It’s finally Halloween season. As much as I’d like to celebrate all day, every day, I (unfortunately) have a job and other commitments to get to.
Which is why podcasts are just so convenient. If I’m dying for a morsel of the macabre or striving to fit the spooktacular into my day-to-day, I pop in my earbuds and lean into all things spine-chilling. What I love most about well made podcasts is their ability to connect to their listeners on a personal level. As I’m making my daily commute on the Orange Line or jogging on the treadmill, I love listening to shows that make me feel like I’m part of the conversation-like I’m sitting around a table chatting with friends.
The world of podcasting is a vast one, which is why I limit myself to the (admittedly heavy) subjects of true crime, horror, and the paranormal. If you’re not a huge podcast listener, you might not be totally sure what you’re into regarding style. Do you prefer to listen to something more lecture-based? Or to a show that takes a conversational tone?
If you’re not sure where to start, but would really like to up your spook-game this month, I’ve compiled a short list of horror/crime podcasts for you to try. They feature an array of different voices, perspectives, and approaches to storytelling–and I love them all for different reasons.
1. THE Last Podcast on the Left
If you’re looking for a well-researched dive to true crime, horror, sci-fi, and beyond, Last Podcast on the Left is it. A weekly podcast hosted by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski, the show started in 2011–when podcasting itself was still finding its footing–and subsequently blazed a trail for spooky podcasts going forward.
The show is a perfect blend of Marcus’ in-depth research (complete with book and web sources), and Henry and Ben’s humorous banter. Topics range from serious–like the Jonestown Massacre–to quite silly (join them in a round of “Cat or Exorcism” and see if you can guess the source of that screeching sound…). The podcast has only gained momentum since its inception, and the boys recently wrapped up a European tour. This was my first foray into horror podcasting, and I hold it close to my empty heart. These guys cover it all–the paranormal, aliens, murder, conspiracy theories–in a lighthearted, but informative, way.
I introduce LPOTL to this list with the caveat that it is far from perfect. While earlier episodes cover a range of crucial topics in the creepy index–from Bundy and BTK to ghosts and aliens–they are also considered, by 2019 standards, somewhat problematic. Specifically, many characters in the early episodes are based in racism, sexism, and homophobia. It’s clear as a long-time listener that neither Henry, Marcus, nor Ben holds the opinions reflected in some of their less tasteful bits, but hearing them is still quite jarring.
However, Last Podcast has come a long way in its near-decade of existence. I think the hosts–particularly Henry–have begun to rely less on offensive stereotypes to get a laugh, and more on being themselves and trusting that their audience will enjoy it. The personas the boys take on, as well as how they interact with each other, really make the show what it is, and following their journey of finding their comedic pitch has been wonderful.
- Episode Recommendations: “H.H. Holmes,” Parts I-II (Episodes 200-202); The Enfield Poltergeist,” Parts I-II (Episodes 279-280); Scientology series (Episodes 260-264); “The Donner Party” Parts I-II (Episodes 331-332)
2. My Favorite Murder
Look. Listen. Look and listen.
One of the newer additions to the crime podcast canon, My Favorite Murder has gained an almost cult-like following since its first episode was released in 2016. It’s hosted by two fabulous women–Karen Kilgarriff and Georgia Hardstark–who became friends at a party upon realizing they both knew way too much about true crime (as you do). Each week, the hosts each pick a murder of past or present that interests them, research it, and present them to each other.
But what I love about MFM is the conversational component I mentioned earlier. As soon as I press “play” on an episode, I’m instantly transported to what I imagine to be Georgia’s couch, sipping a glass of wine, one of her cats at my feet.
My Favorite Murder is not for everyone, mainly because the ladies tend to go off on tangents at the beginning of the episode (or in the middle) for upwards of twenty or so minutes. Again, conversational. Some listeners just want hosts to get to the point, and that’s fine. (And this podcast is not for you.) I thought I was one of those listeners, too. But it turns out I’m not.
MFM definitely has humorous anecdotes and style to LPOTL–but the show is also an examination of Karen and Georgia’s lives, their relationship, their likes and dislikes, and–perhaps most important to me–mental health. Both women speak openly about their struggles with anxiety and depression and the importance of therapy. In one particularly vulnerable episode, they discuss going to therapy together.
At this stage in my life more than ever, I find that openness very encouraging. Regardless of the “favorite murders” of the week, I can listen to MFM and ultimately feel less alone in a society that thrives on isolation. If you’re looking to ease your way into true crime (and have some fun while doing it), give this one a try.
