As I was listening to this series, it reminded me of the fantasy stories that were popular when I was growing up (and that I didn’t like). I tended to only learn about them when they got dramatised on Children’s BBC, usually at Christmas. As I was reading up on the original story to research this review, it turns out that it is indeed based on a classic children’s fantasy book series. I’m still not reading them though!
So what’s it about?
The story follows the adventures of Will Stanton. It is the day before his 11th birthday, Midwinter Eve, and strange things are afoot. Mysterious lurkers, nervous animals and cryptic warnings lay the groundwork for a truly bizarre adventure.
Meanwhile, across the world in Jamaica, Will’s brother receives a gift from a stranger. With the instructions that this gift is for Will, the stranger seems to know an awful lot about the family, and Will in particular.
So what is in store for young Will? Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you, am I? I’m not into spoilers as you well know, so you’ll have to subscribe and find out for yourselves.
Is it any good?
The cast, for the most part, is very good. The inclusion of Toby Jones in anything is usually a seal of approval. He is joined by Harriet Walter, Paul Rhys and Thomas Arnold. The actual cast is rather small with many of the actors playing multiple roles. I suspect that this is more to do with the central plot device than something like budget limitations.
Adapted for audio, directed and narrated by the brilliant Simon McBurney, someone who is fresh in my mind after playing the deliciously creepy protagonist in the TV drama Hijack. He has one of those distinctive voices that I immediately recognised.
I suspect this would appeal to the mid 40s folk horror fan. Whilst I would describe myself as that, I was never really into the Alan Garner “Low Fantasy” type stories.
It is when I have to write reviews like this i realise what a contrarian I am. I can’t explain it. I said I’m not really into these type of stories, but I did really like the TV adaptations of Moondial and The Children Of Green Knowe when I was young, so maybe it’s more that I have come to this story too late. Who knows?
I suspect that it is to my detriment that I avoided stories like these as a child. Honestly, I was reading rather more full on horror than this style of child-centric folk mystery that I think is almost exclusively British. I reckon if I had read those type of stories, I would have loved this.
As I have said in previous reviews, this is just my opinion, and if my synopsis appeals to you, then absolutely check this out. There is, after all, much to enjoy here. It’s just not to my personal taste.
This is a bit of a different post this week. As I write this I have 72 unfinished podcasts, with 538 downloaded episodes! I thought my phone felt heavy. Some of these podcasts have already been reviewed, some have reviews half written, languishing in my Google docs folder blinking at the light as I start yet another queue jumper review. Some however will never get a full post review. Usually this is because I don’t like them enough to dedicate my time going through all the episodes. So in the interests of doing some general housekeeping, I’m writing this with an aim to clear these shows from my podcast lists.
This post therefore is a way to kill multiple birds with one stone. I’ll give each series a paragraph or so of a review and you can be free to check them out if you wish and comment on how I don’t know what I’m talking about. In the interest of fairness, I will listen to 10 episodes of each. I have usually made up my mind after one or two, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. As such, this post will probably be longer than a regular review, but that can’t be helped. So without further ado, let’s take a dive into the less favoured series’ in my podcatcher.
So what are they about?
The Pantaloon Society is an ersatz Rivers Of London but with clowns rather than the police force. This is not as entertaining as it sounds unfortunately. The writing in parts had a similar “psychogeography” style in the vein of Alan Moore or Peter Ackroyd, although this seems to be a style that was as quickly discarded as it was adopted. The series is narrated “The Racontereuse”, who tells the story of Jen, a clown who works inthe childrens ward of a hospital. After some strange events, she is approached to join the titular “Pantaloon Society”.
The Exorcist Files dramatises the casebook of Father Carlos Martins. This is the podcast equivalent of those late night shows on Really. Most people here invite dark forces into their lives by accident or design. Don’t worry though, because the church is there to rush in and save the day. It’s also on hand to sternly wag a finger at any behaviour it considers unacceptable.
Tales Of The Echowood is a fantasy series following an as yet unnamed person (you, I guess) who walks through an ancient archway in a forest and finds an old inn owned by a fairy, or faerie as I reckon they’d prefer I spelled it. The question is whether a mute trespasser from the real world is able to save the Echowood before it’s too late.
