Review: Anything Ghost

Genre: Anthology, true stories
Possible Triggers: Mentions of death
Safe For Work: Yes
Content: PG

Anything Ghost is a place where people share their ghost stories.

A simple introduction for a simple show with a simple premise. Anything Ghost, hosted by Lex Wahl, was a one-of-kind podcast upon its release in 2006, and has kept up a steady, loyal audience for over twelve years. For the time, it was something quite different - a podcast that took stories from people based on true events, and read them for the audience. That’s it. No special effects, save for a little music for effect, no long monologues or lead-ins; you just jump straight into the story.

The stories range from can believable to this is absolutely fake, even for a hardcore believer in the supernatural. One thing that is certainly believable is that the stories were not written by professional, or even amateur writers. The stories are a bit stilted, which can shake a listener out of the zone. A good horror story is supposed to draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat.

The stories submitted to Anything Ghost can give you that edge-of-the-seat horror, but there are some stories that just make you wonder if the show just takes every submission it gets. One particularly memorable story is the story of a man whose mother commented on a Facebook post of his months after she had passed away. I think I read a creepypasta with a similar premise. No disrespect to the person who sent the story in, but even as a die-hard believer, I find that one to be a bit of a stretch.

The show has a long history, with most of it hidden behind a paywall, meaning I can’t compare the latest episodes to the earlier ones, or compare quality of content to see if it’s gotten better, but with time comes experience and learning. Compared to many other shows in the same vein, however, Wahl has kept things very simple. He introduces each story with a quick brief, and then goes right into the story, telling several in one episode.

The number of stories in an episode can be a little a disorienting - I found myself tuning in during a standard haunted house story, tuning out by accident, and then coming back to a story about a woman being devoured by flies. It’s not a show you can casually follow along with; if you lose track for a moment, you’re lost until you hear the next story being introduced. Anything Ghost absolutely requires your full attention to get the full experience of the show. So while it is safe for work in the sense that there’s nothing horribly inappropriate, it’s probably not the best idea to listen to it, lest you miss a transition and fall into a completely different story.

Wahl’s voice is oddly hypnotizing, which makes it easy to zone out if you’re working on something else. His dedication to the show and being the only full-time narrator is admirable, although the apparent unwillingness to grow with the community can be a hindrance. While other shows continue to make leaps and bounds and set new standards for horror podcasting, Wahl remains happily in his corner, and can be commended for putting out regular episodes for twelve years - a long time to do all that work on your own.

LGBTQIA Friendly?: N/A
Pay to Listen?: You can get the latest ten episodes for free, but have to pay to access the archive.
Length: 1 hr.

Overall: Anything Ghost was a big step in the fledgling horror podcast community, and while their format still stands strong today, the standards are higher now. Loyal listeners will always be there to boost the podcast up, though. Someday it may succumb to the bigger, fancier podcasts with the effects and writing and multiple narrators, but for now, it’s still going, and that’s admirable in a time when people are always looking for better and more.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review: The Grey Rooms

(Originally posted December 1, 2018)

Genre: Horror, audio drama
Possible Triggers: Death, descriptions of gore
Safe For Work: Yes
Content: PG-13

Note: We’re doing something new this week – literally. The Grey Rooms is a brand new podcast, with its first episode airing 11/30/18.

You wake on a hard, cold floor. It’s so cold your skin burns beneath your clothes. The air smells of sulfur and ash. Your head throbs and your mouth is dry. You have no idea how you got here. Even worse, how you’ll get out…

Panic sets in. Fear begins to swell in you. Soon that fear assumes the form of terror…

What have you done? What brought you to this place?

The Grey Rooms opens its first episode with a man who doesn’t know who he is or where he is. He finds is way out of the room, exploring his drab prison, until a demonic voice calls out to him. Raymond. His name is Raymond. But it doesn’t feel right. Raymond is faced with two doors – one will lead to salvation. One will lead to torment. But there’s no way to tell which is which. What does he choose?

Well… it’s hard to tell. Seeing what’s behind the door, one would say torment. But would be torment when compared to what’s behind the other door?

The chosen door gives us a peek into the life of a soldier during the Great War. You’d think the worst enemy in No Man’s Land would be the soldiers in the other trench. But no, it’s something much worse.

