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Nightfall #24: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Max Ferguson (1954)This episode holds a very special place in my heart: it was the first episode of NIGHTFALL I ever heard.

Back in 2002, I was starting to develop ideas for a horror anthology series to be produced by what would eventually become The Post-Meridian Radio Players. I was looking at examples of past shows and an on-line friend asked me if I'd ever heard of NIGHTFALL. I hadn't. So he sent me an mp3 of this episode and, at the end of 30 minutes, a nearly decade-long obsession was born.

Prior to starting my research on NIGHTFALL, I had no idea who Max Ferguson (photo left) was. All I knew was that he had written three of the creepiest episodes of the series (the other two being "Dark Side of the Mind" and "Breaking Point"). On-line searches began to turn up all sorts of information on him, but not as a writer. Apparently Max was one of the most famous (if not the most famous) radio personalities in all of Canadian history. His radio career spanned 52 years – all of it with the CBC. His repertoire consisted of dozens of character voices, the most famous of which was the old ranch hand, Rawhide. He hosted a number of shows over the years, always managing to find new satirical uses for his vocal cast.  (A page with links to a number of his hilarious sketches from the CBC Archives can be found here.)

During a 2004 phone interview, I learned how he had landed the job of writing for NIGHTFALL

Max apparently retired from CBC several times, but somehow always managed to come back. In 1980, during one of these retirement periods, CBC Head of Radio Drama, Susan Rubes, suggested he try his hand at writing. And that's how we got "Where Do We Go From Here?". (Max told me that wasn't the original title. Apparently Bill Howell had changed it. He believed his original title had been "Perchance to Dream".)

The story is narrated from the real-time point-of-view of the main character, Neville Edwards (voiced by Neil Munro, in one of his best NIGHTFALL performances), who has just been in a terrible rollover accident, though he is still very much alive. However, to the witnesses on the scene; to the ambulance attendants; to the doctors and nurses at the hospital; even to his co-workers, Neville Edwards is dead. Throughout all this, he remains in a controlled panic. He firmly believes someone will realize the truth and then he'll be saved. It's only when he's laying on the mortician's slab that his veneer truly begins to crack.

How does it turn out? Is he saved at the eleventh hour by a mortician's observant eye? You'll have to listen to find out!

(This episode is sometimes mistakenly referred to as "Living Corpse". It is believed this came about due to the circulation of recordings made from the 1983/84 CBC Enterprises audio cassette release, which lacked the Luther Kranst/Henry Ramer intro and close. This theory has not been corroborated by any official source, however.)


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Where Do We Go From Here?

Air Date: 12/12/1980
Writer(s): Max Ferguson
Production Location: CBC Toronto
Producer: Bill Howell
Featuring: Neil Munro, Colin Fox , Michael Wincott, Arch McDonnell, Grant Roll, David Calderisi, Mary Pirie, John Stocker, Corinne Langston, Gordon Thomson
Commercial Synopsis: We learn more than we wanted to know about morticians and their scruples after a not-quite fatal car crash.


If you like what you hear, please contact the CBC Shop and encourage them to release the series!

Nightfall #23: “Where Does the News Come From?”

August SchellenbergThis week's episode asks the very relevant-to-today question: "Who actually controls what news we see and hear?"

August Schellenberg (photo left) — in his second of two NIGHTFALL appearances — stars as foreign news correspondent David Winston, returning from Rome to be offered a national news anchor position, replacing a friend who inexplicably walked off the set one night and into a padded cell. But once he arrives, Winston is confronted by the strange, conspiracy-laden tales of a long-time friend, Stella Parsons (singer/actor Peggy Mahon, in her only NIGHTFALL role).

This episode also marks the first of nine NIGHTFALL appearances by the distinctively-voiced David Calderisi as producer Martin Grant. David is probably better known to CBC Radio Drama fans as the Voice of Introduction for the post-NIGHTFALL series, Vanishing Point.

Also featured are series regulars Frank Perry, Elva Mai Hoover and John Stocker, providing a number of extra voices.

This was the only episode written by actor James D. (Jimmy) Morris ("Welcome to Homerville", "Baby Doll").


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Where Does the News Come From?