- Episode Recommendations: “My Firstest Murder” (Episode 1); “An Albert Fish Production” (Episode 48); “Chill Satanist” (Episode 73); “The Halloween Special” (Episode 92)
If you’d like a hyperfocused look at true crime–one case, in particular–I can’t recommend Cold enough. It stands out from the others on this list in that it’s a limited series (18 episodes) narrated by one person, complete with audio interviews and reenactments of letters and journal entries. Since its release earlier this year, Cold has been downloaded over 17 million times. A coworker recommended it to me, and it hooked me from Episode 1.
Cold: The Complete, Untold Story of the Search for Susan Powell chronicles the mystery of 28-year-old Utah woman Susan Powell’s disappearance on December 7, 2009. Though a gravestone stands tall in her memory, her body has never been located. Follow KSL journalist Dave Cawley as he shares the insights, successes, failures, and hopes of his painstaking three-year investigation into the Susan Powell case. The podcast quickly gained traction, and Cold can now be found on all major social media channels where listeners can share their opinions, their theories, and even tips on the case itself.
Cawley weaves together an expertly crafted narrative, full of twists and turns, all while portraying Susan with the utmost respect as he digs to discover what really happened to her. He humanizes her in a way a short news clipping or a 250-word article simply can’t, and this, to me, is the strength of his storytelling. He paints Susan not merely as a victim, but as a whole human being who existed outside her roles as “wife” and “mother,” and who was complex and contradictory just like anyone.
Again, Cold differs from its predecessors on this list in that it’s not serialized–so it’s best listened to in the order each episode was released. A serious, well-researched take on an unsolved mystery, I can guarantee you’ll wrap up the series wanting more.
4. Inside the Exorcist
My favorite horror film is The Exorcist, by a long shot. Seeing it for the first time as a baby Catholic when I was 12, there was simply nothing scarier than a girl my age afflicted by demonic possession. As an adult, it still makes me shiver, and it’s also an objectively well made film.
This unique Wondery/Mark Ramsey Media miniseries chronicles the filming of the 1973 movie that caused audience members to run out of theaters in tears. Not only does it touch on the supposed “cursed” set and the cast and crew that made this film a classic, but it also delves into the book on which the film was based.
Start by hearing about Robbie, a young boy from D.C. affected by supernatural forces. How does his experience become the head-spinning horror story portrayed so effectively by Linda Blair? Engaging storytelling and high quality production make for a thrilling ride. I learned so much about the author of the original book and screenplay, William Peter Blatty, as well as about William Friedkin’s ambitious directorial journey. This is the only podcast on my list that actually made me shudder, and I don’t say that lightly. Even if you’re not looking for a scare, the factoids surrounding the film production process alone make this podcast worth a listen.
Wondery and Mark Ramsey also produced an Inside Psycho series, which I’m going to delve into this week.
If you’d like a proper bone-chilling listen, press “play” on Episode 1 of Inside the Exorcist, “The Haunted Boy”–but make sure you leave the lights on.
5. And That’s Why We Drink
Finally, I wanted to add something to this list that I’ve just started listening to. I am by no means caught up, but I’ve listened to enough that I know it completes the “horror-comedy” trifecta I never knew I needed.
If you take LPOTL and MFM and smush them together, you get And That’s Why We Drink. Hosted by Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz, each episode features a paranormal and true crime story. Similar to the structure of My Favorite Murder, Christine and Em explain their research to each other in a give-and-take conversation. They cover all your heavy-hitters in both genres, from Ed Gein to Harold the Doll and beyond. The stories they tell are truly horrifying–but since the two hosts get along so well and have such fun banter, you’re usually laughing too hard to realize how freaked out you are.
Both Em and Christine do very thorough research (likeMarcus) while also lightening the mood by derailing when it’s needed (like Karen and Georgia). Plus, there’s some decidedly non-creepy content in each episode. At the beginning, they discuss the qualms of daily life that have caused them to drink this week (whether it be boxed wine or a strawberry milkshake). Christine’s dog, Gio, is also a big conversation topic.
I added And That’s Why We Drink to the list because it’s a perfect “intro” horror podcast. If you’re feeling a little squeamish about the idea of listening to hours upon hours of content about all things bloody, gory and ghouly, Em and Christine provide a really relaxed environment for you to dive right in. I can’t wait to listen to even more.
- Episode Recommendations: “Winchester Mystery House, Jonestown” (Episode 1); “South Shield Poltergeist, Ted Bundy” (Episode 51); “Paranormal Toontown and 40,001 Mystery Experiments” (Episode 78)
So…are you ready? Pick your poison and let me know how it goes. Do you have any other podcasts you’d add to this list?