What are the grey rooms? That, it seems, would be the mystery. Does either door offer salvation, or is it all torment and pain? With only one episode under its belt, it’s hard to judge how exactly the show will go, but the first episode is quite the doosy, with nearly an hour of excellent writing and narration, and a chillingly good use of music sound effects to set the scene and draw you into the bleak environment. Whether it’s the echo of Raymond’s voice as he walks through the halls, the demonic voice talking to Raymond, or the sounds of rat skittering in the trenches, it’s not hard to imagine yourself in the shoes of the poor, tortured characters.

And if one episode isn’t quite enough to satisfy you, then check out the three preview episodes that were released prior to the pilot. They’re shorter, averaging around half an hour, and give you a short but pretty good idea about what direction the show is going. Of the episodes and previews released, there seems to be a trend of taking perfectly reasonable phobias (heights, spiders, rats, etc.), and magnifying it into something monstrous. It makes you cringe even if it’s not something you fear, and feels like a glimpse of the world through the eyes of someone who has that phobia. Excellent writing through and through.

LGBTQIA Friendly?: N/A (so far)
Pay to Listen?: No, but if you contribute to their Patreon you get bonuses.
Length: Presumably, around an hour

Overall: The Grey Rooms is absolutely fascinating. In one episode it completely hooked me on the story and wanting to know more. It’s been a long time since I started a podcast I couldn’t immediately binge, and the two-week wait between episodes is definitely going to give me a lot of time to think. Is it going to be a five-star smash hit? It’s a little too early to judge. But a lot of work and care has clearly gone into this podcast, and it has all the makings of becoming another staple in the horror podcast community.

It even has several familiar voice from the community. I’m starting to suspect that it’s like the BBC – there are thirteen narrators and they just get passed around from show to show.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Lore

(Originally posted October 21, 2018)

Genre: Non-fiction, historical, folk lore, anthology
Possible Triggers: Descriptions of death, illness, human horror
Safe For Work: Yes
Content: PG

I’m Aaron Mahnke, and this is Lore.

General: Iconic words. Even if you’ve never listened to Lore, you know that introduction. It’s become one of those sayings, oddly, where everyone just knows what it means even if they have no idea what the context is.

Lore started in 2015 as a bi-weekly podcast, doing a deep dive into horrific historical events and examining them through the lens folklore, showcasing the dark side of humanity and what fear will drive a community to do.

What makes Lore scary is that the stories are all true. Mankhe examines the history of events, places, and people, detailing the effects they had at the time, and how the legends and stories persist even to this day.

One of the things, I think, that makes Lore so interesting is not only that it’s real, but that oftentimes you’ll recognize the places he’s talking about. There are no far-flung forests or forgotten islands in Lore, but rather real places that you can still see, or even your hometown. I, for example, hail from New England in the United States, which is often the center of many stories, as New England has some of the most diverse history. Specifically, I’m from Massachusetts, and I recognize a lot of the stories that are being told – Danvers State Hospital, The Bridgewater Triangle, the Dover Demon, and of course the various witch hunts. It’s always a nice little thrill to hear a town name I recognize.

It’s that touch that makes Lore more fun than some other podcasts, even the ones I’ve reviewed here. Not that the supernatural, impossible science, and small strange towns in the great American desert aren’t fun, but who doesn’t get that small jolt of “oh!” when they hear something they actually recognize on a podcast or on TV or in a book? There are stories from all over the world featured, all in recognizable places.

And it’s not just history – it’s supernatural/paranormal history, the kind they’ll never teach you about in school. Demon possessions, urban legends, mythical creatures. It’s about murderers and witch hunts and abandoned towns. It’s the side of history that’s fun for people who were bored during history class because there’s only so many times you can hear about George Washington crossing the Delaware before you fall asleep.

It’s the kind of history I wish I had been taught, because it’s interesting and, whether you believe in spirits or not, it’s real. Was a thirteen-year-old girl in Illinois really possessed? Who knows, but everyone around her believed she was, and it colored how they interacted with her and how she was treated overall. Were the people killed in witch hunts really witches? There’s no way to find out now, but everyone believed they were, and we learn about them as witch hunts and witch trials (everyone has heard of the Salem Witch Trials, haven’t they?). Are curses real? There’s no way to tell, but when a town is flooded twice within fifty years, the residents almost surely began to feel cursed.