Air Date: 12/05/80
Writer(s): James D. Morris
Production Location: CBC Toronto
Producer: Bill Howell
Featuring: August Schellenberg, Peggy Mahon, David Calderisi, John Stocker, Elva Mai Hoover, Frank Perry, Trish Allen
Commercial Synopsis: A foreign correspondent returns home to take the national TV news anchorman's slot, and discovers some mysterious events which somehow never end up on the air.


If you like what you hear, please contact the CBC Shop and encourage them to release the series!

Nightfall #22: “Deadly Developments”

Gordon ThomsonAh, another one of my favorite episodes! It joins the ranks of several other episodes about "cursed objects" and was the first to be written by a woman.

John Stocker and Gordon Thomson (photo left) – starring together on NIGHTFALL for the first time since "How Did You Get My Name?" (#8) – respectively play professional photographer André Phillipe and his assistant, Steve Balfourt, who are preparing a photo shoot for the cover of an upcoming horror novel. During the session, André decides to try out his newly-acquired Von Hensdorf, an extremely rare camera made in pre-war Germany, known for the stark quality of its photos. Very quickly, the shoot turns into a terrifying experience for the three women sent by the modeling agency, who are overwhelmed by the sense of a malevolent presence in the studio. The next day, two police officers arrive at the studio and begin asking questions about three separate incidents that occurred the afternoon before. At roughly the same time, André realizes, that the Von Hensdorf photos were being developed…

The playwright on this episode is something of a mystery. Arlene Ezrin is one of the few writers I haven't been able to track down or to account for as deceased. The only Arlene Ezrin I can find any reference to on-line is the wife of Canadian music producer Bob Ezrin (known for his work with such talents as Alice Cooper, Kiss and Pink Floyd), but so little is to be found about her as to be non-existent. They did, however, live in Toronto, so it's quite possible this is the same person.

Historical Note: The original CBC Radio broadcast of this episode (as well as the version you are listening to here) has an opening scene in Paul Gemmel's pawn shop, in which André purchases the Von Hensdorf camera. However, the oft-circulated copy of this episode is from its run on NPR Playhouse  in 1981, which did not include the scene. Correspondence between the producer of NPR Playhouse and Bill Howell indicates that, due to time constraints, episodes had to be limited to 29 minutes or less in length, so it is likely that Bill Howell excised the scene from the version he sent to NPR to keep it under time. This is only a theory, though, and has not been confirmed.


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Deadly Developments

Air Date: 11/28/8
Writer(s): Arlene Ezrin
Production Location: CBC Toronto
Producer: Bill Howell
Featuring: John Stocker, Gordon Thomson, Budd Knapp, Sandy Webster, Linda Sorenson, Elva Mai Hoover, Nicky Guadagni, Colin Fox, Arch McDonnell
Commercial Synopsis: The discovery of a mysterious old German camera starts a bizarre series of events in this contemporary story focusing on the world of fashion photography.


If you like what you hear, please contact the CBC Shop and encourage them to release the series!

Nightfall #21: “The Blood Countess, Pt. 2: Blood Blue”

The Blood Countess - Durkin-Hayes Paperback Audio cover(This is my blog entry about the second episode of "The Blood Countess". You may read about, and listen to, Part 1 here.)

This is our continuation of the story – based on historical records and legends – of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet), the so-called Blood Countess of Hungary. The episode was written by playwright Raymond Canale (his only one for NIGHTFALL) and featured veteran stage and screen actress Kate Reid as Countess Báthory.

The additional cast for the episode reads like a Who's Who of NIGHTFALL actors: Ruth Springford as Dorattya Semtész, Elizabeth's life-long housekeeper, who unwillingly assists in her Lady's madness. Elva Mai Hoover as Darvulia, a local witch who serves the Countess with her efforts to make contact with her dead husband's spirit. Neil Munro as Paul Báthory, Elizabeth's cousin and First Minister to the King of Hungary. And many more.

In the second half of the story, the Countess and Darvulia have been trying for several years now to contact the spirit of the deceased Count Báthory using horrific rituals involving the sacrifice of young peasant girls. But after the dramatic and terrifying failure of a particularly promising ritual, the Countess finally snaps and comes to the realization that they've been making the wrong sacrifices and that only the blood of noble girls will be enough to induce her husband's spirit to break through the veil between this life and the life beyond. Dorattya is horrified at her mistress' plan to start by sacrificing her youngest Lady-in-Waiting, a daughter of a prominent Duke. Eventually, disturbing rumors spread throughout the country, to the point where the Countess' cousin Paul, a minister to the King, visits the village to discover the truth for himself and is given orders – approved by the Royal Parliament and signed by the King – to arrest Elizabeth and everyone involved in these horrible acts. The resolution to the trial – and to the story – I will leave for you to discover.

