A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for The Navigator Newspaper about The NoSleep Podcast and the constantly expanding world of the scary story. In reflecting on that piece, and thinking about the podcasts, books, and films that I consume as often as I do, I’ve come to a surprising (at least to myself) conclusion: we are presently living in a golden age of horror, but it’s not the films that are leading the charge; it’s the podcasts.
Audio storytelling seems like a relic of the age of radio; when families would gather ’round the radio and listen to The Shadow or The Lone Ranger or a time when War of the Worlds riled people up into a nearly full blown panic. It’s easy to assume that this age has come and gone, and we are now in the time of visual storytelling, of film and television. However, when I look back on the last few movies that I’ve reviewed, particularly in this genre, there are be only one or two great films for every 10 or 11 mediocre or offensive ones. The best efforts in horror tend to come out of the indie scene, and big studios show more and more disdain for horror and its fans by churning out the same garbage time and time again. I mean, Ouija is getting a sequel, what more can be said?
Just under the surface, just below the mainstream, though, there is a blossoming community of horror creators who are doing something very special; podcasting. There seems to be an endless number of these horror podcasts, and I can’t speak to them all. I can speak to the ones I am presently subscribed to, and I think that is what I’ll do here. Looking at my phone, I’m presently subscribed to at least ten of them, and two of those I only found in the last few days.
There are two distinct types of these podcasts, one features stories from different writers in each episode, the other maintains a narrative in an audio documentary style, like Serial.
The former’s strongest shows are The NoSleep Podcast, a show which features as many as six unique stories from talented, and emerging writers. The stories are typically dark and disturbing, with a tendency towards being a bit gross. That said, it’s proof of some stunning horror writers who produce an enormous amount of work that deserves to be heard, or read, whatever the case may be. Also in this camp are, at least in my subscription list, Knifepoint Horror which features works from one author, who has now released those stories into a fabulous book. You will also find no shortage of spooky campfire stories in shows like Chilling Tales: The Podcast, or the non-fiction Lore which looks at the origins of folk stories and urban legends, in a very effective way. I’ve also just subscribed to Pseudopod, which I haven’t been able to bite into yet.
While these shows are all great, and have offered me genuine chills and scared me more than once, my preference usually goes to the extended narrative shows. The documentary style, or radio-drama style shows, that offer something so interesting and frightening, often feeling more engaging than many of the horror films released this year.
While I have only recently begun to listen to Alice Isn’t Dead, and Archive 81 it’s the shows that I’ve heard before that give me high hopes, and perhaps unfair expectations. Most significantly, for me anyways, are the two brilliant shows produced by Pacific North West Stories, Tanis and The Black Tapes Podcast manage to effectively blur the lines between fantasy and reality by keeping the stories from flying too far off the rails, and for those listening to Tanis, you’ll know that that is no easy feat. These shows, along with Limetown have adopted the Serial format, at times almost too closely, but it’s worked very well in their favour. As well, the very interesting and now wrapped up show The Message offered more of a science fiction twist to this type of show.
What makes these shows all the more amazing is the sheer amount of content many of them have. The NoSleep Podcast has entered its seventh season, Psuedopod has more than 400 episodes, and The Black Tapes are on hiatus from their second season, just to name a few. There are, quite literally, hundreds of hours of original content present among these shows, and all are provided entirely free, with different ways to show support for them made available to those who can or want to.
While this is something of a longer post that I tend towards, it’s something that has been rattling around in my head. With each new and disappointing horror movie, I find myself writing negative reviews, and from this it might be easy to assume that I have a general disdain for the state of modern horror, which really is not the case. I’m not someone who feels that “there hasn’t been a good horror movie since the 80s” or that horror is in any real trouble, what I’m noticing is that some of the best content is on a new format.
There are great horror films out there, to be sure, but shows like these go, often, unheard and unread. There are stunning pieces of horror out there to be found, and some amazing talent behind it all. So, go and find it.
If you have heard any shows that you think I missed, or would recommend, please leave a comment! Here are the ones that I have mentioned: