S1E01. Love and the Lonely One (Listen)July 4, 1980
A medical student earns a secret admirer after stealing a corpse to prank a campus sorority. When the rest of the school leaves on a ski trip, his clandestine caller urges him to finally meet her...
While this premiere episode of Nightfall isn't superb, narratively. The story is middling and predictable, and the characters aren't particularly pleasant. They remind me of the kind of whiny fodder that you'd see chopped up first in a slasher movie. However, the script is performed with such relished depravity that it perfectly sets the tone for the entire series. The foley work in this one alone is on par with some of the gnarliest footage the 80s had to offer. This is a fun one, all things considered, and again, a great start for the series.
Reviewed January 9, 2019.
S1E02. The Monkey's Paw (Listen)July 11, 1980
An English veteran returns from India with a magical monkey's paw, allegedly capable of granting any wish made by its wielder. The veteran's family, fascinated by the possibilities, ignore his warning that each wish comes at a terrible cost...
"The Monkey's Paw" is an indisputable classic of suspense, popularly immortalized as a symbol of the adage "be careful what you wish for." Since the story is so familiar, Nightfall invests in execution instead of innovation, and the result is sublime. The pacing of its familiar beats maximize the dread of waiting for the bad news to break, and the climax of the story is perfectly suited for radio; an unimaginable perversion of fate descends upon the famiy's home and the episode relishes the horror of the inhabitants, and the gasped, guttural half-words of "that thing outside" lurching forward.
Reviewed January 10, 2019.
S1E03. Welcome to Homerville (Listen)July 18, 1980
A novice trucker drives all through the night to haul newsprint to the town of Homerville. His fellow truckers warn him of the "bad road" up to Homerville and all the accidents that have happened on his route, but he's determined to make it, no matter what...
This was the first episode of the program that made me wish that I was really listening to Nightfall on a radio—specifically, a car radio. Except for an expository scene at a truck stop diner, almost all of the dialogue in this episode takes place between truckers on their CB radios. That truck stop diner scene is wonderful, too, and really makes me wish I was at some crowded greasy spoon in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. "Welcome to Homerville" has a fantastic premise that simply sings as an audio drama and the sheer atmosphere of this one makes it a strong and early favorite. Also, as one YouTube comment revealed to me (they can be insightful, sometimes, apparently!), this story actually cribs a lot from The Odyssey: "Homer"-ville, get it?
Reviewed January 11, 2019.
S1E04. Hands Off (Listen)July 25, 1980
A scientist and his assistant are developing a "negative bait" that, when used, provokes intense hostility from nearby animals. When they accidentally spill the bait in a lab accident, it starts to seem like the whole world is out to get them...
The premise isn't as goofy as you'd think, I promise: the characters themselves even discuss what such a dangerous chemical would be good for, and they give a pretty good answer: a hunter or scuba diver with a vial of the stuff would be able to easily redirect and escape from an attacking animal such as a grizzly bear or shark. Still, the implications of the premise feel underutilized, with more time spent on the doctor's desperate madness than on particularly creative scenarios. The ending, though, has a gut-wrenching final detail that makes the entire ride worth it.
Reviewed January 12, 2019.
S1E05. The Tell-Tale Heart (Listen)August 1, 1980
A vagrant has killed and dismembered an old and lonely man and buried his remains beneath the floorboards of his house. The vagrant would assure you, however, that he couldn't possibly be mad, and can tell you in clear detail why and how he did what he did...
Similar to "The Monkey's Paw", "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a classic tale of horror and suspense. Unlike the former, though, the latter is entirely the subjective account of one character. To that end, this adaptation adds little more to the story than your friend would if they just read it out loud next to you. The flair of radio play is sparse here and relegated to only necessary sound effects; the rest is just narration lifted almost verbatim from Poe's original text. It's still a fantastic story, of course, and the performance is excellent, but Nightfall didn't adapt it so much as they simply recited it.
Reviewed January 13, 2019.
S1E06. Late Special (Listen)August 8, 1980
A woman and her husband crash outside of an old train station during a deadly blizzard. Blinded by the accident, she feels powerless to free her husband from the wreckage, but then she hears a train approaching that long-abandoned station across the road...
