Well, isn’t this fun. The entire world is at risk of catching a disease for which there is no confirmed cure, and the only thing we can do about it is stay inside and try not to go crazy. If you’d told us this was the premise for a horror podcast, we’d be the first to tune in. But this is real life, and frankly, we’re ready to unsubscribe.
Rather than sit and stew in pandemic panic, may we suggest one of these delightful horror podcasts? After all, sometimes the best way to deal with the fears of real life is to distract yourself with some frightening fiction. So spritz on some hand sanny, pop a Vitamin C, and turn the fear factor up to eleven with our favorite horror podcasts.
The Horror of Dolores Roach
You might know Gimlet from insightful shows like Reply All and StartUp (or maybe you heard about the Gimlet team when it was announced that their gripping psychological thriller podcast Homecoming was to become an Amazon Original series), but this year they’ve decided to expand their top-notch storytelling skills into the dark realms of horror fiction. The Horror of Dolores Roach is a Sweeney Todd-inspired tale of the titular Dolores Roach, who promises to share “all the gory details” as she recounts the story of returning to her old neighborhood after 16 years behind bars. The show stars Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega as Dolores Roach and Bobby Cannavale as Luis, the stoner friend who follows Roach into an increasing web of darkness and horror. The voice acting is impeccable, which is no surprise considering Rubin-Vega and Cannavale are joined by castmates like Richard Kind, Vanessa Williams, Margaret Cho, and a whole host of other incredible talents. The show offers up a creeping narrative that moves just slow enough to keep you on edge and just fast enough to send you binging right to its chilling conclusion. All eight episodes are available for streaming now.
Palimpsest’s first season is composed of the audio diary entries of Annaliese, a young woman caught between mourning over her past and attempting to step into a new chapter of her life. What begins as the half-begrudging, partially excited recordings of a young woman moving into a new apartment quickly reveals a deeper, more mysterious story as her stream-of-consciousness audio entries begin to betray all the truths she’d rather not think about: a relationship gone bad, what happened to her sister, the neighbor boy that keeps showing up on her lawn, and the strange lady across the hall. Hayley Heninger (also the show’s co-creator) is the voice of Annaliese and her wide-ranging narration is backed by an eerie soundtrack that will give you goosebumps long before you’re sure you should be creeped out. All of season one is currently available for streaming and season two, which follows a brand-new character on her own dark journey, is currently in progress.
The Moonlit Road
If you’re looking for a short horror-fiction series to fill the void after you prematurely binged NoSleep’s entire back catalog, The Moonlit Road has everything you need to get your fix. The show focuses on horror stories, urban legends, and freaky folktales from the American South, with narration by a varied cast of incredible Southern storytellers. If you’re from the South, you might find something hauntingly familiar in the archives of The Moonlit Road, as it pulls many of its stories from well-known local legends and widely reported hauntings. Everything about The Moonlit Road oozes the feeling of ghost stories being passed down from generation to generation on moonlit evenings around crackling campfires. New episode releases tend to be sporadic, but there’s currently over 50 to keep your mind off the news.
The Other Stories
What better way to distract yourself from the crazy-making dullness of self-quarantine than by terrifying yourself to the point of immobility? The Other Stories, which warns listeners that “these aren’t the stories your mother told you,” is a horror/sci-fi/thriller fiction podcast that is specifically built to be enjoyed in bite-sized portions. Episodes stick to a 20-25 minute runtime, so you can likely experience them start to finish on your commute. The spine-chilling stories are complemented by immersive soundtracks and dotted with subtle sound effects to pull your mind deeper into their madness. The result is a perfectly digestible, delightfully unsettling audio morsel that you’ll feast on like a zombie with a bowlful of brains.
When you first begin Haunted Places, you may feel like it’s the podcasting world’s answer to shows like SyFy’s Ghost Hunters International, but oh boy, is it so much more than that. Each week, host Greg Polcyn brings you along on a tour of a famous haunted place. Polcyn doesn’t stop at relaying the legends surrounding each location, though — he takes a deep, dark dive into the history of every location, sharing the haunting truth of how each place gained its infamous reputation. Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, there’s something spine-chilling about hearing the oft-untold stories behind now-defunct asylums, dusty old castles, and creepy hotels. The show seamlessly weaves together ghastly history lessons with audio of Polcyn’s tours of each location, and the chill factor of each episode is supported by eerie music and immersive sound effects. You can listen to the last six months’ worth of episodes for free, and the full archives are available on Stitcher Premium.