Why don’t I like them?
The Pantaloon Society is a tough call for me to include here. The ingredients are all there for a 5 brain series that would have me recommending it to everyone. Just like all you need to make a cup of tea is tea, water, milk and sugar (if you like it like that), it amazes me that some people make the most awful concoctions with those four items. In a similar manner, The Pantaloon Society misses the mark, and leaves me wanting.
The Exorcist Files is possibly the biggest let down of the lot. I was hoping for something interesting, or at least spooky. What you end up with is something that is neither. It seems that demons are everywhere and they are just waiting for a chance to possess our fragile, fallible bodies. Apropos of nothing, I also find it irritating when people pronounce Ouija boards as “weejee”. Especially people who should know better. Catholic exorcists for example.
Tales Of The Echowood has nothing essentially wrong with it. The production values are high, and the music is epic in the manner of The Elder Scrolls soundtrack. I think my problem with it is that stories like this make me cringe. I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it before I even pressed play. As episode one started, I found my fears coming true. My first impression is that this is like season one of 13 Days Of Halloween, but for middle aged hippies who wear tie dye.
Originally this was going to be a one off post, where I would get through a few shows with one fell swoop. Unfortunately, this is going to be a two parter, maybe even three.
Part of me regrets setting the “ten episode” threshold, because some of these were very hard going indeed. I’m always pleased to be proved wrong though. I can be hasty in my judgement sometimes and I really want to enjoy every podcast I listen to.
Ultimately, there is nothing here that you can’t find better versions of elsewhere.
Back to regular programming this week folks. I’ve had loads of stuff going on outside the podcastverse, but now I’ve got the time to enjoy listening to shows without deadlines and embargoes to worry about (I do quite like deadlines and embargoes though)!
So what’s under the microscope this week? Well dear readers, we are dealing with a classic here. A classic in more ways than one. Read on and discover why this is almost the perfect podcast for this here podcastgeek.
So what’s it about?
Re:Dracula is an interesting take on the classic Bram Stoker story. I say “interesting take”, its more fathful than any of the other versions out there. It’s told in “real time” as entries in Jonathan Harker’s diary. Therefore the episodes vary in length, and they are released on the relevant days. Thrown into this are also reports by Doctor Seward as Renfield grows ever more agitated, and the correspondence between Mina and Lucy. Their innocent gossip in particular providing a contrast to the darkness of the events around the male protagonists.
I can’t really expand on it more than that. Everybody knows the story so this section is understandably short
Is it any good?
I really like most of it. The story is great, it’s told in an interesting way, and the acting is top notch (more on that in a bit). I’m not too fussed on the interviews with people scattered throughout. I appreiate why they did it this way, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they don’t interest me, so I tend to skip those episodes. It may have been a better option to have those as bonus episodes after the story has finished, as they have done with Scamanda.
I have also heard that some people aren’t really keen on the shorter episodes. Some are under ten minutes long. I could understand this if you are listening along in real time as well, but due to my other commitments, I just binged the whole lot, and to be honest I didn’t really notice that. So I guess you can do things properly , listen in real time and maybe get frustrated, or ignore all the hard work that the producers went to and plough through it all in huge chunks. It’s up to you.
Now, on to the voice talent. In my opening paragraphs, I mentioned that this may be the perfect podcast for me. The reason for that is the cast. The keen eared among you will recognize Jonathan Sims from The Magnus Archives, Graham Rowat who I have waxed lyrical about in various reviews before, and Karim Kronfli as Dracula. I immediately recognized Karim’s voice as gangster Bruce from A Scottish Podcast, a show you’ll remember my fondness for. Looking at his IMDB page, he’s been in so many classic podcasts I’m sure you’ll know him from elsewhere.
In fact, the only person missing from this cast is David Ault. If he shows up I would probably get all giddy and giggly when it’s on.
Even if you know the story inside out (I mean, who doesn’t know the story of Dracula) I would recommend this. It’s such a great production (possibly the best thing Pacific S. Obadiah has done). Don’t get me wrong, I loved SCP Archives and The Sheridan Tapes, but this is next level stuff here.
