Scary Things You Hear: 5 Essential Horror Podcasts
The common wisdom in horror storytelling dictates that you hold off showing your monster as much as possible. The visions in our minds are worse than any torturous image Eli Roth could possibly put in front of a camera, and that’s why some of the best modern horror storytelling is happening in podcasts. Non-fiction investigations, Blair Witch-style spook-umentaries, haunting serials, and satirical radio shows are taking advantage of the trend of auditory entertainment, delivering fright directly into your skull without ever showing as much as a bat wing, fang, or drop of blood.
Here are five essential horror podcasts for the listener who needs more nightmares:
Billed as a podcast about the unknown, Here Be Monsters is primarily non-fiction. Jeff Emtman and fellow producer Bethany Denton stage investigations into the uncanny, upsetting, and squeamish, presenting their findings with the polish of a flagship NPR radio show. In fact, many listeners first learned about HBM thanks to Emtman’s guest appearance on an episode of This American Life.
Here Be Monsters is perfect for listeners who look for the beauty at the heart of horror. Emtman started HBM “as a way to address his many fears,” according to the shows’ website, and that same spirit of vulnerability courses through every minute of the podcast, which is on the verge of its sixth season.
Where to start: HBM038: Do Crows Mourn Their Dead? will change the way you look at crows.
It’s tempting to call The Black Tapes Podcast a season of Serial as hosted by Mulder and Scully, but that description doesn’t do it justice. Now in its third season, The Black Tapes has pioneered a style of mockumentary podcast storytelling while developing a complex and compelling horror mythos that combines urban legend with investigative journalism to skin-crawling effect. Its characters feel real, and the paranormal elements are always just debunkable enough to keep up the facade of real-life radio.
The Black Tapes is ideal for listeners that wish our world was just a bit more spooky (read: exciting). The best parts of The Black Tapes draw you in as a listener before introducing supernatural dangers over the internet sound waves, infecting you with its contagious demons through your headphones.
Where to start: The Black Tapes is a complex, serialized story. You have to start at episode one.
The Black Tapes has an expanded universe, and it started with Tanis: a podcast hosted by Black Tapes producer Nick Silver, about the intersection of spookypasta and real life. Tanis is the radio drama H.P. Lovecraft never made, which sees Silver bridging the gap between ancient history and modern technology as he investigates a global mystery that evokes everything from the elevator game to The House of Leaves.
Tanis is great if you want to further immerse yourself in the alternate reality of The Black Tapes-verse, but it also stands on its own. Listeners who find themselves up late, digging through obscure Reddit threads for conspiracies or falling into the creepier Wikipedia holes, need Tanis in their lives.
Where to start: Just like The Black Tapes, you need to start at the beginning for Tanis.
If you haven’t heard of Lore, you will soon. A non-fiction podcast hosted by Aaron Mahnke, Lore has been made into an Amazon Prime television series that premieres, naturalyy, on Friday, October 13.
Lore is an easy listen, with Mahnke monologuing through the history lessons behind cryptids, spectres, myths and urban legends. Educational and entertaining, Lore is a podcast that makes the world we live in more exciting by engaging in the truth behind our folklore.
If you are one of those people who likes to spice up a dinner party with macabre factoids about executions, madness, body horror and other friend-winning topics, Lore is for you.
Where to start: Personally, I think Going Viral, an episode about mass-madness, is a great place to start with Lore. But if you’re one of those monsters that likes to consume radio with your eyeballs, Mahnke has a three-book series coming out collecting the most popular Lore stories.
5. Welcome To Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale is unspeakably good. It’s unnamably horrific. It’s unthinkably imaginative. It’s also hilarious. But you’ve probably heard of it. Easily the most internet-famous podcast on this list, Welcome to Night Vale is the local news radio show for its eponymous fictional desert town, delivering creep-outs covered in absurd, Lovecraftian comedy via the addictively deep tones of host Cecil Balwin.
While Night Vale is firmly entrenched in the tropes of horror, and has its occasional bit of truly scary material, it is a comedy show. Think Parks & Rec, but with more eviscerations. If you like horror aesthetic, absurdist humour, and fantastic voice acting, you have to listen to Welcome to Night Vale.
Where to start: Welcome to Night Vale is episodic, so technically you can jump in anywhere, but the desert town’s fictional universe is so densely developed with political history, notable townsfolk, and running jokes, that it’s probably best to listen to a few episodes from its earlier days to catch your bearings. I recommend starting with episode 10: Feral Dogs.