Alice Isn’t Dead
Made by the creators of sweetly spooky Welcome to Nightvale, this podcast is a lot darker than its predecessor. Featuring the vocal talents of one lone narrator, this serial follows a female long-haul truck driver as she roams the country in her big rig. At first, her stream of consciousness is wistful reminiscense about her lost lover Alice. But it doesn’t take long before she begins encountering things that go bump in the night. Paranormal creatures with murder on their minds, a town lost in time, a petrifying conspiracy that unfolds one achingly suspenseful piece at a time. The pacing of this podcast is what really creates the horror effect — the soft, measured narration combined with the hypnotic rumble of truck wheels on the road will lull you into a trance, the better to make you scream when … well, you’ll find out.
Old Gods of Appalachia
Fans of classic horror tales, such as those by Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, will find their black hearts touched and titillated by this beautifully produced homage to the genre’s roots. The stories in this podcast are based on the premise that the Appalachian region, home to the country’s oldest mountain range, imprisons a dark, brooding menace in protection of humankind. Alas, blind greed and headlong ambition led to the walls of that prison wearing thin, unleashing forces that are ready to wreak their revenge. Old Gods builds on the region’s real history and geography, but recombines factual details and turns historic events inside out in a way that delightfully disorients and makes you believe in the supernatural as devoutly as a child listening at his granny’s knee. This series captures everything we love about regional folklore, old-time religion, and the ancient, mysterious forces that hide beneath our feet.
I first discovered Lore while living in the backwoods of the Catskill region. Wandering those ghostly woods among the skeletal trees and ancient graveyards was the perfect way to immerse myself in Aaron Mahnke’s thoroughly researched and beautifully produced retellings of curses, hauntings, and supernatural visitations. It’s been fun to see how Lore has risen to critical acclaim, sitting atop multiple “best of” lists and even becoming an Amazon Original show. The fact that Mahnke reveals the explanation behind each spooky phenomenon toward the end of the episodes takes nothing away from the stories’ shiver-inducing effect. After all, sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.
The Man in the Window
When it comes to history-as-horror, nobody does it better than the Wondery team. Their meticulous research and glossy production values could turn a mundane police blotter into a thrilling, chilling nightmare. The Man in the Window is their best yet. Narrated by Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Paige St. John, this podcast tells the origin story of the Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer/rapist who terrorized the Bay Area in the 1970s. No cheap sensationalism here — St. John’s journalistic bona fides keep this one legitimately terrifying, with interviews with detectives, stories from living almost-victims, and sound recordings of the killer’s voice that will scare you sleepless. (I know because it happened to me.) The craziest part is how this story, despite being told in the tones of objective journalism, gets into your head — when a psychiatrist tells police that the killer is “excited by the risk of trespassing in intimate spaces,” you’ll find yourself looking over your shoulder for the rest of the day. Seriously, this is one that you can’t look away from, no matter how badly you want to.
Tales of Horror
Sometimes you want to be scared so bad that you get up in the night to check the locks. But other times, you want a last-night-at-summer-camp kind of scare, the kind that makes you giggle even as you jump out of your seat. Tales of Horror is squarely in the latter category, with its collection of historic episodes from the golden age of radio. The overwrought voice acting, the old-timey organ accompaniment, and the classic genre details are a great way to come down after a legitimate scare. If COVID-19 anxiety is keeping you up at night, this podcast is a great way to wind down and get some sleep.
If you burn through all of these, you should check out our favorite podcasts for road trips, our top overall picks for 2020, these productive podcasts to help get your life together, the best fiction podcasts overall, podcasts to listen to at work, the greatest history podcasts, or The Manual’s own podcast. Need more suggestions? Here are some of our faves for men’s fashion, craft beer, and true crime.
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