If this is the shape of things to come from him, then we are all in for a treat indeed.
You may remember that this line here usually says “or wherever you get your podcasts”. I put that in originally as a little fun quote to mirror what all podcasts say when they are advertising. I thought it was cute. However, Imran over at GreatPods told me about a site that provides links to every major podcatcher. So from now on, I’ll just post the new link and you can sort yourselves out. It’ll probably take me a few posts to get out of the habit though!
Another short story from the Limelight series on BBC Radio 4, that brought you the previously reviewed podcasts The System, The House the Vanished, Who Is Aldridge Kemp, Firewall and others. From that list, you can see that this series has some big shoes to fill.
Will this series be on a par with Aldrich Kemp, or will it leave me unsatisfied like The House That Vanished? I’m not going to tell you this early on am I? You’ll have to read to the end to find that out.
So what’s it about?
Siege is an interesting take on a hostage drama, told from the perspective of interviews with the hostages themselves after the event. Actually, the term interview isn’t entirely accurate. There are no questions here, just the hostages giving their accounts of what happened, answering unheard questions. This is quite a good idea in practice.
Over the course of 5 episodes, you are on a gripping ride of what should have been a day just like any other, but one that went awry very quickly. What starts as a robbery at a supermarket, becomes a hostage situation after the security shutters fall, and the shoppers are left trapped with the armed robber.
Where the writing really shines is when the same event is told from multiple perspectives. For example, right at the beginning of the siege, the schoolgirl Naomi puts her headphones in and listens to music, quietly singing along. “Aunty” Kemi is busy praying, sees Naomi and thinks she’s praying too, and is even speaking in tongues. This opens the way for the two of them to connect with each other without actually understanding each other completely.
One of the points of the story is that a disparate group of people get stuck together and their prejudices and misunderstanding get put to one side, although the interviews give an insight into their real feelings about the various events of the story.
As the interviews continue, certain masks start to slip and you realise that people’s lives are never as perfect as they’d like you to think at first. Penny’s story is particularly well written, and well acted.
Is it any good?
This is a masterclass in how to make a gripping series with very limited resources. There’s no over the top sound effects, or big musical scores. Just five brilliant voice actors telling a story for the most part (towards the end of the series, a new character, Derek the security guard gets to tell his story).
In fact, the only thing I didn’t really like was the glitchy music that got played between each “scene”. It was jarring and unnecessary, in my opinion at least. As I write this though, I wonder if there was some meaning that I’ve missed for it, although I have gone through the whole thing twice. Maybe I’m not paying as much attention as I should be!
This series is well worth your time. You can easily get through it in a day should you wish. The story is very well written, and brilliantly acted. It’s a refreshing take on a crime drama, even with the obligatory twist at the end.
You may find the characters somewhat “tropey”, and they are. I don’t think you can really escape that in a drama such as this though. The story demands it. They are so well portrayed though, that it’s easy to overlook this.
Well folks, it’s been a weird few weeks with all these big release day reviews hasn’t it? Now my release schedule seems to be back to the usual Sunday mornings again, you can enjoy your morning coffee (or tea), and wonder just what the hell I’ll be banging on about today.
Ploughing through the Limelight series of audio dramas by the BBC is something of a mixed bag. You have the excellent, and the not so. So how does Who Is Aldrich Kemp hold up? Well dear reader, you will find out the answer to that very question in the next 600 or so words.
So what’s it about?
Who Is Aldrich Kemp? is a rip-roaring, grab-bag (and possible other hyphenated hyperbole, oooh, alliteration) of shadowy organisations, criminal masterminds, and wise cracking secret agents. A fair dose of Double crosses, unlikely assassins, and plots for global domination get thrown in for good measure.
Clara Page works as an analyst for a government agency that would rather remain off the radar. When the body of a French secret agent gets hauled out of the water in Lake Tanganyika, connections are found to an even shadier group of scoundrels called the Themis Group. The leader of this organisation is a mysterious individual known as Aldrich Kemp.
