While I do enjoy a scary movie from time to time, the real way to give me some deep-seated psychological scarring is to use something simpler: sound. For as long as I can remember, my brain is really great for breathing life into countless horrors crafted directly from unexplained noises in a scarier way than any film ever could. My childhood was filled with constant random attacks from my personal trifecta of terror known as the Lobsterman, the Spinning Ghost and the Dry Cleaning Shadow. While the monsters that I created terrorized me almost every time I was left alone in the basement, I also found that listening to some recorded LP’s could also evoke the same level of reaction. The gold standard of this particular genre is Disney’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, which (while being just a teensy tiny bit racist during a torture segment) was my childhood go-to whenever I needed that fear adrenaline hit. It’s very well-made album with good writing and actors, and easily paints a vibrant picture in your mind. This description may be a bit generous, but this is also coming from someone who makes himself fear sweat by listening to number station frequencies so your own mileage may vary. Old school scary sound and music LP’s kick all the asses and are a staple of any vintage Halloween experience.
So I went into my listening of William Castle’s Ghost Story 100% cold, mostly intrigued by the absolutely amazing cover artwork. In case you are unfamiliar, William Castle was a director during the Silver Age of cinema who was skilled at cranking out tons of quality B movies under budget and quickly. He was also an innovator who would try to come up with extra gimmicks to add to the viewing experience such as a red eyed ghost that would swing down at the audience, or seats that would vibrate on cue at the movie’s finale. There were even some movies that needed special glasses that could filter colors to reveal secret things hidden on the screen, the most infamous examples being 13 Ghosts. I remember seeing this movie on cable one time and not having any idea why a static cheesy ghost cutout on the screen was used as an effect. Castle has a Hollywood pedigree: he was basically a successful Ed Wood. Castle conquered the big screen, but could he also branch out and make a horror-filled LP full of chilling tales??
I did everything I could to give this album homefield advantage. I listened to it completely alone, surrounded in the dark after I put the needle down. Even from the get go, no matter how hard I tried to picture any of the settings/ghosts none of this worked for me. The biggest issue that each “story” is just a couple of lines, some terrible sound effects, and then an unsatisfying ending and then we are immediately shuffled onto the next tale. Nothing really has enough time to solidify or become interesting. The fact this was marketed to kids under the Peter Pan Records label may have had something to do with it as well…
And that’s what kills this entire endeavor. The sound effects all sound like this was done in a single track take in one recording room. Every audio effect falls flat, sounds like footsteps have no depth or direction, it’s just a guy slapping rubber insoles against the edge of the table for two minutes. All the other prerecorded effects feel like they were pulled directly from a royalty free soundbank or whatever the 70’s version of Napster was. There’s also really weird choices in the stereo panning, and it just randomly chooses to switch sides with no rhyme or reason. As far as the voice acting on the record? Castle literally only has one character voice at his disposal which makes everything bleed together, not that there’s a whole lot of variety to any of these “stories” to begin with. For some reason, Castle decided to keep the takes that he misreads his own stuff with weird pauses that would feel like a glaring mistake in the most amateur of podcasts. The stories just don’t have anything interesting about them, and it feels like a parody of itself. The disgusting slurping noise overused for ten minutes during the “Waiter of Death” segment was pretty fucking gross, though.
The B-side of the album is infinitely better, as it mostly sticks to just scary noises and location themed sounds. The satanic church bit was actually not too bad, but it still gets overshadowed by the loud howling wind effect that stretches across the entire length of the recording. This would be passable to crank onto to some external speakers on the front porch on Halloween night, but only after the night has started to wind down. Here are direct links to both LP sides online, and you can draw your own conclusions without the irritation of having to dig out your record player! (But you won’t be able to reverse the LP to figure out the backwards masking crap in “Lobotomy and Shock Treatment” Spoiler : it’s just “OH HELL” over and over)
I was really hoping for this to be a vinyl to be a spoken word album of some genuinely scary stories fleshed out with some atmospheric sounds to bring the words to life. I’m sure there’s probably a podcast on the internet somewhere that is nothing but readings of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark that can hopefully scratch my audio terror itch. Until then, I’ll just have to stick to Ben Shapiro’s “How to Score Chicks Podcast” to get my skin crawling.
Try again, this album is a D-
Teh Ben is a construction engineer in charge of turning old Toy R’ Us stores into Sprit Halloweens and also enjoys a good old-fashioned mermaid sighting hoax. If searching his online persona here has you bored, be sure to check out his YouTube channel, his Instagram or his political agenda-free Twitter!