Haunted & Horrified
Keeping an eye on the rapidly-accelerating production of fiction podcasts, especially in horror and horror-adjacent storytelling, is a recipe for eye strain in this new age of oral storytelling! Gone are the days of fruitless keyword searches throwing up nothing but the same titles and producers, usually independent and often running on shoestring budgets and a prayer into burnout. While our independent creators have surged in number, they’re still producing all that work with little celebration or compensation.
So, to uplift haunting and horrifying stories from indie creators or studios, this is a short list of horror and horror-adjacent audio for your attention, ranging from old favorites with new stories to debut oral storytellers with new ideas, from cozy, gentle horror to heart-pounding, grotesque terror so you can have the Halloween frights you want.
On Halloween, Palimpsest will begin their fifth season for their gothic anthology about “memory, identity, and the things that haunt us.” Each season is its own contained story about the ghosts and phantoms in our homes, families and minds, conjured in beautiful, eerie language written by Jamieson Ridenhour and delivered in silky, disquieting tones from performer Hayley Heninger. These stories are, for the most part, conducted in a single character’s perspective and voice; every story conveys a deep understanding of how to use one voice flawlessly. The Palimpsest team also deploys with precision their vision for a simultaneously frightening and nostalgic atmosphere. The sound design and, most especially, the original compositions from Ian Ridenhour are fundamental to the summoning of dread in the pits of our stomachs.
On December 6th, Visionaries will launch their second season of this speculative futuristic fantasy about privileged brothers on opposing sides of a racial divide: Visionaries, evolved humans with special powers coming from a change in their eyes, and humans, slaves to Visionaries for the lack of evolution. This tale of rebellion, conspiracy, and betrayal from creator Richard Seneque is one of those I’d call horror-adjacent – Visionaries is not billed as a horror, but the story deals with an open-eyed clarity and understanding about the horrors of our present and historical reality that leaves a mark on its audience. This is a story that cranks up the paranoia at a pace that will leave your heart racing, with a gently menacing narrator and an immensely talented cast.
Nightlight, a World Fantasy and IGNYTE-award winning anthology podcast created by Tonia Ransom, has been producing audio of horror stories written and performed by Black artists since 2018. They’re currently releasing their sixth season, which has two episodes left, and the quality of the stories on display this year has been unparalleled. Co-produced and sound designed by Jen Zink, Nightlight’s balance between voice, sound effects, music, and silence would not be possible without a profound understanding of how to do a lot with a little to unnerve a listener. Their latest episode, “An Attic. A Basement.” written by Jarred Thompson, is an even darker twist on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and, speaking as a Shirley Jackson mega-fan: this is not an exaggeration.
If you need a bittersweet folk or a delicate cosmic, Hello from the Hallowoods has made a name for itself as a queer horror fiction grounded in queer joy via “an eldritch narrator following the residents of a forest at the end of the world.” Solo creator William A. Wellman’s writing rewards long-term listening, drawing together strands of different character’s stories slowly but with sure-footed certainty. When voicing narrator Nikignik, Wellman’s performance stands out with a mysteriously unreal, yet faintly absurd tone that complements the ambience of the show; their acting talent extends to making different characters sound distinct and fully realized, not simply extensions of Nikignik. Hello from the Hallowoods trails with you and a lantern through a dark forest, examining the shadows for one to make you gasp, one to make you laugh, and one to kindly tear your heart and stitch it up again.
Returning with their second season in 2024, Liars and Leeches is a supernatural horror from Hemlock Creek Productions about gun violence, domestic violence, and the resulting trauma and grief. Founder and story creator Marisa Ewing is a skilled audio engineer, composer, and designer across multiple mediums; this vast array of talent and experience has enabled her to craft an impeccable and responsible audio experience. Protagonist Tonya Wright grapples with intense anxiety and mountain paranoia – and the unshakeable sensation that something has followed her to her sister’s home, inherited after her sister and brother-in-law were killed in a shooting. What she experiences, we feel, through an echoing heartbeat, deep bass thrums behind the narrator, a full-body visceral experience. In dealing with topics like gun violence and stalking, a well-deployed narrator is an important choice in order to bring forth what goes unsaid all too often in the real world.
If you love microfiction, this new daily post-apocalyptic podcast from Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions, MARVELS) will scratch that itch for a story that can take up as little as five minutes a day. Recorded on a 1976 Midland CB Radio, Breaker Whiskey is about Whiskey Alpha Romeo, a woman who survived an apocalyptic event with only one other woman in 1968 rural Pennsylvania, and they did not like each other. Six years later, Whiskey has set out alone to find other survivors in the United States. Whether or not you’d categorize dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction as horror, there is an undeniably aching dread here in the stark isolation, the desperate pleas for compassion and companionship, in the inability to pull yourself out of your past or your own head.
Coming October 29, Hemophobia is a seasonal anthology podcast from creator C.S.W. (Incarnation Read) starting with “Camp Havenside”, which features voice acting from popular voices such as James Oliva (What’s the Frequency?, The Land Whale Murders) and Graham Rowat (NoSleep Podcast, Two Flat Earthers Kidnap a Freemason). C.S.W. is known for Incarnation Read, his first horror anthology podcast where he demonstrated esoteric influences and experimental writing and sound work, including original foley. The trailer for “Camp Havenside” promises emotional and psychological horror about religion, the woods, and blood – I think what convinced me was the rendition of “Down to the River to Pray” overlaid with off-key and off-putting guitar twangs that is exactly what I imagine a summoning to sound like.
This 8-episode horror anthology from indie production company Brock Media, founded by Sarah Brocklehurst in partnership with BBC Studios, has something for everyone, from lighter creepy fare to deeply terrifying material. Produced and hosted by independent critic and creator Anna Bogutskaya (The Final Girls), each episode is written by a different artist, such as author Julia Armfield (Our Wives Under the Sea) and independent filmmaker Paris Zarilla (Raging Grace). Bogutskaya has a long history as a horror critic and curator in film and podcasting, and that shows in the light, steady touch she gives these stories, each distinct to build on that story’s atmosphere and fright level, but with an overarching cohesive style that ties the episodes together with sound.