Hey everyone, Joe here and today I want to talk about podcasts. More specifically, audio-drama horror podcasts. So what makes a horror audio-drama podcast special? Or, maybe I can make my point with another question: What makes a horror movie special?
Horror movies are generally known because they make you feel some form of dread, tension, unease, or general fear. This is done with several components: Visuals, sound, writing, directing, acting, etc. So what happens when you remove the visual element? Well, to put it bluntly, that’s when audio-drama horror podcasts come in, but audio-dramas have been around for a while. War of the Worlds is probably the most popular early example of one, so what makes the podcast format so different from, say, an audiobook?
For starters, they’re made to consume over a commute, so you can finish an episode on your way to work. But they’re also made with an emphasis on sound, whether that be the music, sound effects, or both. Plus, audio-books are often extracted directly from the books, reducing the level of permissible creative freedom, whereas audio-drama horror is often approached with some added creative freedom, allowing everyone involved to improve the final result as they go. There are two types of audio-drama podcasts I’ll be mentioning today: Voice-centered podcasts (eg. narration and/or reduced voice casts), and event-centered podcasts (eg. high cast productions with emphasis on sound effects).
By now, most are familiar with Welcome to Night Vale. It’s the definitive horror-comedy podcast, and it is also the definitive voice-centered horror podcast, even though it occasionally dips its toes in full casted episodes. Other noteworthy examples include A Voice From Darkness, The Storage Papers, I Am In Eskew, and Station Blue, all of which feature a primary voice and the occasional other voice.
All of these podcasts take advantage of the primary narrator, with their own varying mixes of music and precisely delivered sound effects. On the other side of the spectrum are the event-centered podcasts. Noteworthy examples are The Black Tapes (the first two seasons), Limetown, King Falls AM, Darkest Night, The Last Movie, The Left Right Game, Rabbits, Borrasca, The Blood Crow Stories, and the Call of the Void (among others).
All of these podcasts are part of a massive multi-subgenre horror catalogue that is, at this rate, going to outnumber horror movies and TV series combined, and all of these podcasts are excellent examples of proper sound crafting with capable casts and talented writers. Just on soundscape, each podcast sounds completely different from the rest, with some focusing on sound effects (including ambient noise) to create proper soundscapes, and others harkening back to the days of radio dramas with their narration and music.
Sometime There are fully featured voice casts, and other times there’s one main voice and a much smaller, less featured cast. You’re still getting the same overall value as a horror film/TV series, minus the visual component. One could even argue that this makes the experience much better, since the sound makes your minds imagine each terrifying and disturbing scenario. The previously mentioned examples show how much fun devoted and skilled horror fans can have with an idea and turn it into a truly immersive experience, with voices, sounds, and music accompanying you on any journey you might be taking (plus, podcasts are cheap and sometimes free to listen to).
This, however, also comes with a caveat that is very similar to books: adapting a podcast tends to diminish the experience. We’ve seen as much with the Limetown Facebook Watch series. It’s a decent enough adaptation, but because of the subjective listening experiences of its fanbase, the streaming series never hits par, even with the great cast (Jessica Beal, John Turturro, etc). The book prequel to Limetown, while a solid read, isn’t on par with the podcast series due to the lack of sound. The only consistently great example of books based on podcasts has been the Welcome to Night Vale books, though one could argue that the lack of voices and music was also disengaging.
Listening to podcasts is a very unique experience, and because each episode is a relatively short chunk, you can digest it at a comfortable pace without the added visual focus a movie or TV/streaming series requires. Furthermore, the voice basis adds a very intimate and personal level of access to these characters, making one feel like they’re in the passenger seat to the lives of these characters. Ultimately, this is why I’m hooked on audio-drama horror podcasts. There’s a wide variety to choose from, and each experience is very, very different. The emphasis on soundscapes, especially when listening in your own private time, brings about an experience that few are familiar with, especially in this visual-reliant age.
Podcasts are a great way to experience the same type of content as horror films and horror TV, and often the same level of quality and devotion to them. Dedicated horror fans creating truly unique experiences for their listeners, that’s the power of the horror audio-drama podcast. Uniquely crafted horror tailored to the busy side of our lives, though, if you dare, you could listen to them at night, when the lights are off and no one’s around