It seems a little crazy that in 2017 we are listening to serialized radio plays, only downloaded instead of tuned into. While it is a bit of a holdover from the days of Orson Welles and ‘The War of the Worlds’, the truth is that everyone is looking to be the next breakout hit. Shows like ‘Serial’, a multi part true crime investigation, had more than 80 million downloads.
Personally I enjoy horror a lot, but I prefer it in literary and audio form. It is more suspenseful and lends itself to having the imagination fill in the gaps, especially since most recent fads in horror cinema have not been to my liking. I’m referring to all that torture of the 2000’s and the haunted houses and dolls of the 2010’s.
Luckily there are a lot of people putting out their own scary stories that defy genre convention. Here are a few that I have listened to and enjoyed quite a bit.
This is probably the best place to get started. First of all the show is only 6 episodes long, with a short episode in between regular shows to set the mood and continue the story. It serves to establish one of the most common genre tropes of the horror podcast: the local NPR reporter who has uncovered a huge story. In this case the story is about a mysterious town, some sort of commune, where everyone disappeared overnight to never be heard from again. In this fictional world it was a major news event that died off very quickly, but one investigator is not satisfied leaving that mystery unsolved. The short series manages to be frightening, but also at times it can be quite sad or funny. Once you are done with those episodes you can start exploring the world of horror with an ongoing series.
Every day people post dozens of short stories in a reddit group dedicated to believable first person accounts of horrific events. Some of the best are selected and dramatized with actors and sound effects, coming to you as short radio plays of surprisingly good quality. While you can track down and read any of these stories on reddit, the recorded versions come in a free and paid version, with the paid version being twice as long and containing more recorded stories.
With a new episode out today, The Black Tapes is one of the better ongoing horror podcasts. The show starts innocently enough, with a reporter who is producing a podcast about people with interesting jobs. After interviewing a skeptical paranormal investigator, she becomes obsessed with his collection of tapes, each a case he has not yet been able to debunk. For anyone who misses ‘back when the X-Files was good’, you will find a similar dynamic: a believer and a non believer working together to solve a bunch of mysteries that become more and more interconnected as they go along.
This show is a sibling of The Black Tapes and takes place in the same fictional universe, following a different reporter who works for the same radio station. In this case the topic is Tanis, a mysterious place or thing that keeps showing up on conspiracy websites and in occult circles. With the help of a hacker, the reporter chases down all sorts of disparate leads: reclusive authors, cults, conspiracies and cover ups. The style of horror is quite different than anything in the current mainstream, and seems to go back to some of the authors who inspired H. P. Lovecraft such as Robert W. Chambers and Arthur Machen. Also the series in extremely immersive, they even have ‘question and answer’ bonus episodes that are completely in character with paranoid fans calling in to submit their own theories.
This show is part of a series of podcasts that have come out of the creative team that brought us Welcome to Nightvale, a show that straddles the line between horror and comedy, centered around a radio station broadcasting from a town where every urban legend and conspiracy theory is true. Still that show can be a little too silly for me at times, which is why I’m grateful for Alice Isn’t Dead. The podcast is a collection of recordings and broadcasts from somebody who is driving a truck all over the country looking for her wife who disappeared one day. The language of the show is descriptive and poetic, full of small epiphanies and colorful descriptions of random places all over America. But this is a scary podcast, and it creates a new sort of highway horror where ghoulish creatures stalk parking lots and strange events happen in small towns that barely show up on a map.