To that creepy company we can now add The Black Tapes, a new podcast with a handful (well, six) shows so far. It's excellent, and should appeal to Infocult readers.
The conceit is that of faux documentary, as two main characters investigate a creepy, real-seeming story each episode. The narrator, Alex Reagan, is an audio creator who's exploring people with unusual jobs. In the first episode she looks into ghost hunters and demonologists, when she becomes fascinated by Richard Strand, a professional debunker. Reagan finds that Strand has an extensive video library, with many tapes documenting his successful, skeptical approach to the apparently supernatural. But some of those VHS cassettes have black covers. Strand says they represent cases that haven't yet been debunked; Reagan wants to use them as the basis for her show.
And so she does, with each episode grounded in these recordings. One concerns people followed by spectral creatures, which only appear in photographs and video. Another deals with demonic possession and exorcism. A third features a metal band's attempt to record a terrifying audio track. A fourth concerns a Thomas Ligotti-like festival based on warped masks and facial torment.
It's all very well done. Each horror tale unfolds somewhat unpredictably, with red herrings and dead ends. Black Tapes prefers its horror to be quiet, understated, powerful by implication.
Although each download is distinct, there are many arc aspects. Episodes end with loose plot threads, some of which return to life in later ones. Strand is a suspicious character (in both senses), and his backstory becomes a major plot element. This first season is building nicely so far.
Black Tapes is also a loving tribute to, and satire of, This American Life-style NPR radio storytelling. The podcast has fun with name checking Ira Glass and coming up with an NPR-like entity, who putatively sponsors them. We get thoughtful musical interludes, Radiolab-like host banter and seeming informality, and a deep concern for other people's voices. It's fine audio storytelling apart from the Gothic aspects.
Infocult readers will appreciate the way Black Tapes works with fearsome digital media. There is a superbly creepy description of a seemingly benign Photoshop edit, a demonic audio track, unsettling video recordings, disturbing voicemails, and above all the growing menace of the titular tapes.
It's also very charming. Alex and Mr. Strand (she's rarely Ms. Reagan) have a rich, almost Scully-and-Mulder-like rapport. The sense of informality and near-improvisation nicely balances the serious subject matter.
In short, The Black Tapes is a welcome addition to the world of horror podcasts. Episodes are well written, creepy, and engaging. Infocult looks forward to more!