Upside Down and Turned Around: Surreal Horror and Weird Fiction Podcasts

5 min read

Audio is a powerful medium where the strange can be the earworm that won’t leave your brain, and horror has that particular quality of exposing and acknowledging real horrors, helping audiences process trauma, and hold space for social criticism and magic. Here, the horror is warped, like grooves made across a record the wrong way wrong and the record still plays; these are four surreal and weird podcasts that play around and experiment with world and lore, sound and music, and structure and style.

The Goblet Wire

Good evening Player. You can call me the operator. You’ve called to form your projection. Do you know what I mean by projection?
Not really.
Your projection is what you use to explore and interact with the Goblet Wire. It is the vessel for your thoughts and actions.

The Goblet Wire delivers dread and wonder in concentrated doses, like suddenly injecting a dose of adrenaline or falling onto the grass to stare dizzily at the stars. A surreal microfiction about a role-playing game that feels extremely unreal, run by a Dictator and taking place over telephone lines and satellites, and yet, at the same time, feels far too close for comfort. The Dictator hovers over the audience’s shoulders, a looming presence that casts long shadows across the projections of the players – are we also the players? The sensation is nearly interactive in how the episodes are performed and written, in how you might be another person at this table, though everything we hear are these conversations happening at a physical and visual distance. The sprawling nature of the Goblet Wire is discovered pieces at a time in cycles, each written by the podcast’s talented team of writers; it’s like being led around by a group of clever, mysterious cartographers who refuse to share not only where we are going, but where we are exactly right now.

Wireland Ranch

“The relevant question is not where I am, but rather, where you are going. And oh dear  overseer, you will soon be at the intersection of all that is, and all that is not. Off into the blank  and motionless heart of reality. You will become its beat. The war drum that will keep it  marching forward.”

If The Goblet Wire is a visceral close reading of surreal terror that hones in on only a few people and their existence in a rambling cosmos, Wireland Ranch is a breathless beat poem of a cosmic horror. There is rhythm here, a narrator who jitters and bounces in time across long sentences full of kaleidoscopic descriptions, like Phillipa Fallon snapping her fingers and expressing how much of a drag it all is. In the first episode, writer and performer Joseph Rutledge fiercely delivers a story about “our Driver”, a delivery man who we have all shared at some point and his bizarre, bloodcurdling experience at a curiosity shop and what happens after. As the first episode continues, the use of sound and music laid over Rutledge’s performance gets more warped, creating a gasping panic in every moment as our Driver tries to survive. The psychedelic experimental nature of Wireland Ranch is found in the lyrical word-crafting and the deepening strangeness of sound, and also in the structure of the whole show as we ping-pong across this world, an alternate version of Blythe in the Mojave Desert built by co-creators Rutledge and Trenton Spann, across time, and across three characters who find themselves at the center of a battle of gods.

The Silt Verses

I’ll forget what I did
When the tide comes home.
There’ll be no more need
For hurt, word or deed
For counsel or creed
For sorrow or seed,
When the tide comes home

From the creators of architectural horror I Am in Eskew comes a weird horror-fantasy about two worshippers of an outlawed and forgotten river-god who go down his river into the deep rural and abandoned territories. The weirdness starts with the world, something indescribably odd where people praise Saint Electric for light and television and yet something that feels impossibly old with chalked sigils and ancient fear and hate of the river. Carpenter and Faulkner have lived vastly different lives, and traveling together as acolytes of the Trawler-man means that nothing is going to go according to plan. Religion and faith are strange creatures, and have drawn forth endless terrors from real world people; The Silt Verses shows us miracles and horrors and how those two bleed into each other and capsize against the rest of the world.  Carpenter and Faulkner trade narration when we need to see inside their heads or need to see the world through their eyes; the horror is not just in the power of gods, but in the way humans perceive these things and what it means for Carpenter and Faulkner’s already tenuous co-existence.

The Sink: A Sleep Aid

“Yeah, you can’t be scared of dreams, can you?”

“The important ones come back.”

Some of the strangest horror is found in comedy, in the moment when you laugh nervously because the only other option is screaming until someone comes to check on you. And sometimes, when you’re trapped in the decade-long past two years and you’ve lost the ability to sleep without thinking constantly about, well, everything (just me?), you need something to help you admit you need help. That’s when The Sink came out, a six-part series from The Beef and Dairy Network’s Natasha Hodgson that wants to rinse off the horror that’s keeping you from sleeping. This is a genre-and-brain-bender of a podcast, self-aware sleep audio that leans into dreamlike surrealism, blending dance-beat ASMR with dry, ironic guided meditation and circular, illogical stories that fade until only the most memorable parts remain. It’s witty and gory, with instances of body horror and slapstick comedy, backed by trippy and soothing electronic music and led by a gentle-voiced sleep trainer. Hopefully, after you've washed yourself clean, you can go to sleep.