This time of year is characterized by colorful leaves, crisp Fall air, pumpkin-spice everything, and, of course, a spooky story or two. Now, I will be honest with you, while I am most certainly a movie nerd of note, there is one genre I stay as far away from as I can…horror. And while I’ve been known to gingerly dabble in a good thriller every now and then, I am a total scaredy-cat when it comes to anything outright scary! So if you’re looking for horrifyingly scary podcast recommendations, I’m certainly not your gal! (Perhaps a perusal on Podchaser will help you get your horror hit?) But, especially for all you thrill junkies out there, I’ve put on my big girl pants and have gathered together some top podcasts to give you a good ol’ thrill. I’ve even ventured into “spooky” territory for the sake of this list. (But at a safe distance…and only in the daytime…)
So, without further ado, let’s check out some of my top spooky listens for when you need a good thrill.
1. Welcome To Night Vale
This is such a fun, totally unique, spooky show! In a nutshell, Welcome To Night Vale is an old-time community radio program, sharing the not-so-average updates of the desert town of Night Vale. Think about every paranormal or supernatural experience you’ve heard rumors about, from the supernatural to secret government conspiracies, and even extraterrestrial occurrences – everything that could go bump in the night, does so in Night Vale. But creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor also have an incredible knack for including razor-sharp humor and injecting just enough silly to ensure that you’re never downright terrified. They play so perfectly on all those goosebump-inducing tropes, from flickering televisions to creepy phone calls, which are expertly balanced with vivid mental imagery, and mixed with humor and pop-culture references, they’ve hit on a winning formula. This podcast is a definite must when you’re looking for something spooky, but won’t have you hiding under the bed covers. (Okay, so I still don’t listen at night, but that’s just because I’m a scaredy-cat.) So if you’re looking for a fun, unique spin on audio fiction, then you will certainly find yourself tuning in episode after episode to catch the latest installment of Welcome To Night Vale.
2. The Hollow
I have always found The Legend of Sleepy Hollow exceptionally spooky – ever since that animated version of Ichabod Crane, seriously, what was Disney thinking?! But now, on the 200th anniversary of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a brand new podcast comes to us in the form of The Hollow. The Hollow is a modern take on the timeless story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. When three 6th graders at Sleepy Hollow Middle School stumble upon a real-life ghost story, they find themselves on the trail of the Headless Horseman himself. Is he truly a terrifying ghoul, or has he been misunderstood for all these years? As this podcast follows the journey of 6th graders, it is suitable for younger listeners, with just enough spooky to give you a good scare, but safe enough for younger ears (and me!) without giving nightmares. It’s also a fun, modern take on an old classic.
3. Video Palace
Video Palace is another terrifyingly thrilling podcast that will get you hooked after the first episode. This podcast can best be described as what happens when Stranger Things, meets the Ring, meets podcasting. When video collector Mark Cambria watches a mysterious VHS tape, he begins talking in his sleep in a language that doesn’t exist. Along with his girlfriend Tamra, Mark begins an almost-obsessive investigation into the origin of The White Tapes, but they soon find themselves severely entangled in a web of conspiracy, terror, and pure dread surrounding a legendary video store with a sinister purpose beyond imagining. This podcast falls more in the dreaded “horror” category, and, I’m if honest, perhaps a little too scary for me – if there is an audio equivalent to watching through your fingers, this is how I listened to this podcast – but there is certainly enough intrigue to keep you pushing through until the end. The audio production is seriously top-notch and the voice artists are excellent! The story is told at a great pace, and you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as the layers are peeled back episode by episode. Expect chills and thrills of note!
The next spooky tale is RABBITS. And while initially first published in 2017, if you haven’t got sucked down that rabbit hole (pun intended!) and listened to Rabbits yet, then right now is the perfect time to start! Rabbits tells the tale of Carly Parker and her quest to find her friend, Yumiko, who vanishes under extremely suspicious circumstances. And Carly’s search for her friend leads her headfirst into an ancient mysterious game known only as Rabbits. But soon, Carly begins to suspect that there is way more to Rabbits than she first thought. And that, perhaps more worryingly, may just be the key to understanding Rabbits. And who knows? It may even be the key to the survival of our species, and the Universe, as we know it. EEK! This pseudo-documentary sucks you in from the very beginning with its riveting storytelling and a plot that throws twists at every turn. It’s creative, immersive, and will have you looking over your shoulder more than once!
