This Friday the 13th saw the premiere of an adaptation of Lore, one of the best known horror podcasts in recent history. That made me think about how well the genre has adapted to this relatively new medium. After all, the horrors that you are listening to shape themselves in your mind’s eye, and you know better than anyone what scares you. We already recommended five horror podcasts you should listen to, so this time we are going to include—in no particular order—shows that tell a story. That means that this time we will be skipping podcasts dealing with reviews or news such as Nightmare on Film Street, Bloody Good Horror, or Night of the Living Podcast. Let’s get to it!
“Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, ‘What happened to the people of Limetown?'”
Limetown was created by Zack Ackers, Dave Yim and Skip Bronkie, and it is a delight to listen to. The story develops slowly, following the pattern of other investigation, non-horror podcasts such as Serial, but when things get spooky, they are startling. It relies heavily on the performances of the actors (which get better as the show progresses) and the immersion in the story. The mystery of this first season is revealed in 6 main episodes and 6 addendums.
Now, a second season and a novel were announced some time ago, but we still have no news about whether they will actually be released or when. However, the available season stands on its own and has some very memorable moments. I’ll say it made me jump out of my seat during my commute.
The Black Tapes
“The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.
How do you feel about paranormal activity or the Supernatural? Ghosts? Spirits? Demons?Do you believe?”
Do I believe? Well, I want to. My first impression of The Black Tapes when I started listening to it is that it was a very ambitious project, and worthy of admiration for that. Yes, it also draws inspiration from Serial, but I was used to the first episodes of other horror podcasts trying a more Spartan approach to the audio design and the scripts, and that’s not the case with this show: it goes all the way from the beginning. It was created by Paul Bae and Terry Miles in 2015 as a spin-off of Pacific Northwest Stories.
It is hosted by Alex Reagan as she follows the investigation of Dr. Richard Strand, a scientist dedicated to debunking all claims of the supernatural. Think The X-Files, but for your ears. Episode by episode, they are captivating a growing audience and, as of the drafting of this article, the third season is well on its way with the podcast not showing any signs of stopping.
The Nosleep Podcast
The NoSleep Podcast began in 2011 as a dramatization of the stories posted on the subreddit of the same name, as stated by creator David Cummings. It is an anthology horror podcast that will keep you looking forward to each new episode. Throughout its nine seasons, the show has tackled every sub-genre of horror imaginable. The NoSleep Podcast focuses on the quality of the writing instead of creating a believable dramatization. Moreover, some of the authors that submitted their tales to the show have gone on to publish their own novels thereafter.
Currently they are using a pretty smart system to monetize the show and make it possible to keep producing it and having a cast of actors perform the scripts: Each individual episode can be downloaded free of charge, but with the caveat of a couple of the stories not being included in the free version. To unlock the full show, you can buy the individual podcast or a season pass that will entitle you to that year’s full set of shows. I thought about including the name of some individual episodes that really stood out for me, but it is a hard task among hundreds of hours of content, and I actually agree with their list of recommended episodes which are listed here.
“This fictional podcast follows David, a chronic sufferer of sleep paralysis on his annual camping trip with friends. But something evil from his dreams awaits.”
I listen to most of my podcasts on my way to work, while doing chores, or walking my dog. Paralyzed, however, is one of the few I like to listen to laying in bed, just before falling asleep (which has, on occasion, prevented me from actually falling asleep–but that’s my own problem for being dumb). The episodes are divided in parts, corresponding to different tapes, which is justified by the narrative and actually helps you get immersed in the story by making you dread what’s to come.
I really like the psychological horror of Paralyzed. Making you empathise with the characters and not letting you see the horrors they are facing (because of the medium) is a really effective way of scaring you.
Alice Isn’t Dead
“A truck driver searches across America for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.”
By the creators of Welcome to Night Vale. Now, with that pedigree, I was expecting something really good. What I wasn’t expecting, was to be so unsettled. Alice Isn’t Dead is scary from the get-go. Also, out of all the performances in the shows mentioned here, Jasika Nicole’s is my personal favorite without a doubt. I actually haven’t gotten around to finishing part two, but the raw emotion poured into every word of Joseph Fink’s scripts, the beautiful metaphors, images, and landscapes it draws for you are more than enough for me to give my recommendation.
It is an absolute delight, capable of moving you and scaring you within a couple of minutes. Make sure not to miss it.
“These tales of supernatural suspense by Soren Narnia adhere to the most primal element of storytelling: a single human voice describing events exactly as it experienced them. The stories, stripped of even proper titles, spill forward as taut, uninterrupted confessions.
Knifepoint Horror leaves nothing but the story’s riveting spine to compel and chill you to the core.”
