Listen everyone, it’s February. Romance is in the air, and so is Dago’oth, ancient extinguisher of the stars that star-crossed lovers cross. What better way to cuddle up to that special someone than in sheer terror of the entities that exist in the peripheries of our comprehension?
Luckily, POME is here with 9 frightful podcasts to put the chills in all your “Netflix and chills” this Valentine’s Day.
The Black Tapes is like Invisibilia if Invisibilia was hosted by Mulder and Scully, or Serial if Sarah Koenig was chasing ghosts and devils. It’s a week-by-week story that follows a public radio journalist and a staunch skeptic as they seek out the truth behind frightening paranormal experiences that people claim to have lived. Episodic in nature, with charming character dynamics and dark undercurrents that span the entire season, this series has enough twists and turns to have spawned its own subreddit. The Black Tapes just kicked off its second season, so now is a great time to check it out.
Start with: Episode 1 – A Tale of Two Tapes Part 1
“Do you believe in ghosts?” A short radio segment revolving around this question quickly drops host Alex Reagan into the world of paranormal investigators and pits her against the scourge of their culture: Dr. Richard Strand, a skeptical researcher offering one million dollars to anyone who can produce definitive proof of the supernatural. Strand has amassed countless testimonials, files, and recordings from people all over the world, all of which have been discounted. As Alex quickly finds out, just because it isn’t paranormal doesn’t mean that it can be explained. She and Strand set out to hunt down the truth behind his mysterious files, but it isn’t long before they start to feel like the truth might be hunting them.
This fictional NPR-style podcast centers on Limetown, a small research community where all of the residents mysteriously disappeared over night. This show follows public radio journalist Lia Haddock as she attempts to pick up a trail long thought cold and learn about the erratic events that transpired that night. What unfolds is a story about the dark places we go when we can’t escape our own heads, and what can happen to us when we can’t let go of our need for discovery. It’s a short season, only seven installments long, and the strong hooks keep the pace fast. The character performances and sound design will give you more than a few chills. Each episode blends science fiction with the perils of human nature so effectively that you might find you’ve reached the end of the line before you’re ready for the ride to end.
Start with: Episode 1 – What We Know
It’s been 10 years since 300 people vanished from a small town in Tennessee, but in spite of the sensationalism surrounding the mass disappearance, the passage of time and a lack of answers have reduced the event to little more than a cultural footnote. Host Lia Haddock reviews the hard data from that night: frantic 911 calls, reports of sudden violence, and interviews with loved ones left behind. Lia puts out the call for information on public radio, but amidst the new leads and interested parties, is she also attracting the attention of more sinister forces?
The Truth specializes in creating “movies for your ears,” as they put it. While not a horror podcast per se, a great many of their episodes feature a distinctive horror slant. Each episode uses new stories, writers, and actors. As episodes usually only run for about 10-25 minutes, this is a great podcast for a quick fix. In addition to their horror-themed episodes, The Truth’s library spans every genre from action to romance, so it’s also a great place to find some holiday-appropriate content this Valentine’s Day.
Start with: Sylvia’s Blood
It was tough to choose just one episode to showcase for The Truth, but in the end I decided on recommending the episode that was my own intro to the series. This podcast takes enormous pride in its sound design, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Sylvia’s Blood. Based on Phillip K. Dick’s “Upon the Dull Earth,” this episode tells the story of a young couple that toys with blood magic in the hopes that their ritual will allow them to bargain with angels.
Lore explores the truths at the hearts of the stories we tell. Produced and hosted by supernatural thriller author Aaron Mahnke, each episode presents us with folk tales and legends as told by different cultures, often in examination of a common theme. One week might cover the Jersey Devil while the next week might take us to an island in Chile where dark magic held people hostage for generations. Lore never tells you what to believe, but it encourages you to ask yourself: If this is just a story, why do variations of it crop up in so many places? Why has it stayed with us for so long? And if monsters aren’t real, what left those footprints in the snow?
Start with: Episode 2 – The Bloody Pit
Can a place that experiences great loss become a physical representation of the pain surrounding that loss? In the case of the Hosaac Tunnel in Massachusetts where over 200 lives were lost during its construction, the locals came to believe the site was cursed. While plenty of their accounts can be waved away as coincidence, some of the tragedies that occurred there are too eerie to be simple superstition.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers ghost stories about actual experiences over works of fiction, Anything Ghost is the podcast for you. Each episode collects listener-contributed accounts as read by the callers themselves or by host Lex Wahl. Wahl cultivates a judgement-free environment for his listeners to share their stories and makes a point of keeping his own commentary to a minimum throughout the show. He even composes the music for each episode himself. While the music may seem dramatic in some places, it also might leave you feeling genuinely unsettled if you listen to it long enough.