Episodes are long enough to be detailed, but short enough to easily listen, if you happen to be cursed with a short attention span. And attention is truly required to get all the details, especially if it’s a story you’re interested in.

It’s almost a little too easy to fall into the trance of the show. Mahnke’s voice has been described as “coolly mesmeric”, and that’s a well-earned description. While the show is easily bingeable and safe for work, it’s not necessarily recommended that you listen to it while you work. I’ve fallen into the trance of getting too involved with the show and forgetting I’m supposed to be working one too many times. It’s incredible, easy listening, as long as you don’t have anything else to do in the mean time.

Lore is the part of history you’ll almost certainly never hear about in other places – what might be real, what might have been exaggerated over the years, what might be lurking in the shadows. The reaction of humanity to all those mights. How we process this information and what we do with it. People always look at stories like the witch hunts and think, “Oh, I would never react like that.” But you never know for sure unless you’re in that situation, do you?

How much do you know about the place you live? Check out Lore, and you might discover a completely different side of it.

And if you ever come face to face with those legends… what will you do?

LGBTQIA Friendly?: N/A

Pay to Listen?: No, but they accept donations.

Length: 15-45 minutes

Overall: In a world with an increasing amount of audio drama podcasts and special effects and complicated storylines, Lore has not only managed to maintain its simple format and style, but has also continued to flourish. It’s at the top of everyone’s recommended listening list if you like history, horror, or both. If you haven’t listened yet, then you must have been in a three-year hibernation. Welcome back to the world. I’m so glad my blog was the first thing you found upon looking at the internet to see what you’ve missed since 2015. Please feel free to continue perusing while you start listening to Lore.

Rating: 4.5/5

Review: Casefile True Crimes

(Originally posted September 29, 2018)

Genre: Anthology, True Crime
Possible Triggers: Descriptions of murders, death, rape
Safe For Work: No
Content: Mature

General: Fiction is scary, but at least you can turn off a podcast about zombies, or crazed humans, or a mysterious desert otherworld, and go to bed knowing it was all just story.

So what happens when the stories are real?

Casefile is a deep dive, sometimes gruesome look into some of the most famous murderers in history, and some lesser known ones. Each week, the Anonymous host takes listeners back in time, to a period when a killer roamed the streets, and entire communities lived in fear. Sometimes the cases have already been solved, sometimes they’re still open.

And sometimes, they’re solved after the podcast talks about them. Possibly the most famous example of this is the Golden State Killer, who up until April 2018, had been on the loose following nearly a decade of terrorizing a a suburban area in California. Casefile went through the entire history of the Golden State Killer, who started out as a burglar, and eventually graduated to rape, then murder. On April 25, it was announced that, after forty years, the police had finally arrested a suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. The show ran a quick update on the arrest, with the host barely containing his excitement that such a vile man had finally been brought to justice.

While murder is the bread and butter of any true crime podcast, Casefile takes it a step further, looking into the depths of depravity that humanity is truly capable of. One three-part series focuses on Jonestown, a cult run by Reverend Jim Jones, who encouraged his followers to drink poison and kill themselves in November 1978. A total of nine-hundred and sixteen people died, making it one of the greatest deliberate losses of American civilian lives until the 9/11 attacks.

How could one man convince so many people to follow him into death? Casefile looks to answer exactly that in their episodes, starting at the beginning of it all and examining the details right up to the gruesome end.

This show is not for the faint of heart, as the host warns at the beginning of each episode. Stories about cults and rapists and murderers are never going to have a happy ending – the best you can hope for is that the person responsible for those brutal crimes was caught so you can at least sleep easy.

With an entire team of researchers looking into each story, you can guarantee that every single little detail is going to be found, examined, verified, and eventually written into the transcript for the episode. You’ll walk away from each episode perhaps knowing a little more than you ever wanted to know about some crimes.

That said, sometimes it gets a little too specific, and if you’re working on something else while listening, you can find yourself zoning out to protect yourself from the details, only to come back in at something just as horrifying. With the amount of facts and details, it’s not a show one can easily listen to while doing something else – it requires your full attention to get everything.

