Three Skeleton Key Radio Show with Vincent Price
Vincent Price first made his indelible mark on an episode of the radio anthology series “Escape”. The show featured stories of epic adventure from westerns to science fiction to macabre horror, featuring stories adapted from the works of literary greats. These greats included Edgar Allen Poe, H. Rider Haggard, Daphne Du Maurier and Ray Bradbury.
French writer George Toudouze wrote a short story in Esquire magazine about the fate of a trio of unfortunate lighthouse keepers, called “Three Skeleton Key”.
The three men worked the light at a lonely lighthouse on a barren rock off the steaming jungle coast of French Guyana. One day a derelict ship, filled with huge, starving rats, crashes on the dangerous rocks and sinks beneath the waves. Its crew of rats don’t drown, but swim towards the lighthouse and lay siege to the defenseless men within.
Vincent Price took Toudouze’s story and made it his own. In Toudouze’ version, the three men had no personality, no life. On the radio, Jean was the eager and enthusiastic novice, Auguste an egocentric ex-actor and hunchback, Louis stolid and taciturn and yearning for peaceful solitude.
When Three Skeleton Key was first broadcast on November 15, 1949, it presented a few challenges for the special effects artists. How to portray an enormous swarm of cannibal rats on radio! What would they sound like, and more importantly, how to make them sound, clawing menacingly against a thin pane of glass? Eating away the wood of window panes and trapdoors? Chowing down on human flesh?
The first broadcast of Three Skeleton Key was immensely popular with listeners and thanks to hundreds of requests, was reprised only four months later, on March 17, 1950. This time, it was golden. In front of the microphone this time was Vincent Price. This is the best version of the story and is available for download at the top of this page.
Vincent Price’s voice ran the gamut of emotions as Jean, the new lighthouse keeper who first spots the rat-infested ship sailing inexorably toward the rocks surrounding Three Skeleton Key. From his opening lines, describing the lighthouse and his compatriots with jejune enthusiasm, his voice takes on and maintains an edge of muted terror after the arrival of the rats.
“The light drove them mad as she swung slowly and smoothly about. It blinded them in the fierce, stabbing bar of light, moving continually about, ever turning, ever touching, ever moving around and around. And they, twisting and stuttering, eyes flaming when they were struck by the light. The bright light moving and, behind, on the dark side of the room, so close–so close I dared not turn my back but you cannot help turning your back when you’re in a room made of glass–on the dark side of the room, you could not see them. Only their eyes. Thousands of points of blank red light, blinking and twinkling like the stars of hell.”
The fictional terrors that the Grand Guignol put its audiences through were as nothing compared to what lay in store for the three lighthouse keepers, especially for poor Jeff Corey’s Louis, who disintegrates from the proud, taciturn headman of the lights to a whimpering baby after one of the rats tears his hand open.
The excellence of the ensemble cast, the sound effects, the rats, all combined to ensure that no one who heard this broadcast of “Three Skeleton Key” would ever forget it. It is an excellent radio show to share with your kids to give them goosebumps on a dark night. A radio show can capture a child’s imagination. The pictures your children conjure up in their heads will be much more exciting than any movie. Vincent Price’s vocal talents make this one of the best horror listens your kids will ever experience.