Michael Avallone – Tales of the Frightened (1963)

Review by Justin Tate

A collection of 26 eerie vignettes. They were written by Michael Avallone specifically for Boris Karloff to narrate. However, only 13 stories were chosen for Karloff’s “Tales of the Frightened” LP (between volumes 1 and 2). Karloff, along with Vincent Price and Thurl Ravenscroft, is one of the most iconic horror voices in history and his vocal talents add generous depth to what otherwise might be ho-hum flash fiction.

Listening to his narration along with the book, my mind frequently drifted away from plot and became more focused on Karloff’s vocal mastery. He increases speed when tension is high, slows down to brood over mystery, and generally makes everything creepier. The text is meant to have a by-the-fire chatty feel, but he finds numerous opportunity to increase the casual tone through vocal inflection when I might not have read it that way.

Small deviations, such as the rearrangement of words or what might be adlib, exist between the book’s text and Karloff’s narration. I suspect this text is an earlier draft of the stories, or Karloff himself made edits as he narrated. Given the opportunity, Karloff’s narration avoids the “was” verb, moves one-syllable words to the end of sentences, and finds stronger visuals with a mere word change. An excellent example is the change from “slimy” to “scummy” to describe water at the bottom of a well. Either word would have sufficed, but scummy was the right choice, particularly in an auditory medium.

As for the stories that Karloff narrates, only two actually shivered my spine: “The Deadly Dress” and “Don’t Lose Your Head.” The 13 additional stories in the book are even weaker, with the exception of “Children of the Devil” which is quite dark, and “The Graveyard Nine.”.

I think the publisher desired to save paper, because paragraphs are unnecessarily long and rarely follow grammatical convention. It’s difficult to follow what is going on because so many shifting subjects are crammed into one paragraph. This might just be part of the difficulty of the vignette medium. I do wonder how much better these stories could have been if Avallone has been given freer rein over the length.

All in all, I don’t see any real urgency to track down this book even though it features additional, unnarrated “Tales of the Frightened.” You can easily listen to the stories voiced by Karloff (the audio is on YouTube) and since those are among the strongest of the bunch, that’s probably good enough. 

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