VIU Student Press

The Nosleep Podcast and the art of the scary story

Stephen Gammel’s artwork from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
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Above: Lore, one of many compelling horror podcasts

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved horror stories—whether it was books, movies, comics, campfire stories, or even just perusing the horror section of my local video store, reading the backs of VHS cases I wasn’t allowed to rent. It started innocently enough, reading the Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark series, and of course the former’s Canadian-made television show, and its cousins Are You Afraid of the Dark and Freaky Stories.

As I matured, so did the horror that I consumed, but something that I always had a love for was short form, horror fiction—spooky stories that were passed around, the urban legends we used to tell each other as kids that we simultaneously didn’t believe, but didn’t want to experiment with either. The campfire story, as with so many other things, seems to have migrated to the internet with spooky stories like Slenderman becoming a new generation’s answer to Bloody Mary or Candy Man.

On top of these spooky stories, there are surprisingly large amounts of budding horror writers who are able to self-publish and share in vast communities of people who share their interests. One of these communities is located on Reddit, on a forum called NoSleep. Here, writers tell stories from the first person perspective, and community members interact with the story as if it were true. This interactive dynamic has led to some very creative, and often deeply disturbing stories, and continues to encourage these writers to produce more work.

While this enormous archive of horror stories is a wonderful thing, one of the most interesting results of this community is The NoSleep Podcast, a Canadian-produced podcast that takes stories from the community, and presents them as a sort of combination between an audio book and an old-timey radio play. Complete actors, music, sound effects, and a fantastic atmosphere, The NoSleep Podcast manages to produce a weekly podcast with six different stories in each episode. The show has just finished its sixth season, with the seventh set to start on April 10, and each season contains 25 episodes. Leaving you to do the math on this, it should be immediately clear how much content the show has to work with.

Speaking from my own experiences, this podcast can be genuinely terrifying; more than once I have managed to freak myself out in my own home just listening to one of the stories in a given episode. Of course, when you have this many stories it is inevitable that some will fall more flat than others, but as a general rule there is a lot of strength in the overall production value and storytelling present.

NoSleep is not alone in its mission to aurally frighten us either—the recently wrapped up Knifepoint Horror has left a number of stories, told in a much more stripped down way, with one narrator telling the story as a first person account. Even without the additional atmospheric sound effects, there’s something equally chilling about the stories as they unfold. As well, there are shows like The Black Tapes Podcast, covered last year in the Nav, and their sister show Tanis. Both shows tell their stories in a documentary format similar to the smash hit Serial. For those among you who need reality in your scary stories, the Lore podcast presents the stories behind different pieces of regional folk lore. His episodes are shorter, but again manage to be effectively scary stories.

It’s wonderful to see the success of many of these shows, and of course their popularity has led to short-lived, knock-off feeling versions, but even at their worst they manage to at least be entertaining. Audio storytelling is so deeply effective, in its own way creating the feeling that came from late night sleepovers of kids trying to scare each other in the dark. While reading scary stories or watching horror films are effective in their own way, there’s just something nostalgic and deeply terrifying in what these shows do. I really can’t recommend them enough.

All of the podcasts mentioned are searchable on iTunes or your preferred podcast service, and just so you have them all in one place, here they are again: The NoSleep Podcast, Knifepoint Horror, The Black Tapes Podcast, Tanis, Lore, The Message, and Limetown. Enjoy, and sleep well.