podcasts

Here Are 5 Great Spooky Podcasts!

Here Are 5 Great Spooky Podcasts | Writing Between Pauses

If you’ve read my blog for a while, it should come as no surprise that I listen to hundreds of podcasts a week. Yes, hundreds. I always have a podcast going while I’m cooking, cleaning, working, writing, or just sitting around. I always am listening to something because I get easily bored.

I’ve written two posts about my favorite podcasts which you can read here and here.

For this blogtober, I wanted to share 5 of the spookiest, scariest podcasts I listen to. Some of these are historical, some of them are designed to be spooky, and some are just haunting.

1. Lore

I’ve written about Lore before, but it goes without saying: Lore is super popular because it is so good. It’s one of those podcasts that is short enough for those who like short podcasts and good enough for those who don’t care. Each episode is meticulously researched and performed; you’ll learn something and be delightfully creeped out.

2. The No Sleep Podcast

No Sleep is an anthology-style podcast that sources it’s material from the subreddit, NoSleep. Basically: creepy stories written by random people around the internet, trying to write the most convincingly “real” scary story. NoSleep is one of my favorite subreddits to read and the No Sleep Podcast somehow makes them scarier. Definitely don’t listen to these right before bed.

3. Stranglers

Stranglers isn’t a scary podcast. But it’s a scary podcast. In the early 1960s, the Boston Strangler terrorized women and communities. But worse than that: the wrong person might have been arrested. This podcast does a deep dive into the lives of the victims, the women who survived, the women who were afraid, and the culture that allowed the Boston Strangler to thrive.

4. Unexplained

Unexplained is a podcast that does exactly what it says: details unexplained events. The first episodes I listened to were the season 2 episodes about the Dyatlov party deaths in the Ural Mountains. There was so much information I had never read previously. Meticulous research and spooky circumstances make this the perfect podcast to enjoy alongside a cup of coffee and all the lights on.

5. Haunted Places

Haunted Places is a podcast that visits, you guessed it, haunted places and details the histories behind them. I love podcasts that include the real history as well as the legends and this podcast combines both excellently. I also am fascinated by everything haunted (shout out to 12-year-old Michelle watched “Most Haunted” specials on the Travel Channel) and this feeds that love excellently.

Complicated, Haunting, & Invasive: My Thoughts on "S-Town"

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I'm a podcast junkie. I listen to hundreds every week. My favorites are My Favorite Murder, Wine & Crime, Casefile, In Sight, and basically any podcast relating to true crime. I listened to Serial, way back when, but was generally unimpressed. I personally don't find Adnan's case compelling: I think his trial was a joke, but I wasn't exactly convinced of his innocence. (This is an Unpopular Opinion, generally.) 

When S-Town dropped this week, I hadn't been anticipating it like most people. However, once my podcast friends started to buzz about it in the multitude of podcast groups I'm in, I downloaded the first episode and listened. I was intrigued, expecting some kind of Serial-esque true crime podcast. 

However, at the end of the second episode (which I hurriedly downloaded on my feeble, data-strapped internet because I needed it), I actually yelled out loud. 

Note: my review will contain spoilers. If you haven't listened to S-Town yet, don't keep reading. 

S-Town isn't a true crime podcast. It's not even really a podcast about investigative journalism. S-Town is, ultimately, the profile of a single person: John B., the man who emails Brian Reed about his terrible town (Shittown) in Alabama and a potential murder that happened there. Even before the kicker at the end of episode 2, I knew this podcast was about John B.: I knew it wasn't about any murder. The murder story was so lackluster, so boring. In comparison, John B. was magnetic and interesting. 

This is, verbatim, what I said to my husband after we finished the last episode: Can you imagine being John B. in that small town? Viciously intelligent with serious critical thinking skills. Not just smart, but able to think over issues, to dissect them, to participate in discourse. The number of people who don't understand discourse, who think that any discussion about right and wrong is a judgement, is astounding. John B. was a queer conspiracy theorist, liberal, concerned about civil rights and the environment. He was one of the best clock restorers probably in the world. He most likely gave himself freaking mercury poisoning thanks to the method he used to restore those clocks. More than that, he wasn't secretive about any of these things. People knew those things about John B. in his small town. In that way, I admired him. I felt bad for him. I wondered what his life would have been like if he had left the town he referred to, almost lovingly, as "Shittown." 

It is difficult for me to hear a podcast about someone with such insane potential, and such magnificent intelligence. Especially when that podcast, ultimately, is about the hole left by their suicide. 

That's the kicker, isn't it? Ultimately, John B. commits suicide, right in the middle of the project. Brian Reed is flabbergasted, as you can tell in the audio recording where he finds out. He doesn't know what to say. He put time, and energy, in this project with someone who is now gone. It's a personal loss as well as professional. At that moment, I thought, "so what is this podcast about?" 