One interesting side note to these episodes: former Head of CBC Radio, Susan Rubes, told me in a phone interview in 2004 that she felt the experiment with doing a two-part story was a failure. She didn't give me any details as to why, however, though I'd love to see the inter-office memos regarding that!

A word of warning: this episode is very disturbing. Listener discretion is advised!


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The Blood Countess, Pt. 2: Blood Blue

Air Date: 11/21/80
Writer(s): Ray Canale (based on the life and legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory)
Production Location: CBC Toronto
Producer: Bill Howell
Featuring: Kate Reid, Neil Munro, Douglas Campbell, Ruth Springford, Elva Mai Hoover, Colin Fox, John Stocker, Nicky Guadagni
Commercial Synopsis: The most horrifying vampire of all. The most depraved ritual ever. A Transylvanian countess who bathed in the blood of virgins to keep herself young. She lived… and her name was Elizabeth Bathory.  (DHPA)


If you like what you hear, please contact the CBC Shop and encourage them to release the series!

Nightfall #20: “The Blood Countess, Pt. 1: Blood Red”

Kate ReidWell, what can I say about this episode? It's the only two-parter in the entire run of the series and boy does it take advantage of the extra length!

This is the story – based on historical records and legends – of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet), the so-called Blood Countess of Hungary. The episode was written by playwright Ray Canale (his only one for NIGHTFALL) and featured veteran stage and screen actress Kate Reid (photo left) as Countess Báthory.

Canale said to me, in a 2004 telephone interview, that he had written the story with Kate Reid in mind, but was told that it would be impossible to get her. Undaunted, he drove to her Toronto home one night and left the script on her doorstep. After reading it, she contacted Bill Howell and asked to play the part. Apparently she loved the script and the opportunity to play such an infamous character.

The cast for the episode reads like a Who's Who of NIGHTFALL actors: Alan Scarfe as the husband, Count Ferencz Báthory, whose death is the impetus for his wife's heinous crimes. Ruth Springford as Dorattya Semtész, Elizabeth's life-long housekeeper, who unwillingly assists in her Lady's madness. Elva Mai Hoover as Darvulia, a local witch who serves the Countess with her efforts to make contact with her dead husband's spirit. And many more.

In this, the first part of the story, we see the Countess' madness begin to take shape after her husband is killed in battle. She has young girls brought to the castle as servants, only to have them slaughtered and their blood used in rituals designed to break the barrier between this world and the next and allow the Countess to speak with her husband. After which, she bathes in their blood to soften her skin and retain her youth. Suspicion in the village below the castle grows as more and more young women disappear from the countryside. But the local Magistrate turns a deaf ear to the peasantry, aware of his position and his duty to the Countess.

Probably the most disturbing sequence in the story – and whether this is based on fact or legend I don't know – is a mechanical girl created by a clockmaker friend of Dorattya's. On the surface, the device seems merely like an amusement for her Highness: a life-like young woman that can stand and move her arms, as if to embrace a person. But when a servant girl thought dead is returned to the castle by the Magistrate's order, she has Dorattya demonstrate the device's true purpose…

A word of warning: this episode, while not as gruesome as "The Repossession", is still very disturbing. Listener discretion is advised!


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The Blood Countess, Pt. 1: Blood Red

Air Date: 11/14/80
Writer(s): Ray Canale (based on the life and legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory)
Production Location: CBC Toronto
Producer: Bill Howell
Featuring: Kate Reid, Ruth Springford, Elva Mai Hoover, Alan Scarfe, Robert Christie, John Stocker, Frank Perry, Hugh Webster, Mary Pirie, Nicky Guadagni
Commercial Synopsis: The most horrifying vampire of all. The most depraved ritual ever. A Transylvanian countess who bathed in the blood of virgins to keep herself young. She lived… and her name was Elizabeth Bathory.  (DHPA)


If you like what you hear, please contact the CBC Shop and encourage them to release the series!

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