The in-depth details are both the strength and the weakness of the show. For a true crime buff with a strong stomach, it’s easily bingeable in a couple days, maybe a week. For an amateur crime buff, you might find yourself needing to turn it off after only an episode or two and look at cute cat photos to feel better about the world. True crime is a dicey subject, and when a podcast gets as detailed as this one does, it’s good for a listener to step back and take a break if needed.

Even the podcast itself acknowledges this, starting off each episode with saying it’s not for the faint of heart, and listing numbers to different helplines in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand – what type of helpline usually depends on the subject of the episode.

Casefile is definitely not for the casual listener who just wants a fun story. If you truly enjoy true crime and like learning about it, then this is the show for you. For those of you who want to sleep at night… I recommend sticking to fiction.

LGBTQIA Friendly?: N/A

Pay to Listen?: No, but they accept donations.

Length: 20-30 minutes

Overall: Casefile is a true examination of humanity at its very worst. The stories are real and often horrifying, and can leave you feeling like there’s no hope for us as a species. It’s also extremely informative, and if you have an interest in true crimes, this is definitely the show for you.

I recommend something light and fluffy if you listen to this show for more than a couple hours. I’ll have to get back to you with recommendations since horror is apparently my genre.

Rating: 4.5/5

Review: Darknet Diaries

(Originally posted September 22, 2018)

Genre: Anthology, Technology
Possible Triggers: N/A
Safe For Work: Yes
Content: PG

These are true stories from the dark side of the Internet. I’m Jack Rhisyder, and this is Darknet Diaries.

If you’re a member of the “Internet Stranger Danger” generations, then I’m sure you remember you remember as well as I do the lectures we got from concerned parents who didn’t understand how technology worked. “Don’t use your real name.” “Don’t tell people what state you live in.” “Don’t tell anyone how old you are.” Ah, the good old days.

As it turns out, the dangers of the Internet aren’t just the one-in-a-million weirdos we meet online. They’re the dark, shadowy figures that we never see.

Darknet Diaries, hosted by Jack Rhysider, details the stories of these shadowy figures, showing the good and the bad of the Internet in each episode. Rhysider knows a lot about cyber security, and combines his own knowledge with stories from different hacking events throughout the Internet era to explain how these events happened, who carried them out, and what could have been done to stop them.

With a series like this, it would be easy to just focus on the bad parts and the bad people who haunt the dark corners of the cyber world. Rhysider takes the show in a different direction, however, focusing both on the bad and “chaotic good” people in the world.

Episodes 7 and 8, for example, focus on a gamer/hacker named Manfred, who started hacking into MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) and exploiting holes and bugs he found in the programming to collect and sell digital merchandise for real profit (think in-game purchases, but they’re sold by a third party instead of by the company). Manfred began this lucrative career by accident, after discovering a bug in a game called Shadowbane which allowed him to earn experience and level up at a completely unbelievable and unprecedented rate. When he reported the bug, his account was banned. He received the same response several times, and then began exploiting the bugs and making it his full-time job (from which he only recently retired). Manfred had a moral code, however – he wouldn’t do this with games that already offered real in-game purchases, so as to not take profit away from the company.

Listening to these stories is both fascinating and horrifying. Manfred and his friends, after being banned from one game, attacked the game’s programming and sent it completely haywire, turning safe zones into PvP zones, spawning monsters in newbie areas so new players would be immediately attacked, and overall turning the game into chaos. Imagine playing a game and resting in a safe zone when someone suddenly comes up and stabs you. Sure, it’s only the online world, but that’s a game and a character you’ve put hundreds of hours of work into, and you just wanted a break. Luckily for gamers, Manfred turned away from the chaos and used his knowledge for profit, rather than chaos.

Then there’s the story of the VTech hacker. Vtech is a company that sells various toy tablets, watches, and laptops for kids, and even has its own app store where kids can download games and books. When the child receives their new VTech product, the parents have to register and make an account with their name, address, credit card number, and email. They then create an account for their child, using the child’s real name and sometimes a real photo as a profile picture, assuming this is perfectly safe – no one would endanger children’s identities after all, right?

