, it is still not worked upon enough to deliver any lingering creepy-impact on the listener.  Cornelius Garrett’s reading of the story is clear and fluid, although he does give a particularly animated dialogue to the characters making it a little on the cheesy side at times.  Regardless, this is still an enjoyable reading of an intriguing and classic gothic story.

© DLS Reviews

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