When I explicitly recommend something, I like to use the words of the creators, because I think it’s fair for the readers to compare how I feel about the content and how the creators actually intended for their work to be. In the case of Knifepoint Horror, by Soren Narnia, this is especially relevant because of their choice of words: “primal”, “stripped”, “spine”.
The show answers the question “what’s the bare minimum necessary for horror?”. A story and a voice to read. The result is chilling. For many people, this is the scariest horror podcast currently available, and its approach to storytelling clearly has something to do with it.
Campfire Radio Theater
“[…] I guess you could say radio drama seeped into my brain and has sort of been in my blood ever since. So years later, when I decided to revisit my love of the medium and even began to entertain the idea of producing a show of my own, those memories of youth huddled under the warm glow of a FM stereo receiver and listening to spooky tales flooded back. And with a collection of my own original horror fiction gathering dust in the cobwebs of my brain, it became obvious just what kind of tales I would spin.”
Campfire Radio Theater is to horror podcasts what The Thrilling Adventure Hour was to radio dramas, and I absolutely love it. I must say I personally don’t have much nostalgia for the kind of radio shows it pays homage to since they weren’t popular when I was young, at least here in Spain, but the episodes are just a lot of fun. The stories are well written and feature authors writing scripts with the medium in mind.
What really attracted me to this podcast, however, is the performances. There is a certain flavor to them that really differentiates Campfire Radio Theater from the rest of the podcasts mentioned here. A certain awareness of the audience and a love for the genre that feels very genuine. Recently I watched again The Evil Dead: The Untold Saga, a documentary on the shooting of the original Evil Dead, and the passion that Sam Raimi put into the film immediately reminded me of this podcast.
“For Army Reserve Soldier Michael Cross, the world as he knew it ended in an instant. One minute, he’s in college, and in the next, rioters are roaming the highway around him, breaking into cars, and literally tearing people apart. This is the day the dead walk. This is the world of We’re Alive.”
When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will play a walking FX. We’re Alive, created by Kc Wayland and Shane Salk, is another one of the big names in horror podcasts. Originally released in 2009, I discovered it late, actually when the sequel (Lockdown) was out. What surprised me about We’re Alive is the fact that nobody had managed to create a successful story with such a popular sub-genre as zombies. I was also impressed by the sheer ambition of the story.
There is an incredible amount of lore related to this project that you have to discover to get the full picture, together with a huge cast and a level of production worthy of some professional TV shows and movies. Besides the sequel that I mentioned, I find it very exciting that fans of the podcast are creating their own stories in the form of fancasts to expand the main story in their own way. And yes, humans are the real monsters here.
“A podcast about horror, cities, and the subconscious.”
Some of these horror podcasts like to pretend that the story they are telling is true by either narrating it as if it were the report of an actual investigation or by taking an approach similar to the found footage filmmaking technique. For some reason, Archive 81 is the only one that made me actually doubt whether it was real or not. Let me clear that up: I went in knowing it was a fictional story, but the way the episodes are written are so immersive that I found myself nearly believing what I was hearing. That certainly speaks to creator Daniel Powell’s prowess as a storyteller.
Archive 81 stores unresolved mysteries, which is a fine excuse to tackle stories from haunted places to the threat of technology, while an overarching narrative slowly unravels. It is advisable to start from season one, but it is quite impressive how much the production expands in season two, particularly regarding the size of the cast, which has doubled in the recent episodes.
A Scottish Podcast
“A Scottish Podcast is a serialised modern audio drama.”
It chronicles the story of Lee, a washed up former radio DJ who launches a paranormal investigation podcast.
Lee wants to see his show The Terror Files mentioned up there alongside horror podcasts like The Black Tapes, Limetown, and The Message. And he’ll stop at nothing to achieve it.
Aided by his jaded musician pal Dougie, the pair travel the length and breadth of the country in search of Medieval Demon Kings and Lovecraftian Gods of the Sea.”
A Scottish Podcast, by Matthew McLean, is brilliant in every way imaginable. It is the Scream of horror podcasts: A work made by a lover of the medium who is aware of all the shows that have come before him. As such, he is inspired by their strengths and learns from their weaknesses, while managing to be absolutely fresh, creative and original. I loved the premise and was very glad that the execution is as good as it is.
“A Lovecraftian Trainspotting“, states the show’s webpage. And that’s really the best summary of what audiences will find in the episodes. While they take the horror seriously, the rest of the script is pretty tongue-in-cheek, and manages to balance this contrast successfully throughout its first season. I cannot wait for more.
And that concludes our recommendations for narrative horror podcasts. But, did we miss you favorite? If so, share them with us in the comments section!