Month: April 2022

Quis est hic qui audit?

A Podcast To The Curious review

Rating –

A Podcast To The Curious Logo

I figured I’d do a belated review of this podcast because hosts Will Ross and Mike Taylor have just done a belated 10th anniversary episode. So in the spirit of late posting and life getting in the way, here is my (late) review of the excellent A Podcast To The Curious.

So what’s it all about?

Originally (as you may have guessed from the podcast title), this was a series dedicated to the works of the renowned teller of ghost stories M.R. James. I say originally, because originally they did one episode on each of his stories in chronological order. Now, much like the musical back catalogue of Robert Johnson, the James back catalogue only contains about 20 something tales of terror. Once they had exhausted these, they branched out into stories written by “The James Gang”, the group of contemporary writers who have a similar style (and also a penchant for two initials before their surnames).

There are countless podcasts and collections of audio books that just do straight readings and adaptations of famous stories, but this one is more scholarly. Each episode certainly contains excerpts and readings, but this is more of a deep dive into the mechanics and inspirations of the story. Their research uncovers if the fictional settings have real life counterparts, and if certain notable historical figures ever existed at all. They uncover hidden Easter eggs and in-jokes in the stories, and essentially add a whole new dimension to what were already great stories.

Is it any good?

Absolutely. The guys are witty and engaging, and make what could easily become boring, entertaining. The occasional guests they have on are also witty and engaging, and extremely knowledgeable on the subject of all things Jamesian. A standout example was their interbew with Robert Lloyd Parry, a man who has quite literally stepped into James’ shoes and hosts evening readings of his stories by candlelight.

It was also interesting to hear their “premonition” of a better ending for “The Mezzotint”. That actually got included in the recent Mark Gatiss adaptation. Maybe he’s a fan of the show! (I should think he is. Tut tut Mark)

Final thoughts

You’ll love this podcast if you’re a fan of M.R. James, or traditional ghost stories in general. There is so much to discover in each episode it really is worth your time. Don’t expect an audiobook or straight reading of the stories though. This is more scholarly than that. Don’t let that put you off though (unless you really want an audiobook).

I appreciate that this review is somewhat shorter than my usual posts, but that can’t really be helped. There is no voice acting to critique, or sound effects to enjoy. It’s just a deep dive into some classic horror stories. 

You can get A Podcast To The Curious here:

http://www.mrjamespodcast.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat

Last Known Position review

Production company – QCode

Rating –

Last Known Position Logo

As I said at the end of last week’s review, it seems that the term “Lovecraftian” gets bandied about a lot. I’d go so far as to say that it is this decade’s “found footage” particularly in the audio drama field. It’s a style that is either done well with poor production values, or done poorly with good production values.

Here we have though, a story that really is Lovecraftian, and well made to boot. I enjoyed it immensely, and I think you will too.

What’s it about?

It all starts innocuously enough (as it always does). The wife and daughter of billionaire businessman William Cavanaugh are on a flight to meet him as a surprise. When the plane encounters a freak storm and disappears, the grieving businessman launches a no expenses spared mission to find the wreckage. He assembles a crew of experts to aid in the search aboard his state of the art boat, and they set off to the last known position of the plane.

Expert submersible pilot Mikaela Soto gets a job on Cavanaugh’s boat after a position comes up. She soon discovers all is not what it seems though, and things soon take a very dark and mysterious turn. Secrets are uncovered, people can’t be trusted, and ulterior motives threaten to quite literally destroy everything.

There are two main threads to this story. The “public” side, that is the reason the crew are assembled to hunt for the downed plane, and the private side. This is the real reason for the search. The two dovetail nicely as the series progresses and offer a nice reveal that is worthy of any of Lovecraft’s stories, albeit in a modern setting.

Is it any good?

It is good. The claustrophobic setting of the boat really comes across thanks to the excellent sound design. You really get a feeling of paranoia and being in situations that are out of your control. The tension builds nicely as the episodes tick by, and the final episode is a suitable grand crescendo.

The voice acting is top notch, despite James Purefoy managing to hit “maximum Purefoy” in his role (if you know his other work, you’ll know what I mean when you listen to this series). Mikaela Soto as a character is cocky without being irritating. In fact, the only character I didn’t really like was the security officer, a stereotypical veteran who was overly clichéd as a brusque jobsworth with an overly threatening presence. If this character had been a man, he’d have been played by Bill Paxton in full Pvt. Hudson style.

