The Horror You Can Hear | In Audio Drama It’s Halloween All-Year-Round
Some say August is like the Sunday of summer, and that September is just Halloween Eve.
For introverts, goths, and the people who just hate how hot it is, Halloween is the entirety of October as far as we’re concerned. And the best part of it for yours truly is diving into the fictional horror genre. TV shows, films, anime, and those stupid clickbait videos and Halloween specials I prioritize my days with finally have some leverage when I can do it in between eating big bags of candy and fantasizing about upcoming Overwatch Halloween Terror skins.
I mean, I already do that no matter what day of the year it is, but in October I won’t be judged as harshly.
Audio Drama – Halloween All-Year-Round
But if anything tops all of those things and is far less expensive and time consuming, it’s the plethora of horror podcasts that are readily available year-round.
Audio drama creators never hesitate to make spooky stories no matter how hot it may be. But there’s a certain mystique to enjoying the scarier stuff during the right time of the year.
Unlike movies, audio dramas have far less time constraints on when and where they can be listened to. And a show about supernatural horror can be written in December and have its season finale in the middle of June if it pleases.
There's a lot that can be said between the differences of creating an especially nice audio file compared to a film, though it’s the time and place of these productions that keeps a horror podcast from just being just a Halloween podcast.
On the occasions they aren’t being pumped out to get that sweet, sweet early January money, horror movies are a pretty vital part of October and any old schlub can explain that this or that horror film they currently own is better than whatever cheap teen slasher is out right now.
Even in the middle of summer, previews for The Nun and Slender, regardless of their actual quality, were on unskippable YouTube ads, mainly branded for their ability to elicit the creeps out of you in only a few short seconds.
Though visuals do play a part here, sound is easily the biggest selling point. The infamous and now banned ad for The Nun even features prompting the listener, likely wearing headphones at the time, to pump up the volume in hopes to be terrified to the fullest.
An effective marketing strategy, albeit a controversial one. Though it did spring to my attention how something as simple as our volume settings can adjust our experience to audio drama.
And with sound being the only playing factor for podcast, it’s always beneficial for a horror podcast to have strong writing and dialogue that lures listeners into a false sense of security before the big scare comes about.
It’s a no-brainer that a good, or even bad, horror film needs to have effective sound editing for it to impact its audience. A sizable chunk of cinematic releases brand themselves on jump scares and video games are just as prone to tempt you to turn out the lights specifically so your gaming session ends in a wet pair of pants.
Podcasts can easily do the same, even if they don’t have visual elements to work around. This is where it gets interesting, as it's the writing and sound editing’s job to pass off a few selectively arranged noises as something worth being disturbed by.
This can easily be achieved with some good narration, though there’s always the additional details editors need to keep in mind. The dripping of blood, sloshing of intensities, the raw intensity of heavy rain or broken bones under a foot all can be achieved with some behind the scenes magic if some eerie music isn’t quite doing the trick.
The NoSleep Podcast is especially good at this and has managed to get through multiple seasons with effective voice acting choices and different moods evident just from a choice in its sound clips.
With the sheer diversity of their stories, most of which originating from creepypastas on Reddit forums, NoSleep gets a lot of mileage out of making each and every story sound different enough from one another to get a different mood across.
Another good example is Return Home, a slightly more lighthearted but still creepy audio drama but has always impressed me with its atmospheric editing. The first episode alone makes great use of seamless scene transitions and a rain effect that sets up the mood perfectly. With just a little bit of narration from the lead, scenes carry the vibe they’re going for while still maintaining a unique identity.
I found myself enjoying SABLE for entirely different reasons. SABLE is heavy on description and primarily a one-man show that uses a Gothic storybook setup to immerse listeners in the immense and demented setting.
The Sound of Silence
One of the best horror podcasts to have come out some time ago but is making a strong comeback is SAYER, whose audio editing has only gotten a bit more complex over the years though it still maintains that same stagnant and unnerving atmosphere.
Even with the trippy techno music, even with the addition of more character interactions, SAYER’s ability to be terrifying is mostly rooted in its use of silence and hard-hitting dialogue. The encroaching fear of the resident A.I. speaking calmly one second and dishing out threats the next never fails to put me in a state of utter fear, especially when his usual unchanging tone goes up just enough octaves to be an unsettling echo.
I spent a decent amount of the later half of summer time catching up on SAYER. After the hustle and bustle of a chaotic move across country, it felt nice to finally slip into my comfort zone between job applications and jetlag to listen to a show that eases me into a state of uneasy dread and discomfort.
Out of all the audio drama I’ve listened to, SAYER is certainly one of the more complex and bizarre titles I’ve come across and will always be a solid part of my top five.
Context might be necessary here since SAYER has a less traditional horror set up, but one most know that it tells the story of a distant future mostly controlled by a small group of artificial intelligences and has shifted from a somewhat episodic “resident death of the day” format to an ongoing series of events once a solid antagonist was introduced to the formula.
And even if SAYER’s world has been given a few more layers of depth from the introduction of FUTURE, it still maintains that same magic that made the earlier episodes so charmingly off putting.
All In Your Head
There’s just something very invasive about horror shows and horror scenes done entirely through sound. It’s in this situation that your mind is able to wander, whatever you imagine usually being a million times worse than whatever the writer probably had in mind.
We can piece together descriptions all we want, but the real dread is knowing just what kind of voice a monster could have. A low gurgle of an abomination’s massive throat, the rasp of a serial killer, or even the kind and unshaken tones of an artificial intelligence that could care less about the onslaught of human slaughter.
There are multiple variations to enact fear into a listener be it through a surprise attack screaming fit or tranquility during the worst, most violent moments.
The human mind can conjure up far worse scenarios with enough input, and it’s here that horror audio drama is able to make something stick. Even if SABLE has some strong artwork from its creator and Return Home has their comedic yet atmospheric title cards, the real enjoyment comes from just how weird the events could get and what visual we as the listener can come up with.
The ability to be scared is something of a team effort between creator and consumer, so I would highly encourage finding your match made in Hell soon.
The Listening Experience
Audio drama and horror fiction podcasters tend to put a lot of work into their soundscapes. So if you regularly consume shows of this kind, it's worth getting yourself a decent set of earbuds or headphones. That way you'll get the maximum benefits of a producer's work, and you'll be more immersed in the atmosphere of each story you hear. If you're in the market for some quality ear-wear, then check out our roundup on the best headphones for listening to audio drama podcasts!
Makaila Johnson, better known as PodCake, has been partaking in journalism for three years with plans to take it on as a career someday. She specialises in handling reviews and literary criticism articles, with her primary focus being independently produced fictional content. This varies from web comics to vloggers to audio drama!