By Brian M. Sammons
If you have been following my Cthulhu Eats the World column for any length of time, then you already know about my love for the radio plays produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Under the banner of their Dark Adventure Radio Theater, they have adapted some of Lovecraft’s best and best-known stories into very fine audio entertainment. This one is admittedly neither of those by any stretch of imagination, but that doesn’t make this collaboration between H.P. Lovecraft and the one and only Harry Houdini (yes, that Houdini) bad. But it is an odd choice for a radio play for a few reasons. So, do the HPLHS pull off a magic trick and make this another winner, or is this their first misstep? Well, let’s find out.
Now, to be honest, the HPL Historical Society does add a bit to this production that’s not in the original story, to the point that some might even considered it padded. But, if this weren’t done, it would have been the shortest Dark Adventure ever made. Furthermore, some of these extra bits don’t work all that well. Case in point: There is a bit where we get to listen to a vaudeville-like show. While those can be fun, listening to one and not being able to see it isn’t all that great. Then this show ends with the Great Houdini performing one of his death-defying escapes, but again, we can only listen to it. You know what’s fun? Magic tricks. You know what’s not so fun? Only being able to listen and not see magic tricks.
That said, not even these parts are really all that boring. I don’t think the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society are capable of being boring. The actors are on top of their game in this tale, as is the new writing. More than once, I found myself laughing at the added bits. Then there are the music, sound effects, and overall production value, all of which are amazing here. This story, just in case you’ve never read it, takes place in Egypt and this recording goes a long way in making you feel like you are there. From the chatter in the marketplace, to the meeting with a group of German archeologists, to a boxing match on top of a pyramid, things sound authentic and never fail to draw you in.
As for the story itself, I won’t spoil it for you here. If you have yet to read it, let me just give you the basics. Harry Houdini, while performing in Egypt, runs afoul of some mysterious locals when he tries to buy some authentic Egyptian relics for a show. The escape artist is led out to the famous pyramids by some bad guys and then … well that you’ll have to find out for yourself, but honestly, that’s about all there is to it. Rest assured, it is suitably horrific and Lovecraftian, but it is a very get-to-the-point kind of story, thus the need to expand and elaborate on what was originally written.
In addition to the excellent radio play, the HPLHS always adds a few physical goodies with their CDs as extras. This time around, you get a program for the Houdini show, a museum acquisition form for the artifact Mr. Houdini wants to buy, a postcard from Cairo, and a newspaper article. All of these can be framed for your personal Lovecraft collection, or used as props in your next Call of Cthulhu role playing game.
Final Verdict: The HPLHS’ Dark Adventure Radio Theater production of “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” is another fine listen from a long line of amazing radio plays. It is an entertaining take on a story that a lot of readers of Lovecraft might not even know about. If that is you, then this is a fine way to experience it for the first time. If you are already familiar with the story, it’s neat to hear how the HPLHS changed things, but still kept the core of the story intact. Because of that, it is very highly recommended.