Christopher Lee Reads Four Classic Horror Stories by Edgar Allan Poe (1979)

Christopher Lee, whose nearly 70-year acting career spanned most of the 20th century and nearly all of the 21st century so far, saw numerous technological, cinematic, and cultural trends come and go but remained an institution all the while. He first grew famous, as his many fans know, in the vivid, campy Hammer Horror films of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s like The Curse of FrankensteinCorridor of Blood, and Dracula. His starring role in that last gave him his signature onscreen persona — he would go on to play the blood-sucking Count a total of ten times — but though he specialized in dark, villainous roles, his understanding of their essence meant his hundreds of performances transcended their eras, and often their material as well.

Lee knew, in other words, what it meant to be frightening, ominous, or simply unsettling in a rich and intriguing way, and that knowledge can hardly have come without an appreciation for the enduring work of Edgar Allan Poe.




We've previously featured several of Lee's readings of the 19th-century American master of the macabre, including Poe's most famous works like "The Raven" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," but only dedicated collectors will have run across the long out-of-print release we submit for your enjoyment today: Christopher Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe Tales of Horror, originally released in 1979, on cassette only, by the discount label Music for Pleasure, Ltd.

Spanning two tapes, this recording includes not only "The Fall of the House of Usher" but "The Black Cat," "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Cask of Amontillado," all of which demonstrate not just Lee's ability to conjure up a spooky atmosphere with his voice alone, but his perfect suitability to the kind of language Poe used to tell his stories, always highly mannered even while hinting at the unspeakable depths below. The question of what makes Poe's writing so of its time yet so timeless may never be fully answered, but then, nor, probably, will the question of what makes Lee's elegant performances stand out from even the most schlocky or dated productions. Whatever the reasons, the union of the two always guarantees captivating listening, even from a simple 1970s bargain-bin package like this one. You can find old cassettes of Christopher Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe Tales of Horror floating around on Amazon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dramas of Sci-Fi Stories by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Image by Mr.Hasgaha, via Flickr Commons

If you dig through our archives, you can find no shortage of finely-produced radio dramatizations of your favorite science fiction stories. During the 1950s, NBC's Dimension X adapted stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and even Kurt Vonnegut. Later in the '50s, X Minus One continued that tradition, dramatizing stories by Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson and others. By the 1970s, Mind Webs got into the act and produced 188 adaptations--classics by Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. And the BBC did up Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Those productions will keep you busy for a good while. But if you're wondering what the 1980s delivered, then tune into Sci-Fi Radio, a series of 26 half-hour shows which aired on NPR Playhouse, starting in 1989. Some of the adapted stories include: "Sales Pitch" and "Imposter" by Philip K. Dick, "Diary of the Rose" and "Field of Vision" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "Wall of Darkness" by Arthur C. Clarke, and "Frost and Fire" by Ray Bradbury.

You can stream all episodes below, or over at Archive.orgSci-Fi Radio will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Hope you enjoy.

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Hear “Grown-Up” Children’s Stories Written by Tom Waits, Nick Cave & Other Artists, Read by Danny Devito, Zach Galifianakis & More

Ten years ago, Jeff Antebi, the founder of the record company Waxploitation, asked musicians and contemporary painters to collaborate on a collection of children’s stories for grown-ups. Today, you can find the fruits of their labor collected in a new, 350-page book project called Stories for Ways & Means. The book features tales by Tom Waits (above), Nick Cave, Bon Iver, The Pixies' Frank Black and other artists. (Note: the stories contain “outre art, weird images, graphic displays of nasty stuff and cuss words.”) Also, you can now watch a series of short promo films where celebs like Danny Devito, Zach Galifianakis and Nick Offerman read items in the collection.

As a quick weekend treat, we've highlighted some of those readings on this page. More readings can be viewed here. Proceeds from Stories for Ways & Means (purchase a copy here) will support NGOs and nonprofits advancing children’s causes around the world, including Room to Read, Pencils of Promise, and 826 National.

Danny Devito Reads "Doug the Bug" by Frank Black 

Zach Galifianakis Reads "Next Big Thing" by Gibby Haynes

"The Lonely Giant" by Nick Cave, Read by Andre Royo (aka Bubbles from The Wire)



"Wishing Well Fountain," Written and Narrated by Alison Mosshart

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles: A Radio Drama Starring Derek Jacobi & Hayley Atwell (Free Audio Book)

Image by Futurilla, via Flickr Commons

For your weekend listening pleasure, we present a 70 minute radio dramatization of The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury's "timeless fable of doomed Martian colonisation." Aired by the BBC, this production stars Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell. Read this little blurb, which helps set the stage. Then stream the embedded Spotify audio below.