Brian Reed, because he's a professional and a very good researcher, keeps going. Because what else is he supposed to do? He keeps pulling at the strings that John left. First, he follows John's friend, Tyler, in the aftermath: Tyler wants what he is owed, but is blocked by John's next-of-kin, Rita, who lives in Florida. Then, he interviews Rita and the podcast seems to shift. It's not about Tyler being screwed over by these next-of-kin anymore; John's family is just trying to take care of John's elderly mother and, thanks to John deciding to not keep his money in banks, there is no money for her care. As much as I want to sympathize with Tyler, who got dealt a rough hand in life, I do have to say: stealing stuff that John's family could sell to care for his elderly mother is pretty low. However, Rita is a strange character herself and her motivations are murky, at best. 

It's during all this that I start to wonder: what's the point of a podcast that airs this kind of familial drama? It sucks, of course. But it's also very familiar. Things like this happen all the time. Someone dies without a will; their next-of-kin steps in to try to get things done; and friends start popping out of the woodwork saying, "Well, so-and-so said this..." This felt weird to publicize. I sincerely wondered why all these people were giving recorded interviews about all this information. 

The end of the podcast is the most problematic for me. A lot of my thoughts are covered pretty succinctly by this piece on Vox. I remember, when listening to Episode 6, as Brian said, "I'm sharing this even though John had me stop recording because..." I grimaced. I realized, at that moment, that the second the podcast continued after John's suicide, that there was no consent on John's part to continue. I felt weird about it. I felt like I'd participated in a serious violation of someone's privacy. The discussions about his gold, about his house, with his lawyer about his will, about his sexuality, his mental health, his health in general... it's almost too much. It just goes too far. 

It'd be one thing to profile the town, Woodstock. To branch off after John's suicide and say, "Ok, let's learn about this place he hated." And relate that back to his original email. But no, Brian Reed decided to profile a person who couldn't really consent to it. And in the process, Reed interviewed old lovers, old friends. Things that he couldn't take back to John and ask, "is this true? Is this ok?"

John may have been an atheist and he may believe he is worm food now and he might not care, but it's still gross. It's like Facebook stalking an ex-boyfriend or someone you don't know: it's voyeuristic and weird. It's normal human behavior to want to listen, to want to know. But that doesn't make it worth a podcast.  

All that being said, at the end of S-Town, I was floored. It's a beautifully made podcast about a Southern gothic character (said every review of it ever). It's the portrait of a man who was tortured and intelligent and charismatic. But I'm not sure I feel comfortable having listened to it. I'm not sure this is the direction podcasts should go: sorting through the dirty laundry of others, exposing the things that we may not want exposed. 


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My Favorite Podcasts

I recently started listening to podcasts at work and at home. Here's why: usually when I'm home with Forrest, I watch a lot of TV to fill the time. This is very much a Bad Thing. As Forrest gets older, I'm trying to turn the TV off more and more--which means I need some way to entertain my brain while he plays in the living room. Enter podcasts. They're absolutely perfect for road trips, working long hours writing, and, of course, filling the kitchen with sound as I clean and cook and make sure Forrest don't hit his head too hard. 

I thought I'd share my favorites. I'm not super discerning when I listen to podcasts, but here's a brief disclaimer: right now, I primarily listen to true crime podcasts. They're just my favorite kind. What can I say? I love TLC specials and the ID channel, and the new American Horror Story season is right up my alley. 

1. My Favorite Murder

When I started writing this list, I knew exactly which podcast would be number one--after that it's a grab bag. I love My Favorite Murder. It's hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, two totally funny ladies with anxiety issues and a love for true crime stories. Sometimes, the idea of a "murder comedy" podcast can sound, um, gross. However, they aren't making fun of victims, but they do try to find humor in what is an interesting subject. They tell great stories, show compassion to victims, and make fun of murderers. What's not to love? They also donate proceeds of their t-shirt sales to End the Backlog, which is a cause I feel insanely passionate about. 

2. Lore

Lore took me a long time to get into, but once I started getting through episodes, I was hooked. Lore is hosted by Aaron Mahnke, who is a storyteller, ultimately. Some episodes of Lore have started and I've immediately thought, "This is such an old story! So boring!" But then at the end, he introduced a story about a legend I had never heard of. For example, in an episode about vampires, he told the story of the "first American vampire." 

3. In Sight

This is another true crime podcast, but it's very different from My Favorite Murder. It's hosted by two women, Ally and Charlie: Charlie is American and Ally is Australian. They discuss unsolved crimes and mysteries and provide their own insight (get it?), research, and theories. It sounds dull when written out like that, but episodes about the Jamison Family disappearance and murder, Talia Head, and the Villisca Ax Murders disappearance have me hooked.