With nothing more than a name and a (literally) blank piece of paper, Clara soon finds herself on a mad dash across Europe dodging assassins and digging up secret societies. Along the way she will find friends that are enemies, and enemies that are friends.
Is it any good?
I like this more than I thought I would. I bounced between irritation at some of the dialogue (and accents) to a great fondness for the characters and their oddball ways. It’s an interesting take on the espionage genre explored in other podcast dramas, including the previously reviewed Splinter Cell: Firewall. In fact, while that was all American gung-ho action and gadgets, this is far more British in feel. I mean, because it is British.
Aldrich Kemp as a character is more Doctor Who than Blofeld, his puppy like eagerness and sense of humour set him apart from the more traditional crime bosses in fiction. This comes as something of a surprise, as his reputation precedes him in this series, but it’s a nice touch that adds to the whole offbeat feel of the story.
Plucky protagonist Clara Page, has a penchant for fencing (the sport, not DIY) and fish and chips. As the main character, her worldview suffers the biggest change. I’ll say no more than that, but for an already strong (if not somewhat cliched) female character, she really does get the short end of the stick. How will she fair in this? Well, again, I’m not telling you.
Podcaster Kennedy Fisher also makes an appearance too, a name you’ll no doubt remember from The Lovecraft Investigations. It was really nice to see that the character is keeping herself busy, still on the trail of tracking her partner Matt down (even if it is only in podcastland). I think I’ll probably go back and listen to the final series of that, just to see how much leaks through into this show.
Regarding Kennedy Fisher, it blew my mind that the same actress voiced three characters in this series. I honestly thought she was American, so either she’s got her American accent absolutely dialed, or she’s got her British accent absolutely dialed. There’s no slipping evident, or weird pronunciations as is so often the case with voice actors.
The problem with shows like this (for a reviewer anyway), is that the story is so cunning and twisty that it’s very hard to talk about it without giving anything away. That is my way of apologising for my rather superficial review. I just don’t want to spoil anything for you.
Looking through the list of dramas in the Limelight series, I see there is a second series featuring Mr Kemp. Therefore, this has jumped very high up my “to listen to” list. I would have listened to it already were it not for the offer of advanced episodes of new series’ to review.
Julian Simpson is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers. I was just scrolling through his Wikipedia page and I see there’s a whole load of audio dramas set in the “Pleasant Green” universe (including this and the Lovecraft Investigations). Looks like I’ve got a lot of listening to do, should I actually be able to track them down. They seem to all be unavailable everywhere. So dear readers, if you know where I can get them, please comment below and accept my gratitude in advance.
I know, another weird day for a post. I couldn’t pass on another opportunity for an early listen of a new podcast though (despite my misgivings). So here we are. It’s a Friday and you’ve just noticed the little icon on your browser, or had your phone make a noise. Maybe you forgot it was Friday, and thought it was Sunday. Maybe not.
I mentioned I had misgivings with this show, and that’s because it’s about vampires. I’m sorry, but vampires make me cringe. They aren’t scary (not since Max Schreck anyway), and the current penchant for sparkly, emo, monobrowed heartthrobs (or was that the werewolf?) grinds my gears. But here we are. I’m reviewing a podcast about vampires. So is it any good? Well read on and I’ll tell you.
So what’s it about?
The Lesser Dead is set in 1978, a year dear to my heart. You see, that was the year I left the warm sanctuary of my mother’s womb and arrived kicking, screaming, and hairy into this cruel world. It’s also set in New York. This is not dear to my heart, seeing as I’ve never been there, but I digress.
Joseph “Joey” Peacock is a 19 year old vampire. As part of the community of vampires called The Family, living in “The Loops”, an area of unlit tunnels off the main subway. He gets tasked somewhat reluctantly by Margaret, The Mayor of The Loops, to find someone who has been “peeling” people (vampire slang for killing victims). You may think that vampires are supposed to kill people. In this universe, they use people more like drink dispensers. I guess there’s less hassle if you keep your victims alive.
As Joseph and his friends start searching for the killer, he also discovers that someone has been turning children into vampires, an unspoken rule that should never be broken (Vampire children are always creepy). So with his friends, he sets off to uncover just who is doing these unspeakable things.
