8/17/17

The Return to Terror Castle

"Frankly, I would prefer to have nothing to do with these three youths, but I
rashly promised to introduce them. And I am a man of my word—even though the promise was extorted from me by nothing less than sheer skulduggery, as you will see."
- Alfred Hitchcock (Robert Arthur's The Secret of Terror Castle, 1964)
Back in November of 2015, I took a chance on a series of juvenile mysteries, called The Three Investigators, which was created by a prolific writer and editor, Robert Arthur, who wrote ten of the forty-three books about the three boy-detectives and when he passed away, in 1969, the torch was passed to a small group of writers – consisting of William Arden, M.V. Carey, Nick West and Marc Brandel. All forty-three of the books were published between 1964 and 1987.

My first encounter with that "trio of lads," Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, came when I picked up their sixth case, The Secret of Skeleton Island (1966), which I wanted to read simply to compare to Case Closed. However, I loved the book so much that, within a year, I had burned through nearly a dozen of them.

One of those books reviewed on here was the series-opener, The Secret of Terror Castle (1964), which proved to be a relatively decent debut with a plot that was prescient of the long-running Scooby Doo series. And as the first entry in the series, the book was picked for two adaptations. A German-South African made-for-TV was made in 2009, Das verfluchte schloss (The Cursed Castle), that aired in 2010 on Disney XD under its original book-title, but the plot and characters appear to have been modernized and modified.

So that makes a little-known dramatization from the 1980s the most interesting of the two adaptations, because it was as loyal as a dog to the source material.

The Secret of Terror Castle and The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (1964) were dramatized by Rainbow Communications and released on cassette tapes in 1984, but barely anything is known about these productions – except that the audio-plays were adapted by Edward Kelsey and directed by Tony Bilbow. So I can't tell you the names of the voice-actors who played Jupe, Pete and Bob, but they played their roles admirably. Only have two minor caveats about their presentation in this adaptation.

In order to differentiate between the voices of the teenage boys, the ages of the characters varied in this audio-play. Jupe was obviously made the oldest of the bunch, pushing sixteen, while Pete must be around 12 or 13 years old. Bob sounded like he was in the same age-range as Pete, but with a huskier voice and his role had been reduced to a side-character. But that's the only point where the audio-play differed from the book.

Otherwise, the 50-minute audio-play delivers a faithful, but condensed, version of The Secret of Terror Castle and even retained the all-important role of Alfred Hitchcock, "teller of tales of terror," plays in the series and particularly in this story – which established the famous movie-director as their mentor (of sorts). A second, noteworthy, aspect demonstrating just how loyal this dramatization is to the original is that the plot was not transported to the 1980s. The audio-play opens with the announcement that "the story you're about to hear happened in the 1960s" before "any of you were born." So you can argue the play is a (modern) historical mystery.

The story opens, like the book, with Jupe and Pete surreptitiously gaining access to the private office of Alfred Hitchcock (see my book review for details). And in case you're wondering, Bob has been sidelined by "the after effects of a badly broken leg" and primarily does research at the library.

Anyhow, Jupe and Pete cheekily make an offer to the famous director of thriller movies: they want to help him find "an authentic haunted house" for his next picture and in exchange he'll introduce their first recorded case. Hitchcock is initially taken aback by their impertinence and cheek, but admires their initiative and promises that if they can "come up with an interesting story" he'll introduce it – which makes them rush back to the HQ where Bob was waiting with a report on Terril's Castle.

Ancient technology from a long-lost civilization

Terril's Castle stands in a narrow gulch, known as Black Canyon, which has acquired a haunted reputation and locals started to refer to the place as Terror Castle.

The castle was build by a famous horror movie-actor, Steven Terril, who was "a big star back in the silent film days" and known all over "the world as the man with a million faces," but when talkies replaced the silent film he was unable to hide his "squeaky, high-pitched voice" and "lisped" - making him a laughing stock of the industry. One day, Terril simply vanishes from the world stage, but left behind a note saying that his castle is forever cursed to be haunted. So it's exactly the kind of place they were hoping to find.

At this point in the play, Bob is pretty much sidelined as a participating character and the story primarily follows the other two boys, Jupe and Pete, as they investigate the haunted castle. Or dig around in the past of the silent movie actor and get themselves in a couple of tight situations, but what really makes these scenes a joy to listen to is the banter between the brainy Jupe and the smart-mouthed Pete, which was reminiscent of the ribbing between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

After they were scared away from Terror Castle, Pete suggests that they call Hitchcock to tell him that "they break out in lumps of goose flesh" whenever they go near the place. And that their "legs go all wobbly" and "start running on their own accord." Jupe's reaction to this suggestion is something Wolfe could've said in response to one of Archie's little quips, "I will ignore those remarks, Pete." Or when they get trapped inside a crevice, Jupe observes that their "exit appears to be effectively barricaded" and this makes Pete ask why "even at a time like this you use long words." Why not simply say that they're stuck there?

I think this interaction between Jupe and Pete helped carry this audio-play, because the condensation of the story made the plot even thinner than in the original and this really showed how much the plot resembled an episode from Scooby Doo, Where Are You! The story is as amusing as a Scooby Doo episode, but, plot-wise, is also about as challenging as one (i.e. not very) when read, or listened to, purely as a detective story. However, it was based on, what simply was, the first story in the series and it would come to include such gems as The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy (1965), The Mystery of the Shrinking House (1972; a rich plot) and The Mystery of the Headless Horse (1977).

So I really enjoyed the fifty minutes spent with, what is essentially, "Suspense for Kids." And it was fun to hear the characters I have been enjoying since 2015 come alive in this theater of the mind. It made want to listen to the second dramatization in this short-lived audio-series, but want to track down and read the book first. Not exactly sure when I'll get around to both versions of The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, but they'll eventually be reviewed (poorly) on here.

7 comments:

  1. I'm a big fan of radio / audio drama (but not spoken books) and had no idea these were adapted. Thanks TC. I did enjoy a lot of the books from the series as a kid but can't remember anything about them now ...

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. And maybe it's time to refresh your memory. The books are tremendously fun to read and the people behind them were great writers. For example, William Arden was one of the pennames used by Dennis Lynds, but you might known him under another psuedonym, Michael Collins, which he used for his private-eye novels about Dan Fortune.

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  2. Well, well, well, how about that? I have a post coming this weekend - provided I finish writing it - on this very book. I legit think there's some kind of blog telepathy going on here...quick, make sure no shady government agencies find out about this!

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    1. If you're working on a post, why not give this audio-play a listen to and work it into your review? You can easily find the play online on several websites.

      And these mystery blogs have always been a hotbed for synchronicity.

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    2. Only so many hours in the day, alas. And, besides, you've done a grand job here -- if I muscled in on this territory so soon, it'd tantamount to saying there was something wong with the above ;)

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  3. I liked your review. "The Stuttering Parrot" isn't bad (I can't remember a great deal about it) though some of the accent-use is hard going. The biggest problem I had though was that it included Hitchcock saying about the whispering mummy but that book was never adapted.

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    1. Thanks, Mark. And that's a pity they only teased Whispering Mummy. It's one of my personal favorites and an audio play, like this one, would have been perfect for a story about a murmering mummy.

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