When it comes to horror, no C.G.I. monstrosity is quite as terrifying as what your mind can conjure. We’ve collected some of the most delightful frights and spooky scintillations in audio drama and non-fiction podcasting.
In this anthology podcast, the mountains of central Appalachia are haunted by the sort of sanity-draining eldritch monsters found in a Stephen King novel, or in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” While the anthology format means each episode’s story is ostensibly stand-alone, taking them in from the beginning is like watching a beautiful and twisted landscape slowly get painted in. The co-creator and narrator Steve Shell’s gruff twang lulls the listener into a false comfort: In each episode, he unspools nightmarish tales of the folks living in the hills and hollers, surviving on the land and disturbing the earth below in the mines. It’s when their folly meets a dark spirit of the land that utter horror befalls them. Set against haunting music, these stories, made by cast and crew mostly based in Appalachia, deliver the listener to an uncanny place, imbuing wonder for the endless magic within an untamable wilderness.
This is the story of a scientist so preoccupied with whether she can excavate an extinct ancient extraterrestrial civilization that she never stops to think if she should. Chel, a xenoarchaeologist (someone who studies extraterrestrial civilizations) leads her mission partner Peter beneath a long-abandoned planet’s surface, right into the clutches of the thing that wiped the alien civilization out. Chel is in space to discover new worlds; Peter is in space because that’s where Chel is. Episodes switch between their two perspectives as the pair recount this mission gone wrong. But the narrative structure flips something else too: time. The podcast starts with Chel at the beginning of their story, while Peter transmits voice memos from their tragic end, your dread growing as the pieces come together. Jordan Cobb, the series creator as well as its star, masterfully weaves the dueling narratives in such a way that your expectations are subverted. If this podcast makes you crave “Jurassic Park”-style science fiction horror plus brilliant sound design, tune in to the latest project by this team launching this Halloween: “Primordial Deep.”
Turn on any episode of “Here Be Monsters” and you may not necessarily be terrified, but you will absolutely be mesmerized by how weird real life can be. Created in 2012 with a broad enough mission of being about “fear and the unknown,” this narrative show delivers real stories told by real people — think “This American Life” for the uncomfortable or uncanny within us. The host Jeff Emtman introduces listeners to the jaded caretaker of a book bound in its author’s skin, takes us along on ghost hunting tryouts, puts you on the receiving end of a satanic prayer hotline and more. Still, Emtman always finds the relatable core buried within anyone’s creepiest true story, and he presents every tale’s “monster” with empathy, curiosity and respect. Of more than 100 episodes, no two are alike, and they form a compendium of unsettling, unusual, beautiful and sometimes dark things in our lives.
As an alternative for the scaredy cats who want in on the fun with less of the fright, the history-loving hosts of the boozy podcast “Spirits” have a cocktail shaker full of knowledge at the ready. Every week Amanda McLoughlin and Julia Schifini make each other laugh over drinks as they trade reliably researched, well-told stories behind the myths and superstitions that make up our modern culture. Whether it’s a deep dive into what a ghost tastes like (and smells like, for that matter), a debate over the pros and cons of owning a “legally haunted” house or a comprehensive history of western astrology, these friends offer conversational comedy and fascinating history lessons in perfect balance. While the show’s title, and their ease with each other, is boosted by the local beers they sample each week, this chat show remains tight and on subject without ever feeling rote or overly structured.
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