Is it any good?
Surprisingly, yes. I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. There is none of the usual clichés that are so beloved of this particular branch of horror recently.
Jack Kilmer as Joseph is somewhere between a young Henry Hill in Goodfellas, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can. He has that youthful charm and exuberance that verges on being cocky, yet stays just the right side of annoying. You know that every word that comes out of his mouth is delivered with a smirk.
Minnie Driver as Margaret is also well played, and a perfect “Yang” to Joseph’s “Yin”. Her no bullshit, foul mouthed Irish firebrand attitude seems like quite the departure from her usual oeuvre (not that I’m really up on her body of work). But she rules The Family with an iron fist, or to be pedantic, an iron spade. She is all too aware of the trouble that this rogue “peeler” will bring to The Family, so is keen to end this mess and return to anonymity asap.
The supporting characters are very good too, from the older and wiser Cvetko played by Saul Rubinek, to Margaret’s spooky henchmen Oldboy and Ruth. Mysterious kingpin The Hessian, played by Danny Huston is also a good brooding presence in the few episodes he appears in.
I can’t really pick holes in this series at all. The acting is top notch, the sound design is great, and the story is brilliantly written and engaging. And not to go too far along and spoil anything, but the series ends EXACTLY how I like.
I love the music too, from the weird reimagining of “Rapture” by Blondie at the end of episode 1, to the timeless Disco Inferno by The Trammps in Studio 54. There’s also a melody that reminds me of Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in parts that adds to the dreamy atmosphere of the vampire’s night world. I’m surprised though, that there is so little music in the series. For it to be set in New York in 1978, disco and punk at their height, and the birth of hip hop, I feel that there could have been a bit more made of this without detracting from the scene setting.
If you’re a fan of modern vampire fiction then you’ll absolutely love this. Vampire stories tend to be very trope led, which is why I don’t like them, however this is a nice change. It’s part gangland thriller, and part murder mystery. Even if you are somewhat cynical of the genre, then I’d still encourage you to give it a go. It really is a brilliant show.
Has this changed my opinion on vampire stories? No, not really. Although it has made me think about not being quite so judgemental about new podcasts, so there is that. I was going to give it a four out of five rating, just because of the vampire aspect, but I can’t. It’s a five brain podcast all day (or rather, all night) long, and one of my favourite fiction podcasts of the last 12 months. I never thought I’d say that.
Again, thank you to GreatPods and Echoverse for giving me the opportunity to get the whole lot in advance for this review. I really do feel like a professional blogger now! (You were right Imran!)
Harlan Guthrie has made something of a name for himself in the podcast world with the wildly popular Malevolent (which I didn’t really like). However, I won’t write someone off just because they release a show I don’t like. Recently, my twitter feed has been alight with reviews singing the praises of his new show Deviser. I read the blurb, and was reluctant to listen to it to be honest. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is the one to change my mind. Maybe there is a reason that Harlan Guthrie has set fire to my social media feed like some modern Prometheus*.
So what’s it about?
Deviser is a Sci-Fi horror series, following the trials of “Son”. He wakes up on a spaceship controlled by the computer “Father”. His only other companion on this journey is “Dog” (a dog, funnily enough). Son is in charge of helping Father look after the ship and the thousands of sleeping passengers happily snoozing the journey away in cryo-stasis.
Soon though, things start to go wrong. Son finds it increasingly hard to do his job whilst suffering from memory loss, and there are odd occurrences on board this supposedly deserted ship.
As Son’s sanity starts to unravel, a reality darker and more horrific than he can imagine starts to materialise. With the knowledge that every choice he makes has more importance than the last, how will Son survive?
Is it any good?
After listening to Malevolent, I wasn’t holding out much hope for this one. I’d even put off listening to it on purpose just because I thought it would be cut from the same cloth. Thankfully, it isn’t. It’s still a tough decision for me to make though. Originally it was a three brain show, then I decided it was a five, then I finally settled on a good four. Here’s why.
The story itself is very well written. It’s acted very well indeed, and the sound design is top notch. Also, I really can’t emphasise how good this series is seeing as it is the work of one person. I dressed to think think the hours that Mr. Guthrie puts in to this stuff.
