As anyone who’s kept themself awake into the wee hours thinking about all 300,000 ways that tomorrow’s meeting/exam/flight/trip to Morrison’s could go wrong, there’s little scarier than whatever your brain can rustle up on its own.
That’s one reason why spooky podcasts work so well. Without special effects, latex masks or wringing out an eighth sequel from some IP that should’ve been left alone two decades ago, podcasters can conjure up haunting soundscapes and engrossing stories so well precisely because you have to bring them to life yourself.
Whether it’s new fiction using the storytelling possibilities of audio, film fans delving into the history of horror cinema, retellings of shocking true crime or investigations into the paranormal, there’s absolutely tons of podcasts out there that’ll give you what MR James, the master of the ghost story, called “a pleasing terror”. Try not to have nightmares.
The podcaster who’s done more than most to bring spooky listening to the mainstream is Danny Robins. The Battersea Poltergeist was a blockbuster investigation of one of Britain’s most famous hauntings; Uncanny is the ongoing follow-up, which takes on a different case each time. With new interviews by the people at the centres of the stories and on the ground investigations to see how much of the story stands up, the ever-likeable Robins is a wide-eyed and empathetic guide. Listen on your podcast app >>
Last Podcast on the Left
The horror buff’s horror podcast, this one has been going for more than a decade and pretty much set the template for many scary podcasts to follow. Each time there’s a different mystery, conspiracy, ghost story, alien abduction, historic disaster or true crime intrigue to learn about, and Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski stand ready to both recognise how horrible they are and try to neutralise the horror with their own kind of daft nonsense. Not one for those of a particularly sensitive disposition though. Listen on your podcast app >>
Too Scary, Didn’t Watch
Then again, putting yourself in mortal fear of being hacked to bits or haunted to distraction with scary films isn’t for everyone. If it’s not for you, Emily Gonzalez, Henley Cox and Sammy Smart have the solution: they watch horror films and precis them in their own very fun, slightly mangled way for anyone who wants to be able to say they know what happens in, say, The Human Centipede, but doesn’t want to spend any time of their actual life watching The Human Centipede. Listen on your podcast app >>
They Walk Among Us
To these British ears, there’s something quite distant about American true crime podcasts. No matter how gruesome or sad, there’s always the sense of relief that nothing so outlandish could happen in the dull old UK. They Walk Among Us, though, shows that there is terror out there in the mundanity. Each time husband and wife duo Benjamin and Rosanna Fitton retell a British true crime story with a forensic but empathetic eye, exhuming the strange and the sad and reminding you that it could happen to you too. Listen on your podcast app >>
The No Sleep Podcast
The tradition of the anthology horror movie has found a modern home in podcasting, and few places do it as well as this one. Each time there are new, original stories drawn from listener submissions – a couple for free listeners, six or seven for paid subscribers – with some performed by a narrator and some by a full voice cast, with subtle sound design to ramp up the creepiness. We’re knocking on for 500 episodes of scary short stories now after nearly 12 years, and some writers have gone on to launch successful writing careers off the back of it. Listen on your podcast app >>
Alice Isn’t Dead
Rather appropriately, this podcast is sort of undead: the main series ran from 2016 to 2018, but very occasional new episodes have been known to claw their way up through the cold earth. The team behind Welcome to Night Vale, a pseudo-radio show from a town bedeviled by the weird and the freaky, Alice Isn’t Dead is about one woman’s search for her wife who she’d assumed was dead. The storytelling conceit of Alice’s wife recording messages to herself while driving a truck across the country is smart, and the mixture of bizarre, impossible things she finds on her travels makes this feel like a black mirror of Doctor Who. Listen on your podcast app >>