When I was a preteen, I used to have a little black portable radio that I would take to bed with me every night and every night I would listen to either
classical music or Rabbit Ears Radio. RER was a local program that played old timey radio shows from the golden years and beyond. My favorite shows were the dramas, especially the ones with a pinch of horror: Radio Mystery Theater, The Shadow (a serial drama), Lights Out, and SUSPENSE!
Although Radio Mystery Theater was my favorite then (the creaking door and E.G. Marshall’s voice inviting me to “Come in…” used to creep me out) my favorite now is Suspense! The episodes are shorter and more condensed which, in my opinion, does more justice to the creepy plots. You’ll hear more about the background and aesthetics of Suspense! when you listen to our latest coffee break (Coffee Break Ep. 18 – Suspense!) but here, you’ll be able to check out my favorite episodes below. If you’re new to old time radio dramas like Suspense! I hope this list is a great introduction for you! I haven’t listened to all 946 episodes but I’ve listened to quite a few to know which ones are my jam! Pleasant nightmares!
1. Episode 346: GHOST HUNT
This was the first episode of Suspense! that I had ever listened to and it’s WEIRD. We all know the classic trope: publicity stunt/prank goes horribly wrong, right? Well, Ghost Hunt plays into this trope perfectly when a light hearted radio personality named Smiley Smith (played by real-life radio personality and TV host, Ralph Edwards) decides to check out a haunted house in Malibu, California with a local paranormal investigator. What happens when they get to the house? Well, you’ll just have to listen and find out! I get the shivers just thinking about it!
Side-note: This episode was based on a short story written by renowned ghost story writer H. Russell Wakefield. Wakefield contributed to many famous pulp magazines in his day most notably Weird Tales.
Best time/place to listen: Right before bed when the electricity unsuspectingly goes out.
2. Episode 403: ON A COUNTRY ROAD
I discovered this episode of Suspense! quite recently and I can’t believe it flew under my radar for so long. A whiney, middle aged couple (played with perfect chemistry by Cary Grant and Cathy Lewis) try to avoid the horrible Long Island traffic by taking a lonely country road home. While taking the road, a terrible storm hits and a they hear on the radio that an elderly couple was just killed by a madwoman who escaped from the local mental hospital. Wouldn’t you know it, after hearing this news, their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and every little noise begins to freak them out and you, the listener, can’t help but freak out with them…
Best time/place to listen: In your car driving through the seemingly unending darkness.
3. Episode 94: FUGUE IN C-MINOR
Are victorian gothic romances and Daphne du Maurier-esque stories more your thing? Then honey, I’ve got just the Suspense! episode for you! Fugue in C-Minor stars one of my favorite actors of all time, Vincent Price, who plays Mr. Evans, a widower whose children unflinchingly believe he has killed their mother and stuffed her dead body into their pipe organ. WHOA! This episode plays out through the eyes of woman named Amanda (Ida Lupino, the first female to direct a film noir) who is interested in becoming the next Mrs. Evans…
Side-notes: As explained in our Coffee Break, the original broadcast of this episode has gone missing/has been destroyed. The only surviving recording is that of a rehearsal which is kind of hilarious because at one point, one of the child actors forgets their lines and struggles to recover. This episode was written by Lucille Fletcher, who wrote a number of Suspense! episodes including The Hitch-Hiker, which was turned into a Twilight Zone episode, Sorry, Wrong Number, which was turned into a film, and the Thing in the Window, which is next on this list!
Best time/place to listen: During a thunderstorm while drinking a strong cup of coffee or tea to help you feel safe.
4. Episode 224: THE THING IN THE WINDOW
Just the title alone is enough to make your skin crawl. This episode is about a man (played by Joseph Cotton) who is convinced he sees a body lying in a chair in the apartment building across the street from his own. When he tries to show his elderly landlady, she doesn’t see it and therefore, doesn’t believe him. Throughout the episode he tries to convince others of the body’s existence but to no avail and eventually his determination to prove it becomes an obsession.
Side-note: Surprisingly, there were two versions of this episode done for Suspense! The first was this one starring Cotton in 1946 and other one was broadcast just three years later in 1949 with Robert Montgomery in the starring role. Why CBS did this I have no idea. The script changes are minor at most. If you’d like to listen to the Montgomery version, click HERE and let me know which version is your favorite and why!
Best time/place to listen: When you’re just waking up from a nightmare and you can’t remember if it was real or not.
5. Episode 222: THE HOUSE IN CYPRESS CANYON
Because this is widely considered the scariest episode of Suspense! (and because it’s my personal favorite) we talk more in depth about it in our latest Coffee Break but here’s the gist: An east coast couple (played by Robert Taylor and Cathy Lewis) are desperately looking for a new house to buy in California. While driving through an area called Cypress Canyon, they find a small, newly built home for sale. What happens next is the most bizarre piece of fiction to ever hit my eardrums.
Side-note: *SPOILERS* I have heard many theories on what this episode could be about (I have even heard that it was about werewolves!?) but no one seems to know exactly. The author, Robert L. Richards, never explained what inspired him to write such a twisting, time warping, and ghoulish story. That’s part of the freakish appeal of Cypress Canyon, I guess.
Best time/place to listen: When it’s past the witching hour and your nerves are heightened from reading creepypastas.
Coffee Break Ep. 18 – Suspense! premieres Tuesday, May 1st 2018