I love podcasts. I don’t get to listen to them as much as I’d like, though. I work from home and don’t commute anywhere, and most of my work involves writing or other things involving deep concentration to which having people talk into my ears isn’t very conducive. When I’m doing housework or folding laundry or similar things I’ll usually put on something chatty and conversational that doesn’t need all of my attention, but when I get some time to just chill, often I’ll put on a good story podcast and settle in with a knitting or crochet project that I can do on autopilot while I listen raptly to what’s unfolding in my ears.
This doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, so I’m sure it’s not surprising that I’m pretty picky about what I listen to. My first choice — whenever there are new episodes available — is pretty much always The Black Tapes.
The Black Tapes is a serialized horror podcast, one of a trio of serial mockumentaries from Pacific Northwest Stories (the other two, TANIS and the recent addition Rabbits, will get their own separate posts here soonish). Here’s the setup:
A young journalist named Alex Reagan is hosting a new podcast about strange and unusual jobs. Her first episode focuses on paranormal investigators, which leads her to Dr. Richard Strand, a skeptic whose Strand Institute is devoted to debunking paranormal and supernatural claims. He’s offering a million dollar reward for irrefutable proof of the supernatural, and so far nobody’s been able to collect it.
During her interview with Dr. Strand, Alex discovers a library of video documentation of strange cases that Strand has not been able to successfully explain away. These are the Black Tapes, so called because they’re stored in old black plastic VHS cases. With Strand’s cooperation, Alex and her producer decide to alter the focus of the podcast, abandoning the strange jobs angle and investigating each of these cases instead. It doesn’t take long before Alex notices that each case seems to be somehow connected, part of a grander mystery that points to something very old and very evil. It also becomes apparent that there’s more going on with Dr. Strand than he’s letting on. Does Strand truly believe his stance that there is no ancient evil and everything that’s happened has a natural explanation? Or is he part of a conspiracy to cover up what’s really happening? Alex isn’t sure what to believe, and is compelled to keep digging until she gets answers, uncertain of who to trust.
The Black Tapes is compelling storytelling with slick production values and intriguing, well-developed characters that pull you in and don’t let go. The cases Alex looks into, and some of the things she herself experiences, range from mildly creepy and disturbing to “don’t listen to this podcast before you go to bed” levels of scary. It’s like a thrill ride for your ears.
You’ll enjoy The Black Tapes if you like scary things and mysteries, The X-Files, Fringe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and/or my story Eucha Falls or any of the things that inspired it.
The Black Tapes has two complete seasons. A third season is currently in production and I can’t wait till it gets here. You can find it on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play, or just listen to it on the website.