Haunted Horseman

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The Haunted Horseman was the central character in a series of "Northern" novels by actor Rodney Marsh (1885-1949). He was in many ways the archetype of later Super-Heroes like Stingray, The Masked Detective or Vixen, a masked vigilante with a dual identity operating outside the law.

Father Daniel Caine is Cambrian-rite Priest who serves the various small towns of Thorn Valley in the Ontario frontier of the 1860s and 1870s. Rampant criminal activity as well as corruption and/or incompetence by local authorities inspired him to become a vigilante behind the nom de guerre of the "The Haunted Horseman." Wearing dark clothes--including a long, patchwork cloak--Caine fashioned a cloth mask that gave his face the appearance of a skull, especially after a few brushes with phosphorus. A broad-brimmed hat with several raven-feathers in the brim finished the costume. Most often he carried on his person a sabre, two pistols and a whip, and he rode a large black steed named Wolfsbane. His intention was to wield fear as a weapon. Caine was aided by (among other things) considerable combat and riding skills, as well as superior knowledge of the local terrain.

In the course of the books, a few people did learn the Haunted Horseman's identity--most noticeably, his native Blood Brother Tagaku or "Aaron."

Marsh's back story of the Haunted Horseman is inconsistent. What is clear is that prior to becoming a priest, he was evidently a smuggler or maybe even a pirate. There are hints, however, that he was in fact an officer in the Solemn League Navy. We know he had a brother, Socrates Caine, who died under violent circumstances. Alexander himself may have been present. Certainly the man who later became the Haunted Horseman was the sole survivor of an attack by outlaws sometime in the 1850s. He was found and brought back to health by some local Natives, among whom he lived for many years. It was they who named him "Silent Horse" for his considerable riding and stealth skills.

Novels written by Marsh about Caine are:

  • The Haunted Horseman of Thorn Valley (1915)
  • The Haunted Horseman's Revenge (1935)
  • The Haunted Horseman Returns (1936)
  • Further Adventures of the Haunted Horseman (1936)
  • Exploits of the Haunted Horseman (1938)
  • The Haunted Horseman's Quest (1939)
  • Shadow of the Haunted Horseman (1944)

Marsh's character was sufficiently popular that a silent film was made in 1921. A "talkie" followed in 1935, which inspired Marsh to write a sequel, which then proved so popular he wrote several more. The proposed second film about the Haunted Horseman never got made, but a radio series The Adventures of the Haunted Horsman was broadcast from 1937 through 1940. Producers of this program gave the Horseman a signature bizarre laugh, which (although not canon in terms of the books) has become permanently associated with the character. As did the show's theme song, which was recorded and re-used in various versions:

"Beware! Beware! Beware!
The Haunted Horseman rides tonight!
Beware! Beware!
His eyes are dark, his sword is bright!
They tell an eerie story
In the lands past the northern coast
Of lawless men in a lawless time
And the wrath of a living ghost
Beware! Beware! Beware!
He rides by the light of moon
Beware! Beware!
His laugh is the sound of evil's doom!
Beware! Beware! Beware!
The Haunted Horseman rides tonight!
Beware! Beware!
The Haunted Horseman serves the Light!
He is dark but he serves the Light!"

Marsh's death in the Second Great War ended his plans for further books about the Haunted Horseman. During the late 1960s, however, there was a television series simply called The Haunted Horseman which lasted three seasons. In tune with the times, it was rather camp in style, even giving the Horseman a sidekick ("Owl Boy") and a series of increasingly bizarre costumed enemies. A comic book title continued the stories in pretty much the same way.

In 1997, director Thom Burton was hired by Commonwealth Artists (who had acquired the rights) to do a motion picture based on Marsh's character. The result, The Haunted Horseman Rides! (1998) proved a major hit and resulted in a sequel, The Haunted Horseman Rides Again (2000) which was less successful but still well-thought of by many. Both films were very gothic in tone and pitted the Horseman against equally charismatic foes. Since then, Commonwealth Artists have been exploring ways to expand the franchise. Rumors of another television series, either animated or live-action, continue to circulate.

The town of Summerdale in Ontario officially changed its name in 1984 to Thorn Valley and holds annual festivals (including stage plays) about the Haunted Horseman on and around Hallow's Eve.

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