The twists are just one step ahead of you the whole time. Unfortunately I did guess the general line story was taking rather early on, and that spoiled it slightly, although as I say, the details remained delightfully beyond me.
I love it when I’m wrong. I really do. This is a great series. It’s very dark, and certainly pulls no punches as far as horror goes. It did nothing for my fear of dentists either. Father is a chilling creation, in a similar vein to HAL in 2001. Son finds out all too late that intelligence doesn’t necessarily equal compassion.
If you love sci-fi then you’ll love this, as will fans of gory horror. There are many films that are similar in both feel and plot, but I’m not going to mention them, because it will absolutely spoil the fun.
Hopefully Harlan Guthrie will continue to release series up to this standard. Yes I know that loads of people loved Malevolent, but I didn’t ok? This is a much better podcast.
Allow me to tell you one of the most terrifying experiences I had when I was a child. I remember me and my brother going to bed a bit early because my parents had some friends coming round. We’d been in bed for a while when I heard shouting coming from the living room. Not just like an argument, this was more frantic. Something horrible was happening, but I couldn’t hear what.
Anyway, it turns out that a group of them were rehearsing for an amateur production of The Monkey’s Paw. I didn’t know what that was at the time, but it planted a seed in my brain. A few years ago, I developed a love for the 70s supernatural TV plays. I’m quite happy to put this down to that night when I was young. Shows like Dead Of Night and Beasts told terrifying stories in contemporary settings. Usually revolving around unloved women on the brink of a nervous breakdown. These shows were experts in building tension. But what does this rambling have to do with the review? Well read on and hopefully I’ll elucidate.
So what’s it about?
Ghosted follows the story of Beth. She is the owner of a lighthouse that she has tried, with varying degrees of success, to turn into a luxury B&B. Helped only by her mysterious aging housekeeper, Beth is finding the stress of running a business and the isolation of the lighthouse increasingly stressful. This isn’t helped by local stories concerning the lighthouse itself.
Her already tenuous grip on her sanity really starts to slip when an old university friend books in for a break, but using a pseudonym. The two friends try to rebuild their friendship after Beth’s unannounced departure from the university course years ago. As the two friends start to defrost their estrangement, events in the lighthouse start to escalate. As they increase in intensity Beth’s grasp on reality becomes increasingly tenuous.
Is it any good?
As I mentioned in my somewhat long-winded intro, it’s very reminiscent of 1970s TV horror stories. For some reason the one that really springs to mind is an episode from the Dead Of Night entitled The Exorcism. I think mainly because of the stress of keeping up appearances despite the occurences becoming increasingly bizarre and terrifying. This ratcheting of tension also reminds me of the climax of The Telltale Heart.
The acting is great, but in a very retro manner, if that makes sense. When you see old TV shows, the acting style is a lot different to modern techniques. Maybe because in the 60s and 70s, actors got their chops on stage rather than going straight to TV. I don’t know, I was only young, and I’m no media expert, but that’s my opinion.
The plot is also very tight and the drama between the two leads is great. As their backstory is revealed and secrets exposed, you really start to wonder exactly what is going on here. There are multiple layers to the story that keep you guessing and produce real surprise when they come to light.
If you’re a fan of old TV mystery and horror, then you will absolutely love this series. Particularly the work of Nigel Kneale. Having waxed lyrical about how this drips with retro vibes, I don’t actually know if that was the intention here. At the end of the day, these ramblings are just my thoughts, and hopefully you agree.
This was a great way to kick off a podcast. The second story has just launched, and I’ll be interested to see how that one plays out. I haven’t started it yet, but then I have so many podcasts on my list, it’s not possible to get through every new epsiode as it drops. Rest assured, I will reiew it when it’s done.
A bit of a different post this week. Something of an epic undertaking that hopefully will work. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed three podcasts at once, there is however a reason for this. I listened to Roanoke Falls when it was first released, and never got round to reviewing it. Rather than following on with something similar, Series two was called Black Friday and departed from the original style altogether. Series three, called Beatrix Greene, was another curveball. My thoughts on all series were similar, so I figured I’d tear all three plasters off at once. So buckle up, this may be a long ride.
