Production company – Habit Forming Films
This venerable old series was one of the first that I discovered, and was instrumental in turning me into the podcast addict I am now. I call it “venerable”, because I’m not sure how else to describe a podcast that ended ten years ago, yet still holds up today. I haven’t heard another podcast quite like it, so it is high time I give Wormwood a review.
So what’s it about?
Wormwood is a mystery series that owes a massive debt to the old style radio theatre productions of the 30s and 40s. As soon as you hear the theme, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Surprisingly, despite this vintage patina, the series is set in the modern day.
Dr Xander Crowe is a rather unorthodox man. He’s a disgraced psychologist and cursed occult investigator. He’s also on the run from the mafia, after a botched attempt at an exorcism. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also sporting a hand that is only ever described as “Oh my god, what happened to your hand?” Imagine if you will, the classic British actor Terry Thomas with a dash of the Duke De Richleau from Dennis Wheatley’s books and you’re getting close.
The series starts with Crowe receiving a beating at the hands of a local mafia boss’ henchmen. He manages to escape with the help of his friend Sparrow, the tech-savvy and sarcastic foil to Crowe’s (usually) drunken ranting.
During the escape, Crowe tells Sparrow about a vision he had. He saw a woman being drowned, and a child’s hands holding her under. The woman looked at Crowe and said one word “Wormwood”. Crowe has no idea what any of this means, but he trusts his vision enough to know it’s important. After some diligent research by Sparrow, they discover that it’s the name of a small town just outside Los Angeles. Crowe heads off there without any real clue about what to do, and in the words of a great detective “the game is afoot”.
Is it any good?
OF COURSE IT IS. Forgive my hyperbole, but it is a truly ripping yarn, and one of THE GREATEST fiction podcasts ever made. It is funny, horrific, violent and weird in equal measure and just generally amazing. If you’re a fan of old style radio, classic mystery films, hammer horror, or H.P. Lovecraft, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. The whole thing has a strange anachronistic quality. You can easily forget that this tale of the mafia, the occult, and small town America is set in modern times. If you happen to miss the references to the internet (and Jimmy Details’ music tastes) you could easily believe it was set in the 30s.
Having said that, there are a few things that people used to the newer podcasts will find annoying. The audio quality isn’t great. That really can’t be helped due to the age of the series, and the limitation of file size and streaming speeds from “all those years ago”. Listen kids, I remember the world without an internet, never mind fibre optic cables, lossless streaming and broadband. Because of this, there are some really noticeable edits in the audio. At some points it sounds like the actors all recorded their parts at different times (which they may well have done).
To be picky, some of the acting isn’t always up to snuff. Personally (and somewhat hypocritically) I don’t actually care in this case. I’m happy to overlook any scenery chewing or wooden performances because it’s exactly like the old time radio shows. Whilst the actor who plays the aforementioned Jimmy Details, does a sterling job as a stoner metalhead, his portrayal of hobo philosopher Jonesy isn’t quite as good. In fact the few other characters he voices are all very similar. Also, the actor who plays Sheriff Tom Bradley fluffs his lines occasionally (something I only noticed on this, my third complete run through).
There are lots of little puns hidden in the script too, like little Easter eggs for the “eagle eared” (if that’s a thing). I won’t tell you what they are, but they are there, I promise. If you’re like me you’ll have a little smirk when you catch them. I love things like this, I mean I once wrote a biography of a band in which all the members through history had names of British places.
This is easily in my all time top 5 podcasts. Any production blemishes can be easily overlooked, and they really should be. This isn’t a mega budget audio drama from a huge production house with an A-List cast. Just press play and enjoy the retro goodness of this excellent mystery series. I’d love to know if Arthur Russell has done any other work. I did have a look years ago when I first finished the show, and I couldn’t find any trace of him. As it says on the wormwood website, he truly is a mystery.
You can find Wormwood here:
Or wherever you get your podcasts