Genre fans are hard pressed to find original horror stories on TV or in the theater. Sure, there are notable exceptions (“The Babadook” and “Penny Dreadful” come to mind), but for the most part, we have to sit through more of the same — bloated, inadequate remakes and ghost story, jump-scare, snooze-fests (the new “Poltergeist” and “Ouija,” for example).
So where should you go for the most original, engaging horror stories? Try your smart phone. I’d recommend “The Black Tapes” and “The NoSleep Podcast.”
Fans of “The X-Files” will rejoice in “The Black Tapes,” a serialized podcast with weekly installments that trace the efforts of Alex Reagan to investigate the unsolved cases of the enigmatic Dr. Strand, a skeptic who has made it his life’s work to disprove the existence of the paranormal. The first season offered a “monster of the week,” while slowly unveiling the larger story arc — all of the tapes are somehow linked and Dr. Strand is not all that he seems. The second season, thus far, focuses more on the larger story arc. We pick up with Alex as she is struggling to swim to the surface of the deep well she has fallen into. In fact, the podcast is on hiatus right now as she attempts to recover from the effects of chronic insomnia brought on by unexplained occurrences.
The hiatus is agonizing for devoted listeners like me, but provides the perfect entry point for those who want to pick it up — you’ll have to go back to the beginning, but you have time to do that between now and May 10 when it returns. It’s free in iTunes and available on the Web here.
The NoSleep Podcast, by contrast, is a horror anthology with several stories in each episode, so you don’t need to worry about the fact that it’s on season 7. You can go back and listen to old episodes as you like, but for the most part you can pick it up anywhere.
The NoSleep stories run anywhere between about 10 and 40 minutes, and you can pay to become a subscriber and get even more content. I listen to the free version, which you can download in iTunes or listen to here, and each episode is a little over an hour. The voice talent is excellent, and I highly recommend you check out the site from time to time to see the accompanying artwork.
If you’re looking to jump in, here are a few of my favorite episodes from last season (season 7 just started, FYI):
- Season 6, Episode 19. The first story, “The Codex,” sucks you right in. This is a graphic and bloody tale, and while NoSleep isn’t always rated R per se, there are some nasty, scary installments. I can’t play it in the car on the way to preschool, but I always look forward to dropping the kiddies off and hearing that intro by creator David Cummings: “This is a horror fiction podcast. It is intended for mature adults, not the faint of heart. Join us at your own risk…”
- Season 6, Episode 17. Check out “The Pit,” which gives a classic horror concept, the monster under the bed, a modern retelling. Very spooky stuff, this is my single favorite NoSleep story (although it pains me to choose). The actress, Nicolle Doolan, has an incredible voice.
- Season 6, Episode 13. The Christmas special — evil elves, weirdo kids, mall Santas. Need I say more?
While the technology has changed, the simple act of listening to horror stories, expertly crafted, acted and produced, evokes a bygone era, with families huddled around beautiful, wooden tube radios, listening to serialized dramas like “War of the Worlds.”