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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Suspense -- "The Body Snatchers"

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Suspense (1942-1962) aired "The Body Snatchers" on November 24, 1942 as its 19th episode of nearly 1,000. Written by John Dickson Carr (1906-1977, photo at right), it takes the listener to England in the early 1800s, when the law permitted surgeons to legally obtain up to four corpses a year, presumably for dissection in university anatomy classes. Of course, the demand soon outweighed the supply, and a black market in corpses was born. But then, grave robbing soon became a dangerous art, and fresh bodies were in even more demand. So paid thieves might haunt local morgues for fresh bodies, but when that too became dangerous, there was but one option remaining...the "acquisition" and delivery of the (too freshly) dead (i.e. nameless citizens murdered and brought in the dead of night to the surgeons, with no questions asked). But Man is a devious animal--for good or ill depending on his purpose--and the most clever have here devised a get-rich-quick scheme as a spinoff of the body snatcher business, as you will soon hear in this excellent production of John Dickson Carr's "The Body Snatchers."

And now, as the late, great Paul Harvey was renowned for voicing...here is the rest of the story. "The Body Snatcher" was originally written by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) for a special Christmas edition of the Pall Mall Gazette in December of 1884. (The Gazette's editor must have had a delicious sense of humor, publishing a special Christmas issue with the cover story about grave robbing.) "The Body Snatcher" told the grisly tale of blackmail, murder, and the exhumation of the dead, and was inspired by true life events concerning the 1828 serial murders committed by a pair of Irishmen (with their wives as accomplices). The Burke and Hare murders, as they came to be known, were infamous, their 16 victims in the span of less than a year sold to one Doctor Robert Knox for anatomical dissection. These sorts of killings came to be known as "anatomy murders."

Fast foreward to 1945 and the legendary film producer Val Lewton, who also based his picture of the same name (starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and directed by Robert Wise) on Stevenson's original story. Lewton was a master of b&w psychological thriller/horror films during the 1940s, perhaps the most well regarded of his eight 1940s films being 1942's brilliant The Cat People (directed by the one and only Jacques Tourneur). Having recently viewed the eight Lewton films (including The Body Snatcher) in the wonderful DVD boxed set titled The Val Lewton Horror Collection, I was drawn to John Dickson Carr's radio version for Suspense in 1942, three years before Lewton's film. After reading the original 1884 story, seeing the 1945 film, and now listening to the 1942 radio adaptation, I can report that the radio version is the furthest from the original story, for Carr's ending is significantly more tame than either the story or film. It retains much of the dark, ghoulish atmosphere inherent in the story and film versions, much to its credit, but the ending is not nearly as horrific. That said, and knowing the history of its origins, "The Body Snatchers" is definitely a worthwhile listen.

Play Time: 29:35