So what are they about?
Series one, entitled Roanoke Falls, is a fictional retelling of the events at the eponymous American settlement in the 17th century. In real life, nobody knows what happened there other than the entire population “disappeared”. I put that last bit in inverted commas because obviously back then there was a huge delay in communication and travel. Needless to say, time has turned these events into a rich source for folk horror and conspiracy.
The story takes place in the second Roanoke settlement, the villagers are desperately clinging to their faith in the face of disappearances, allegations of witchcraft and murder. It follows the downfall of Agnes, the wife of village priest Thomas. She finds a diary of one of the women from the original settlement of Roanoke, an outcast during a plague, who apparently placed a curse on the village. These events seem to eerily mirror what is happening to the villagers in the new settlement. Sightings of a tall man with a skull face are causing tensions within the community. Agnes faces accusations of being a witch, even from her own husband. The body count rises, and the truth is exposed.
Series two, entitled Black Friday is a “comedy” horror podcast. I got to about 2 minutes in and realised I was not going to like this series at all. In the interest of fairness though, I gritted my teeth and ploughed on.
This follows an eccentric group of shop staff, who are stuck in work during Thanksgiving. A group of demons get summoned by a ritual for a job promotion gone wrong, the hapless employees struggle to fend off the gruesome demonic foes.
Series three, follows fraud medium Beatrix Greene. She takes a challenge to investigate a notoriously haunted house. As is the trope for stories such as these, she soon realises that she has bitten off way more than she can chew, and the party of brave investigators is in grave danger indeed (pun slightly intended).
This story has so many references I can’t count them all. Way more than season two, and more subtly done as well. There were points where I wondered if I’d heard it before. It’s like ghost story bingo, but not in a bad way.
Roanoke Falls is a good attempt at folk horror, particularly films like The Witch, but it never quite hits the mark. I’m not sure exactly what it is. Possibly the strange way that the story is told. It’s not wholly a drama production, and not a narration either. It’s somewhere in between. For me it doesn’t work.
The acting isn’t great by any means, despite their best efforts. The blacksmith in particular seems to be incapable of portraying anything approaching real emotion.
The story itself is not so bad, it’s a nice concept, despite the weird way it’s told. As the story winds up, there is a nice “circularity” that seems to tie things up, only to veer off in a remarkable twist that reminds me instantly of the film “The Boy”.
By god do they like their adverts. Each 20 minute episode has 4 advert breaks, including one right before the end credits. I knew there was something that really irked me about this series, but it wasn’t until I re-listened before writing this that I remembered.
Black Friday casts a wide net. Taking diverse inspiration from modern slasher films, particularly Hellraiser, and comedy series like The Office, this is like a pick ‘n’ mix of references, with too many winks to camera at how they jammed all the horror references in.
Again, the acting isn’t great, although I suspect that in this case it isn’t supposed to be. It has more chewed scenery than Crufts, and the characters follow every cliche so beloved of modern horror. There’s the stoner slacker, the over eager yet overlooked management wannabe and the sarcastic cynical knowitall who only puts up with everyone else because she ultimately has nowhere else to work.
Calling this series a “comedy horror” is something of a con. It is neither funny nor horrific. Apparently the writer was inspired to write this story after working one too many thanksgiving shifts at a store. Whereas some people can pull this off (Kevin Smith, for example), this is just a grab bag of tired clichés and predictable characters.
Definitely my least favourite of the three.
More tropes on the way in this series. The plucky tomboyish Beatrix Greene has made something of a name for herself as a fraudulent medium. It does an ok job of setting the scene, but it’s more “Houdini and Doyle” than “Carnacki”. They even slipped a “Do you see?” in there, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.
This, like season one, has a strange way of narrating the story that I’m not too keen on. Like Roanoke Falls, it is 50% narrated, 50% acted. The problem is, is that the narration switches from Beatrix narrating, to sceptic James Walker (her nemesis at the beginning of the story). This gets rather confusing, especially where there is some overlap in the plot. I wonder whether this is done for any reason other than trying to be deliberately clever.