The one word that I can best describe this story with is "enchanting." It's so pervasively mysterious, and the exact nature of its characters is never quite explained (which is goood). Set against the engrossing atmosphere of a whistling, inhospitible snowstorm, "Late Special" is about vulnerability, desperation, and who you should or shouldn't trust to help you when you're helpless; the performances waver between quiet terror and hot, screaming anguish. The ending is brutal and feels like being ripped from a stranger and more magical world back into our more mundane one. Content warning for sex under coercion.
Reviewed January 14, 2019.
S1E07. Future Fear (Listen)August 15, 1980
A husband and wife's television set begins receiving broadcasts from the future. At first they scheme to make money from surefire sports bets, but the more that they learn about the future, the less sure they are that they shouldn't do something to change it...
These kinds of stories, the ones where some random schmuck or two are randomly given a view into the future, are always so interesting. The concept is so common and most executions are similar. There's a bit of Back to the Future here, with how the two main characters conspire to profit off their unnatural knowledge of the future, and yes I know that this episode predates Back to the Future, so maybe it's not even through any fault of its own that more than anything, "Future Fear" feels like a lesser script from The Twilight Zone. I feel like I've seen it all before, though I'm looking into the past instead of the future. This episode just doesn't leave much of an impact...though it does put one hell of a spin on the question of whether you'd kill baby Hitler.
Reviewed January 15, 2019.
S1E08. How Did You Get My Name? (Listen)August 22, 1980
After several years in a European mental hospital, a career criminal reunites in remote Canada with an old accomplice. Yet despite his lengthy absence, and having never even been to this part of the country before, everyone seems to know his name...
Probably the best episode yet, formally. It's lean and mean with not a single extraneous second. I love how domestic, almost cute, the first half of the story is with the reunited criminals, only for the suspenseful elements to start creeping in afterwards, accruing and accruing until neither the main character nor the listener can take it anymore. It's an elegant mystery from a subjective point of view, and as I'm starting to notice in these stories, delivers a real punch with its truly despondent ending.
Reviewed January 26, 2019.
S1E09. The Body Snatcher (Listen)August 29, 1980
A Scottish medical student is tasked with taking receipt of bodies delivered to his lab and paying the men who deliver them. The men are suspicious, though, and the freshness of the bodies even more so...
This episode is similar to "The Tell-Tale Heart" in that it's an adaptation of a classic first-person tale, and it has similar strengths and weaknesses, but I think that this one fares better for it. The fact that our main character, Fettes, is more of an everyman means that we get to feel his dread and terror as he feels it, and Robert Louis Stevenson's dialogue is much more exciting than the dreary ruminations of Poe. This episode has a fairly large cast and they're all great, but unless you're listening very closely it can be easy to get a bit lost in their thick Scottish accents. This one has an abrupt ending, too, even lacking the punch that has salvaged weaker episodes before it. In my opinion the most interesting part about "The Body Snatchers" is that it's actually historical fiction; Dr. Knox really existed and was an accessory to the real Burke and Hare murders. Above all else, this episode is a very fine period piece about a very stressed out medical student (also, if there isn't already a band called The Resurrection Men, someone needs to get on it).
Reviewed February 17, 2019.
S1E10. The Willoughby Obsession (Listen)September 5, 1980
An inscrutable criminal lawyer dies mysteriously on the same night as two people close to him. A reporter is determined to explain how it happened, but as strange as these deaths were, the investigation may be stranger still...
"The Willoughby Obsession" is quite the eye-catching title. The story itself is an inventive supernatural thriller and I hope to see more of these in Nightfall's future because I'm starting to love the way that they use distinct sound effects or overlays to convey the otherworldly and weird. The little touches of pure radio is what is most rewarding about strolling through this program. There's great chemistry between our leads, the aforementioned reporter and his surly cop friend, but as the story unravels, you get some weird tropes about Eastern spiritualism that weaken the whole affair. It's frustrating because it could have been anything else, but I think they wanted to do something different. And that they did...it's certainly a lesser-known strain of Orientalism in this one.
Reviewed February 17, 2019.