5. The Black Tapes
Another great podcast for getting those spooky feelings is The Black Tapes. Hosted by Alex Reagan, this show takes the form of a serialized docudrama and is brought to our ears from the creators of Pacific Northwest Stories. The Black Tapes is a chilling tale of one journalist’s search for truth, her subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both. And the main question they need you to answer? Well, it’s simple really. Do you believe? The story draws you in, and the audio submerges you in this new reality so fully that you feel the cold wind blowing over your skin as the tale sends chills down your spine. You’ll constantly flip between wanting to know what happened and never wanting the experience to end. The line between fact and fiction is completely blurred, which all adds up to an absolutely thrilling listen.
We can’t have a collection of spooky podcasts without including Limetown. The premise of Limetown covers the mysterious disappearance of over three hundred men, women, and children who simply vanished from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. In this podcast, American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?” It’s a clever concept, the story is interesting, and is told in such a way that you’re always left wanting more. You have to really engage with the narrative, as very little is given in way of outright explanation, but that just helps in really drawing you into the plot and gets you fully immersed in the mystery. And while season 2 was told in a different manner than season 1, and, perhaps, takes a little time to get into, it takes the story forward and you’ll be on the edge of your seat to find out exactly what happened! And if you’re looking for even more thrilling entertainment, there is also a Limetown web television series starring Jessica Biel and Stanley Tucci which makes for a nail-biting watch!
7. Archive 81
Archive 81 is self-described as a fiction podcast about horror, cities, and the subconscious. Now, I know it says “Horror” right there in the description, but I was feeling brave so I gave it a go…Did I regret it instantly? Yes! Was it worth it? Surprisingly, that’s a yes too! The stories are really quite phenomenal, and the voice actors are excellent. This podcast has been so carefully designed, complete with bone-chilling music, and thrill-inducing sound effects, making this easily one of the most immersive shows of this type. The characters develop really well and are played so skillfully by the actors, and this really helps bring these stories to life. The pace is just that of a great thriller, and the creators have done an amazing job of vividly building the world while leaving enough out that you’re unsettled (okay, just plain scared!) I must admit that I haven’t made it through many episodes (I told you, scaredy-cat!) but it’s easy to see why this spooky tale is such a firm favorite for those seeking a great thriller, or just plain scary podcast to devour.
Last but certainly not least, we have TANIS – the perfect example of what happens when the lines of science and fiction intertwine! This podcast is a serialized docudrama about a fascinating and surprising mystery. What starts off as a simple question: What exactly is Tanis? Soon becomes something way more complicated and mysterious. Hosted by Nic Silver, Tanis is an exploration of the nature of truth, conspiracy, and information. In this bi-weekly podcast from the Public Radio Alliance, you’ll experience storytelling at its finest! You’ll be completely drawn into this captivating, yet strange, tale, and you’ll get lost in the immersive audio production. Tanis is (thankfully!) free from those typical “jump scares” but there are plenty of goosebumps moments and just the right amount of creepy, without crossing over into scar, that you will keep coming back for more. As they are telling the story of Tanis in order, you will need to start at the beginning, but this just means that you have plenty of spooky content to binge-listen when you’re armed with your steamy mug of hot chocolate and bundled under a cozy blanket.
As we’re nearing the end of 2020 (a scary enough thought in itself if you ask me!), sometimes a good, fictional, spooky tale is just what we need as the nights get longer, and we’re curled up with our favorite drink, and looking for ways to escape the real world, just for a little bit. These podcasts offer bucket loads of thrill which will send shivers down your spine, and raise the goosebumps on your arms, but you’ll (hopefully!) steer clear of nightmare territory! So, if you, like me, enjoy a spooky but not too scary listen every now and then, especially during Fall, then these podcasts are some definite must-listens!
Related read: Top Companion Podcasts To Accompany Your Binge-Watching