This was proven very, very wrong in 2015, when an unidentified hacker, after finding some tips online, decided to randomly try hacking into a VTech website – and succeeded. He discovered hundreds of gigabytes worth of unencrypted data, including account passwords, credit card information, home addresses, and – perhaps worst of all – photos and videos children had taken with their VTech products, including pictures of themselves.

The hacker wasn’t a criminal, but rather a concerned citizen – he emailed VTech about the breach and the holes in their security, and after several months of no replies or changes to the websites, sent everything he knew to a journalist. What followed was akin to a PR nightmare, which led to VTech taking all their servers and websites offline for months while they tried to patch up all the holes. The hacker was caught, those his name was never released, and to this day no one knows what happened to him.

Now imagine all that data in the hands of someone who intended to do harm. Children’s photos sold to child pornography websites. Credit card numbers sold on the deep web. Home addresses posted for anyone and everyone to see. This story could have been so much worse than it truly was.

“Well, those are just isolated incidents,” you’re saying now, in an attempt to assure yourself that everything is okay. “And the people weren’t really bad.”

To which I say- tell that to the victims of the TalkTalk hack. TalkTalk was a UK mobile provider, which suffered from a series data breach in 2015, which led to thousands of customers being scammed out of money. Or to the people who were victims of the major retailer hack detailed in episode 15, when a company discovered their cash registers were riddled with malware that was skimming all the information off of every credit card used. Then imagine if Manfred and the VTech hacker weren’t morally decent people.

It’s enough to make you swear off the Internet forever, isn’t it?

Beginner Friendly?: Yes; most episodes are standalone, though listening in order is fun

LGBTQIA Friendly?: N/A

Pay to Listen?: No, but they accept donations.

Length: 20-30 minutes

Overall: Darknet Diaries, while terrifying, is also enrapturing. Listening to the details of these attacks, how the aftermath was handled, the lengths some people will go to cover a data breach, and hearing ways to prevent more attacks like these, is informative and fun. The technical jargon gets to be a bit much at times, although Rhysider does his best to put everything in laymen terms. You don’t have to be a technology genius to understand the moral of the stories though – there are good people, there are bad people, there are people who do these things for a living, and there are people who are just bored.

You better hope it’s one of the good people who get their hands on your private information.

Review: The NoSleep Podcast

(Originally Posted August 18, 2018)

Genre: Horror
Possible Triggers: Gore, Murder, Death, Monsters, Abuse, Rape
Safe For Work: Somewhat – wear headphones
Content: Mature

Brace yourself… for the NoSleep Podcast.

General: Debuting in 2011, The NoSleep Podcast is a collection of narrated stories from the subreddit NoSleep, where writers can post their original horror stories. The podcast was started and is still produced and hosted by David Cummings, the voice introducing each episode with a warning of scary, horrifying things to come. The show has a variety of voice actors from all corners of North America – and a few from the UK – making for a fun and interesting listening experience.

All stories featured on NoSleep are the original works of the Reddit horror writers’ community – some of whom have gone on to publish their works. Each story in an episode (between two and five – more on that later) is narrated by a different person, with others stepping in to fill roles of side characters, making it seem less like you’re having a story read to you and more like a performance. Included in that performance is sound effects and music, produced in-house by the musical mistro Brandon Boone.

The narrations and the music are top notch. It’s apparent that, despite the distances (and oceans) between them, the voice actors get along well and enjoy working together. The show has done two live tours throughout the US, and was sure to keep the audience updated on their travels and tolerance for one another. The second tour featured a treat for those who couldn’t go to a show but were still listening to the weekly releases in season ten — a story put together by voice actor and temporary host Peter Lewis (who may or may not be a cryptid running around Detroit), where the Home Team (those not on the tour) were sent on a mysterious quest which… well, we wouldn’t want to spoil the fun, would we? Let’s just say it’s a miracle Lewis still has a functioning mind after the amount of times he was zapped.

The most important thing, of course, is the quality of the stories. How do they stack up? Luckily for its listeners, the NoSleep team has an eye for good stories. The few that cross the realm from mysterious and confusing are a rare occurrence, as are those which forget the importance of “show, don’t tell.” While there may be an odd flop here or there, a good 97% of the stories featured are excellent. The overarching genre of every story is horror, but it’s not all tradition monsters, paranormal, Satan worshippers, and mysterious tunnels found under one’s house. Some of the best stories are about the horror not of the unknown, but of humanity itself.