Speaking of clichés, there are a few humdingers that make themselves known as the series progresses. I won’t say what they are because they are rather important plot points, and as much as it’s funny, I don’t want to spoil anything.

Final thoughts

This was a very enjoyable series. Short enough to get through without getting bored, long enough to tie up all the loose ends plot-wise. There is scope for a second series, but I really hope they leave it as it is. Sorry QCode, but I think the way possible next adventures were teased, it will become cliché rather quickly.

It seems that people think that in order to be “Lovecraftian”, you need lots of monsters with names that resemble bad Scrabble racks, or hordes of fanatical cultists. This is where the point is missed. For me, a truly Lovecraftian story is one that is bleak. Puny humans pit themselves against an ambivalent universe. People get out of their depth trying to defeat an impossible enemy. This is what makes this a good story that would make the “Old Man of Providence” proud. 

You can get Last Known Position here:

https://qcodemedia.com/last-known-position

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you go down to the woods today…

Old Gods Of Appalachia review

Production company – DeepNerd Media/Rusty Quill

Rating –

old gods of appalachia logo

This is another series that got snapped up for distribution by the brilliant boffins at Rusty Quill. I’ve been a fan of this series for ages now. It’s also proof that those spooky algorithms that apps use for recommendations really do work (sometimes). To be honest, if it wasn’t for those pesky queue jumper posts that I rush to publish, you’d have been reading this a long time ago. So read on family, here is my Old Gods Of Appalachia review.

What’s it all about then?

Old Gods Of Appalachia is a weekly Lovecraftian/folk horror podcast, covering a huge timeline from the 17th to the early 20th century. This is all about dark impenetrable forests, witches, demons and the unstoppable push of industrialization. Each series consists of one or two main story arcs, with a few shorter spin-off tales thrown in to fill out this strange alternate reality.

As each series progresses, the story follows different sets of characters that despite their adventures seem very believable. Whilst each of these story arcs seem separate, they slowly merge to become some epic horrifying saga that spans many years and affects many people.

One thing you’ll notice from the outset is that the stories here are all about powerful women. The male characters are usually flawed, or weak, or both. This is something that may get the Joe Rogan fans and other insecure “alpha males” all red faced, but it’s not done in a “woke” (shudder) manner. It just so happens that the women in the stories are all strong and independent, and are usually fed up with the way they’ve been treated in the past. The fact that they also have knowledge of ancient and arcane powers obviously helps somewhat.

Is it any good?

Absolutely. I would recommend it to any true horror fan. The stories swing from action packed, to horrific, to poignant. The world inhabited by the characters feels bleak, hard and uncaring. The poor are downtrodden, and the rich above the law. It seems very “real” despite the strange and heavily occult overtones. 

Each episode is narrated with real emotion by Steve Shell. There are some podcasts and audiobooks that I can listen to in bed to send me to sleep, not so with this one. Steve’s voice acting is so good and impassioned that it would keep me awake (not that I’d really want to go to sleep and miss any second of the stories he tells). For the most part, the stories are solo narrations by Steve, but the voice actors that do appear in the episodes are also very talented. Too many podcasts have been let down by a single poorly acted character. Not so here though. I could probably count on one hand podcasts with production values as consistently high as this.

The story is unbelievably well written. Whilst Steve Shell and Cam Collins both have previous form in the podcast business. I don’t think they’ve written any other series like this (forgive me if I’m wrong). It was really surprising for a podcast like this to just emerge from the aether so perfectly formed. Especially when there are more well known companies who can’t produce series half as good as this.

From the very first episode, you get dragged into the rich mythos and history of the Appalachians. You can imagine some of these stories being told by “mamaws and papaws” in candle light or by the fireside, but it soon takes that vertical roller coaster like drop into very dark territory indeed.