When the first expedition to Mars mysteriously disappears, Earth sends a second to find out what happened. But the real mission is classified. And only Captain Wilder knows the truth. Spender, an anthropologist on Wilder's crew, attempts to prevent the colonisation that she believes will eradicate the last of an ancient people living on Mars. But to what lengths will she go?

As the honourable but duty-bound Captain Wilder tracks the now rogue Spender into the Martian mountains, the future of this ancient planet is at stake. Meanwhile, Earth itself teeters on the brink of its own global catastrophe as the very survival of humanity hangs in the balance....

If you need Spotify, download it here.

This production will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Free Audio: Hear Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood & Authors

Fyi: Penguin Random House and Crown Publishing Group recently produced "Season of Stories," an eleven-week "serialized reading experience." It features serialized stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood, and other authors. You can stream the episodes, right here. Or you can listen to them through this 60db iPhone app. We will be sure to add these to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Listen to a Marathon Reading of Elie Wiesel’s Night

A couple of weeks ago on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a diverse group gathered for a marathon reading of Night, Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his youthful experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The event was organized in part by the National Yiddish Theatre---fitting given that Night was originally written in Yiddish, though first published in French. The theater’s artistic director and several actors from past productions claimed several of the reading slots, but left more than sixty to be filled by participants from an intentionally broad pool.

There were rabbis and Broadway performers, a New Yorker writer, the Consul General of Germany, and the Hungarian Ambassador to the UN...

Students and educators…

A number of Holocaust survivors…

Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Wiesel’s grown son, Elisha, who observed:

At a time when this country is feeling so divided, when so much negativity is circulating about those who are different from ourselves — those who have different ethnicities, religions or even different political leanings — my father’s words are an important reminder of the dangers of the ‘us versus them’ mentality.

It took the volunteer readers a little over four hours to get through the slim volume, which shows up on many American high schools' required reading lists.

The free event was co-sponsored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage---A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, whose location in lower Manhattan was quite convenient to another important event taking place that day---an interfaith rally to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from 7 countries, suspending entry for all refugees for a period of four months, and calling for “extreme vetting” screenings.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

- Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December, 1986

h/t Jeff N.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear “Twas The Night Before Christmas” Read by Stephen Fry & John Cleese

You have to hand it to the English: they know how to do Christmas right. Maybe it has to do with their respect for tradition, maybe with their sense of occasion, maybe with their aptitude for pageantry, and maybe with their compulsion, for all that, not to take anything too seriously. It helps that they also produce performers of the highest caliber, especially of the oratorical variety: Monty Python's John Cleese, for instance, or man of letters and all-around entertaining personality Stephen Fry. And so today, with its titular eve nearly here, we give you both of those Englishmen's renditions of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

Fry's reading at the top of the post, which comes with orchestral backing, adheres closely to Clement Clarke Moore's original 1823 text. The poem, for those who've never spent Christmas in an English-speaking country, tells of a father awakened in the middle of the night by none other than Santa Claus, come to deliver his family's presents. More recently, Fry narrated another story of Santa Claus in "Santa Forgot," an animated promotional video for Alzheimer's Research UK that uses the beloved figure glimpsed so vividly in Moore's poem to raise awareness of dementia and the research dedicated to curing it.

In his reading of "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" just above, John Cleese modernizes the story, freighting it with references to safety belts, flat-screen televisions, and Apple computers — and ending with Santa Claus captured by the father: "So he now lives with us, locked up in the cellar. We go down each day to see the old fellow and get our new presents. And we ate the reindeer, so we're sorry but Christmas is canceled next year." Cleese has a tendency to display such irreverence to the holiday. "So sad to see u end with a tirade against Christmas," tweeted someone who'd attended a live show of his and Eric Idle's last month in Arizona. "Not against Christmas," Cleese fired back, "against its commercial exploitation. Big difference, which the rest of the audience understood."

Nothing like a bracing shot of English wit to treat an overdose of commercialism, especially of the powerful American variety. But for all the mastery of Christmas on the other side of the pond, Clarke Moore, an American, defined the very character of Santa Claus in the popular imagination — a spry old gentleman with rose-like cheeks and a cherry-line nose, a beard "as white as the snow," and "a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly." "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," originally titled "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," remains quite possibly the best-known poem ever written by an American. But wherever in the world one reads them, Santa Claus' final words, and the poem's, still resonate: "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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