This is one moustache twiddle away from silliness. It does it’s best to cling on to the coat-tails of Shirley Jackson and William Hope-Hodgson, and to be honest, this was my favourite season so far. I say favourite, what I mean is that I didn’t lose interest before the halfway mark and feel like I was slogging through it just to write a review. The story is the most derivative of the three, even more so than the first season.
Maybe it’s the 1920s setting I like, but despite this, it’s still not enough to rescue the low rating here.
Maybe I’m getting old and grumpy (I know I’m getting old and grumpy), but I can honestly say that every few episodes, I was wondering whether this was worth it. Should I stick with this podcast just for the sake of writing what I knew deep down would be a rather scathing review. As season two got underway this feeling got stronger. I’d already started writing this though, and I was rather pleased at the thought of a triple header. Also, I tend to review podcasts I like, so I felt I needed to take one for the team so to speak and suffer through.
Mitch Hedberg had a joke that went “The other day, I walked into Target and missed. I think the entrance to Target should have people splattered all around.”
Unfortunately the entrance to “the good podcast list” has Realm podcasts splattered all around.
As I finish this rather long winded stream of consciousness, they are currently three episodes into season four. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to start it.
You can get the Fear series here if you really want to:
I usually have some idea of what I’m getting myself into when I subscribe to a podcast. It’ll be recommended by a friend, or I’ll hear an interview on another podcast. I went into this one completely blind. The name sounded interesting, but I honestly don’t remember hearing anything about it at all. This made for a rather interesting experience, and I’ll tell you all about it here.
So what’s it about?
The Silt Verses is a rather “folk horrory” series. At first it seems to be set in an indeterminate country in an indeterminate timeline. At a guess, it’s America at some point in an alternate present or future. I’m only guessing that because of the voice actors, and the fact that they have modern tech like mobile phones. These are details that are almost irrelevant though. The point of the story is the sheer weirdness of the events. There are strange religions, odd people and sinister antagonists. Did I mention strange religions? There are LOTS of strange religions.
The story follows pilgrim Carpenter and her young partner Faulkner. They follow the faith of The Trawlerman, a river god of water and silt. Carpenter’s grandmother was highly regarded in the faith, and Carpenter has that same ego so beloved of people who trace a lineage back to something important.
As their voyage continues they meet many allies and enemies. There are strange symbols carved everywhere, and horrific creatures lurking in places both magical and mundane.
The pagan ways of the populace are pitched against followers of The Saint Electric and similar deities, truly modern gods for the technological age. Everywhere they go they meet people who follow different gods, and there are gods of everything.
Is it any good?
On the whole, yes. There are a few niggles here and there that stop it being a true “five brainer”. My main problem is that whilst the acting is top notch on the whole, there are a few cast members who let the rest down. There are also parts of the story where it is obvious the cast were recording at different times, and on different equipment. You can hear the cuts in the audio and this really distracts, particularly on headphones.
As the first series progresses, I found myself enjoying the exposition episodes more than the main thread. Don’t get me wrong, the main story is great, but there’s only so much bickering I can take. I get it, the young one thinks the old one is out of touch and the old one thinks the young one is an idiot. That’s life. The backstories though are so brilliantly written, particularly Paige’s corporate history. That is like an episode of Black Mirror.
As I have said in past reviews, the term “Lovecraftian” gets bandied about a lot nowadays, and is a badge usually hung on anything that is a bit weird. I think this podcast truly is Lovecraftian though. The whole thing has a dreamlike quality that is simply delightful, due in part to the ambiguity of the setting. The only thing we have to go on as far as dating is that it takes place “after the last great religious war”. I also loved the episode about the god of hunger. That was a nice, ambiguous concept that offered a nice (albeit no less gruesome) contrast to the more physical horrors encountered in the story.
When I first started this review many months ago, it was a three brain show. At that point it was nothing more than a title and a rating. I recently revisited it to refresh my memory as to why I gave such a low rating and decided it was worth five brains. Taking everything into consideration though, it is a solid four.
If you like Neil Gaiman, H.P. Lovecraft, or Charlie Brooker, then you will love this show.