To get ready for Degoya County, our upcoming, multi-part horror project, each member of the team has been doing personal research of various types. For example, I know some of the players in the AP have been reading-up on New Mexican folklore so they can incorporate some of those ideas into their characteriztions. For me, I have been very interested in listening to other horror podcasts to get a sense of what makes them work. Obviously, a roleplaying game actual play is different from a scripted show, but I still think there are some lessons to be had in terms of production quality, popular themes, and just generally how to make spoken words scary.
I thought I would do a post talking about some of the podcasts I have been listening to in order to prepare for Degoya County. Links to the shows are in their respective images below. If you have a show you would recommend that I don’t have on my list, please let me know in the comments! I’m particularly interested in shows that focus on rural or folk horror.
Also: to learn more about Degoya County, please see the Patreon post where we announced the project.
This is really terrific. In many ways, it’s a highly-condensed, more accessible version of the popular Black Tapes podcast (there are even a couple of cheeky nods to that show). It’s slathered all over with 80s horror-synth music, a personal favorite, and the voice-acting and sound effects are really top-notch. For pure listenability, this is hard to beat. And it’s really scary! The story is about a podcast producer (so many of these shows have this fictional conceit) doing a story on a conspiracy revolving around a set of cryptic VHS tapes and the Lovecraftian cult obsessed with them. In many ways, the story feels very familiar—it’s your typical found footage, urban legend-type story—but it’s so well done, you can easily overlook it.
The Horror of Dolores Roach
This one kind of came out of nowhere for me. It’s a re-telling of Sweeney Todd starring Daphne Rubin-Vega and Bobby Cannavale, based on a one-woman play originally produced and performed by Rubin-Vega. It takes the classic Sweeney Todd story and transports it to an empanada shop in modern-day NYC. It’s definitely more in the urban horror vein, and therefore not entirely applicable to the rural folk horror of Degoya County, but it’s about characters of color, which is why it originally interested me. Setting aside its usefulness as inspiration for Degoya County, this show is dynamite. It’s a slow burn in the beginning, but once it gets going, it’s absolutely terrifying. The performances are particularly exceptional here, and the writing feels very authentic to the setting. Content warning here for some occasional transphobic language.
Alice Isn’t Dead
This is a classic, and I listened to it before Degoya County was even an ember of an idea. In fact, Alice Isn’t Dead is a major inspiration for Degoya County, as well as its forebear, Mercy Falls. I expect Degoya County to have lots of Lynchian weirdness, much as Mercy Falls did, and Alice Isn’t Dead is a great template for how to introduce that kind of feeling in an audio-only format. The music, the unstuck in time narrative, the mysterious characters, the fundamental American-ness of the open road setting… this is a major touchstone for sure. I think the first season of Alice Isn’t Dead is much stronger than later episodes (another Lynchian quality!) but even at its worst, it’s ten times better than similar shows.
I’m still in the middle of this one, but so far, I’m really digging it. Unlike some of the other entries here, this isn’t a scripted drama, but rather an interview show. Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah go to the homes of horror auteurs and just chat with them about the genre and their creative process. It’s a breezy, easy listen, and I’m really enjoying listening to masters of their craft talk about what scares them, what inspires them, and how they work.
This is a topic-focused show in which the host, Chelsey Weber-Smith, talks about a different “hysteria” that has reared its head in American life, such as the Satanic Panic or phantom clowns. What I’m finding really useful here for Degoya County are the broad themes. Everything about this show is distinctly American—what scares us, and how often those fears are a result of our basic mistrust of the “other.” The production is a little uneven here—they still seem to be figuring out their format and release schedule—but overall it’s enjoyable and informative.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
This BBC Radio 4 series is a stellar modern-day re-telling of the classic Lovecraft tale. Degoya County will have some Lovecraftian weirdness to it, and since it will largely be set in modern times, this seemed like a good place to see how you can translate those themes to an audio-only format. Fortunately, it was also a very gripping show to listen to (some unfortunate voice acting aside).
This is another interview show. In this one, Adrienne Barbeau and other conspirators talk with women filmmakers working in the horror genre. Historically, the genre has had a very wide sexist streak, and we’re going to do our best in Degoya County to avoid some of the more problematic tropes with regards to women (and people of color and queer people). The production quality on this show is a little uneven, but so far the interviews have been very interesting, and are really expanding my notion of what horror is (and can be).