Final thoughts

“Lovecraftian” seems to be a bit of a buzzword over the last few years. Many people have tried to make Lovecraftian podcasts and many have failed. This one does feel truly Lovecraftian though, and not just because of the era that it’s set in. The inhabitants of this world are for the most part, powerless against the supernatural forces they encounter. Things can be held at bay, but not destroyed. The seductive nature of this power also easily corrupts those who would try to harness it for their own gain, and the weak willed are at the mercy of the darker forces. Time means nothing to these beings, and some plucky human with the right skills is only a temporary problem. One day someone will  forget and then the door will open.

I have a real soft spot in my heart for this series. This wasn’t one that needed a few episodes to warm up, or took a while for the writers to figure stuff out. It started great and just got better, and darker, and bigger. Like the 80’s horror films where the stormclouds bloom over the unsuspecting town, the darkness of this series spreads quickly. Give it a listen. You’ll love it.

You can get Old Gods Of Appalachia here:

https://www.oldgodsofappalachia.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts

Like She, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread…

Haunted Road review

Production company – Grim And Mild

Rating –

Haunted Road Logo

Another spooky one this week, and one that I feel follows nicely from last week’s foray to the other side. This week though we’ll be travelling to the other side of the pond to review an American paranormal podcast.

Paranormal tv shows have been something of a guilty pleasure for over twenty years now. From videotaping episodes of Most Haunted every week, to the demonic hyperbole of Ghost Adventures, I’ll watch (almost) any ghost show out there. I know it’s all put on, I’m not an idiot, but I enjoy watching draughty windows and motes of dust get misconstrued.

When I saw that Amy Bruni, of Ghost Hunters and Kindred Spirits fame was releasing a podcast, I knew I had to listen. So is it worth you listening? Well read on and find out.

So what’s it about?

In each episode of Haunted Road, Amy Bruni discusses a well known paranormal hotspot in the USA. She starts out with a history of the location, then recalls some of her experiences there. The second half of the episode is an interview with someone (usually) connected to the place. Here, they take more of a deep dive into the ghostly goings on. They also debunk some of the more popular myths that get retold by lazy researchers.

These locations can vary wildly. From the usual haunted hotels, prisons and asylums to ships and even entire towns. I mean, it’s probably harder to find somewhere in Gettysburg PA that isn’t haunted.

Her research is well done and thorough. It’s also nice to hear someone who will call out and disregard the more far fetched stories that can be the bread and butter of lesser podcasts. The Alcatraz episode springs to mind here, as almost every story that people know about the place is shot down. Having said that, the actual true stories of the place are even more unbelievable than the fictional ones.

Is it any good?

On the whole, yes. There is one thing I don’t like though. I almost feel like a bastard for saying it, but here we go. In the first half of the episode when Amy is recounting the history of the location, she’s obviously written everything out first, which is fine. The thing is is that she has that sing song way of reading out loud that is so cliché of Americans. Imagine the way that people say the “30 days hath September” rhyme, and you’ll be close. As I said, I feel bad for criticising this as the habit can’t be helped. Much like Australians ending sentences as though they are asking a question and people starting answers with “so”. It does start to grate a bit when you listen to three or four episodes in one go, like I do. There we are , I said it. Sorry Amy!

Honestly though, this really is the only thing I can fault here, and it’s not even a big deal. Especially if you’re an American I guess. It’s surely a show of appreciation that the only fault I can find is something so nitpicky as that.

The interviews themselves are very interesting. On the TV shows, these are often pruned down to a few juicy soundbites before the team uncover “demonic entities” or some such Hollywood influenced nonsense. Here though, the people are given more room to discuss the location and the phenomena in more detail, and this is where Amy comes into her own. She is charming and her genuine interest in the subject really comes across.

Final thoughts

If you have even a passing interest in the paranormal or ghosts in general, then you’ll love this show. Even if you’ve seen all the visits by all the TV shows to all the locations, Amy will unearth some interesting snippets of knowledge to whet your appetite.

I’ll be perfectly honest here, I don’t actually listen to that many paranormal podcasts. Therefore my opinions here might be somewhat ill informed. Once my list of podcasts to review starts getting a little lean though, I think I’ll have to start delving into this genre. All it usually takes is one or two good shows to set me down the path, as it did with true crime podcasts.

After listening to this show, I feel bad for not giving her new TV show a chance. I think I’ll have to change that very soon.

You can get Haunted Road here:

https://www.grimandmild.com/hauntedroad

Or wherever you get your podcasts

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