Start with: Episode # 218: The 10th Anniversary
What better way to capture the spirit of a show than with a reflective celebration? This episode features a short intro from Lex Wahl in which he reminisces about the earliest days of Anything Ghost and his first ever listener submission. It’s a perfect jumping-on point for curious new listeners. There are 16 short listener contributions ranging from tales of ghostly animals, to crawling shadow figures, to the slow build of paranormal activity in a haunted location.
Hosted by Blake Smith, Benjamin Radford, and Dr. Karen Stollznow, Monster Talk is a science show about monsters. This podcast puts cryptozoology under the microscope to find the facts behind the beasts that have long starred in our fiction. The hosts take a hard, skeptical look at creatures like Bigfoot, djinn, or the Mongolian Death Worm. Every episode features a special guest author or researcher who has done extensive academic work on the spotlighted creature. Fair warning: true believers may be disheartened to find their favorite unexplained cryptids largely explained. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the origins of your favorite monsters, this podcast is a great way to trace their mythos back through the ages.
Start with: The Big Bad Wolf
This two-part episode examines one of my personal favorite monster phenomenons: The Beast of Gévaudan. Between 1764 and 1767 in central France, a vicious animal reportedly killed and ate between 60 and 120 adults and children. Witnesses to the attacks described the creature as being a calf-sized wolf, dog, or hybrid, though some insisted it had reptilian or demonic properties as well. The creature bested every hunter that attempted to end its savagery and was said to be unphased by bullets. While the legend of the beast may be exaggerated, something did kill those people in Gévaudan during those years. Was the culprit a monster? An exceptionally dangerous wolf or pack of wolves? Or possibly even a human killer? Author Jay M. Smith joins the Monster Talk team to examine the adversarial relationship between human beings and wolves throughout history, as well as the conditions that make a man-eater.
The titular Message is an intelligent, 70-year old signal received from outer space that has puzzled codebreakers for decades. This podcast chronologues the efforts of a team of experts as they try to to crack that signal. Host Nicky Tomlan posts week-by-week updates on their progress. The entire series spans 8 episodes, and at 10 – 20 minutes each, you can listen to the entirety of this gripping, modern-day War of the Worlds in a single morning.
Start with: Episode 1
Nicky Tomlan is the host of Native Tongue, a podcast that focuses on the nature of linguistics. That changes once she finds out about Cypher, a firm hired by the NSA to decode a verified extraterrestrial signal from outer space. Through sheer force of will, she lands herself exclusive rights to report on the team’s discoveries. However, the message was originally received in 1945 and no one has ever come close to breaking it. Add a hostile research team and rumors that the message is cursed, and it starts to look like maybe Nicky’s golden opportunity isn’t so shiny after all.
In an age that seems to be oversaturated with zombie media, it’s refreshing to learn that there are storytellers out there who still have something new to show us. We’re Alive is a podcast about a group of survivors trying to navigate a world that fell to the infected in almost a single day. The plot moves forward through journal entries as the group jots down everything they encounter, hoping to gain any advantage they can over the infected. Although it starts out like any typical zombie apocalypse scenario, listeners will quickly find that the creatures in this story are not the dim-witted, predictable monsters we are accustomed to seeing. The creators surround their infected in a genuine air of mystery by leaving the actual characters in the dark about what they are up against, teasing with fleeting peeks at the zombies’ capabilities and different forms. This series has just wrapped up its fourth and final season in the past year, so you can now listen to the entirety of the show from beginning to end. If you find yourself hungering for more, though, they are currently producing a miniseries called We’re Alive: Lockdown that’ll be coming soon.
Start with: It Begins – Part 1
In the midst of a riot in Los Angeles, three soldiers on active duty are called to report to the nearest service station. Upon arrival, they find the station empty of all personnel. In their confusion over finding themselves the only servicemen available, the riots overtake them. When the rioters begin to attack and eat each other, however, the soldiers begin to realize they might be the only servicemen left.
You’ve probably heard of Night Vale by now, but on the off-chance you haven’t, it would be a crime for us not to introduce you. Welcome to Night Vale is more fun than scary, but it definitely qualifies as spooky. Community radio host Cecil Gerswhin Palmer keeps you up-to-date on current events in a little desert town steeped in supernatural, physical, existential, and Lovecraftian terror. Each twice-monthly episode features local news, weather reports (musical guests), and a wide, endearing cast of Night Vale residents. With a dedicated following, live shows every couple of months, and a brand new, full-length novel, it’s a wonderful time to get onboard with this podcast. You’ll fall in love instantly.
Start with: Episode 1 – Pilot
News, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide.
There’s nothing we cherish more than you, dear readers, but we do love a spooky ending. We hope you fall for these podcasts as hard as we did. Are there podcasts out there that keep you up late wondering if the tender embrace you feel is a loved one or just the ever-tightening pull of your inevitable demise? Do you think we ought to include them in future articles? Share them with us in the comments!