Insane titles: Cliffhanger edition

The deadly doom death of doom!

One of the great things about old-timey cliff-hanger serials is that a lot of them have pathologically bizarre chapter titles. Typical chapter titles are melodramatic bursts of panic like “The Fatal Time Bomb” “The Runaway Torpedo” or “The Dive into Quicksands” and triple exclamation marks wouldn’t look out of place on any of them. Some of them are overused (“Flaming Death” seems to turn up in almost every serial) but some titles are so completely off-the-wall that you can’t believe a human being actually came up with them. Here are a few particularly odd chapter titles:

• “ The X-Ray Belt” — Chapter 10 of The Spider Returns (1941): “Geez Gary take that freaking belt off. Everybody’s sick of looking at your duodenum.”

• “Take Off That Mask!” — Chapter 5 of Zorro’s Black Whip (1944): This chapter title is refreshingly direct and it blurs the line between title and dialogue. I wish more chapter plays used titles like this. Why entire exchanges could take place!

(Chapter 6: “Fine go ahead and wear that stupid mask you big baby!”

Chapter 7: “I know you are but what am I?”


• “The Devil’s Dictograph” — Chapter 3 of The Green Archer (1940): What the fuck is a dictograph?! Should I be concerned that the Devil has one? Just how much evil can be spread through a diabolic piece of obsolete office equipment? What about Mephisto’s mimeograph? Or Lucifer’s pneumatic tube?

• “Bird-calls of Deliverance” — Chapter 8 of White Eagle (1941): This particular serial has some pretty bizarre chapter titles running from the almost-normal (“The Gun-Cane Murder”) to the eccentric (“Flaming Teepees” and “The Warning Death Knife”) to the flat-out insane (“Mystic Dots and Dashes” and “The Massacre Invitation”). Still this has got to be the first adventure serial title I’ve ever seen that has bird calls in it.

• Any chapter from Chick Carter Detective (1946): Most of the chapters in this serial take the unusual approach of incorporating the hero’s name. (“Chick Carter Takes Over” “Chick Carter Trapped” “Chick Carter’s Quest” “Chick Carter’s Frame-up” “Chick Carter Gives Chase” “Chick Carter Faces Death” “Chick Carter Sets a Trap” and the spoiler-ific finale “Chick Carter Wins Out.”) However the remaining titles are baffling particularly when clumped together in a list:

Chapter 2: “Jump to Eternity!” (Huh?)

Chapter 10: “Run to Earth!” (How is that even possible?)

Chapter 11: “Hurled into Space!” (Whatever dude he’s just going to run back to Earth again.)

• The alliterative chapter titles of The Tiger Woman (1944) — Let’s see we’ve got a “Temple of Terror” a “Doorway to Death” a “Cathedral of Carnage” an “Echo of Eternity” a “Dungeon of the Doomed” a “Mile-a-Minute Murder” a ‘Passage to Peril” a “Cruise to Cremation” a “House of Horror” and a “Triumph over Treachery.” So what asleep-at-the-switch editor let the titles “Two Shall Die” and “Target for Murder” ruin the otherwise perfect theme?!

• “The Trap that Failed” — Chapter 10 of The Crimson Ghost (1946): Yeesh how about a spoiler warning next time guys? Now we have to sit through an entire chapter watching a trap that we know is going to fail. The Green Archer (1940) also has a chapter entitled “The Dagger that Failed” which sounds like the Bizarro version of the children’s book The Little Engine that Could. (I doubt I’ll stab I doubt I’ll stab…)

“Execution by Accident” — Chapter 10 of Government Agents vs. Phantom Legion (1951): I hate it when that happens.

• “ Flying Gas Chamber” — Chapter 10 of Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952): What the heck you might as well enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Swiss Alps while they’re putting you to death. Not affiliated with the Flying Guillotine.

• “ Flame Versus Gun” — Chapter 7 of Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders (1953): Cool! A versus title inside another versus title! Still the quality is all over the place. While Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders (1953) is one of the best titles of all time the title “Flame versus Gun” really just raises a lot of questions.

• “Canaska Gold” — Chapter 1 of The Royal Mounted Rides Again (1945) — Canaska? Where the hell is Canaska? Is it some kind of futuristic fusion of Canada and Alaska populated entirely by Mounties? (Actually that sounds pretty cool.) This serial sports plenty of other outlandish chapter titles including “River on Fire” “Derringer Death” “Twenty Dollar Double Cross” and my all-time favourite “Murder Toboggan!”