Production company – Realm
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:
Or wherever you get your podcasts