One of the best examples of this is the season seven finale, an excellent production of “Borrasca” by C.K. Walker, which featured the entire cast of voice actors in one way or another. It’s the story of a young boy who moves to a small town and discovers a mystery – as they do – involving the old mines outside of team, disappearing girls, and a strange noise that echoes through the air so often, the townsfolk are used to it. The story is well-written, and the main voice actors – Matthew Bradford, Jessica McEvoy, and Jeff Clement – put so much life into their characters that you’ll be invested from the very first twist, and on your seat for the rest of the nearly three-hour show. And you’ll want more when it’s over.

That’s another excellent trait of the stories chosen for the show – so many of them leave you wanting more. So many of the stories end in cliffhangers, with stomach-punching twists, and when you hear that outro music and Cummings’ smooth voice ushering you off to the next story or episode, you’ll want to scream or flip a table – but all you can do is sit and think for the next three hours about the implications of that one story, while your mind runs wild with all the things that could have happened after the metaphorical screen went black. That’s not to say the endings are at all unsatisfactory – quite the contrary. The authors are talented at knowing just how much to give to leave a reader happy, but also to make a reader think, and to keep the story in a person’s mind long after the show has ended.

The stories are, for the most part, separate entities, meaning you can drop in on just about any episode, at any point in any season, and dive right in without listening to anything before (although we recommend you listen to everything just for the entertainment). There are some stories – such as the acclaimed “Pen Pals” series by  Dathan Auerbach – which are written as a series and are featured in multiple episodes, but for the most part, each story is a standalone, and while you may be left baffled by what you just listened to, it won’t be because you came into the middle of a series and have no idea what’s going on.

In the realm of tiny details that may seem insignificant, even their in-show ads, for companies such as Blue Apron, MeUndies, and Loot Crate, have a horrific twist at the end of them (though they do refrain from adding such a twist to their TalkSpace ads, showing the respect for mental illnesses and the people who struggle with them every day). It’s one of those small details you don’t know you appreciate until you listen to another podcast and have a boring add cut into the middle of the exciting story.

Beginner Friendly?: If you’re new to podcasts, The NoSleep Podcast is absolutely a good way to start. There’s no storyline to follow, just hour after hour of horror content that would give Stephen King nightmares.

LGBTQIA Friendly?: In the introduction for a recent season eleven episode, Cummings addressed complaints he had received from listeners who felt the show was including “too many” LGBTQIA characters. Cummings responded with grace, saying if anything they didn’t have enough characters from that community, and in addition, the following episode featured stories by LGBTQIA authors and/or centered on LGBTQIA characters, and were narrated by the LGBTQIA members of the NoSleep voice actors.

Short answer, yes, NoSleep is indeed a friend of the LGBTQIA community. Though do keep in mind – they’re still horror stories. A happy ending is far from guaranteed.

Pay to Listen?: As is the case with all of us, the NoSleep crew needs to pay to keep the lights on, and as a way to do so they’ve found a compromise that won’t outcast those who can’t afford a subscription. The Season Pass program, started in season three, allows for listeners to pay twenty dollars a month (and contribute extra if they wish) to access the full four-five story episodes. Those who can’t buy a season pass are still able to listen to the first two-three stories, depending on the length. In addition to full episodes, Season Pass holders get early access to episodes and bonus episodes.

There’s also the Rent-to-Own program, in which a listener can pay $1.49 per episode for 14 episodes, and then be upgraded to a season pass.

The season pass is retroactive – if you were to buy one now, roughly halfway through season eleven, you would get access to the full-length first ten episodes, as well as the bonus episode which was released before season eleven as a treat to season pass holders. You can also buy passes for past seasons, and be up to your ears in hours of horror.

Length: Full-length episodes are 2.5-3 hours. Free episodes tend to be closer to 1-1.5 hours.

Overall: The NoSleep Podcast is an enjoyable listen – if you enjoy stories about cannibals, mysterious creatures roaming the forest, evil gnomes, sentient sand… it’s horror. And the authors of these stories can make anything horrifying.

Rating: 5/5