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Voices in the Dark: The Rise of the Female Horror Host

Friday, April 27, 2018 | Opinion

By: MADDI MCGILLVRAY

Long before television, film, and “Netflix and chill,” the best place for someone to get their horror fix was by tuning into the radio. Radio dramas took over the airwaves in the 1940s and created some of the scariest moments in horror history. Using audio, sound effects, and the power of suggestion, these weekly programs built a sense of danger in the listener’s ear and proved that the more frightening horror is often that which you cannot see.

Much of what made these stories so compelling were the voices of their slick and sinister hosts. While characters might be slashed and murdered each week, the host always returned and helped listeners form an attachment to the show. Voices such as cackling Old Nancy in The Witches Tale, E.G Marshal saying “Come in!… Welcome” in CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and Earnest Chapel’s infamous “Quiet, please… Quiet, please…” helped signal the beginning of the show and ushered listeners into the strange and macabre worlds. Their clever tongue and cheek narrations helped move the dramas along until their signature closings ala Raymond Johnson’s chilling “Pleasant dreaaaams, hmm?”

Horror radio dramas and their iconic hosts may have come and gone, but their legacy lives on today in a new audio medium: the podcast. There has been a significant breakthrough of podcasts in the modern age, and horror is no exception. Whether you’re looking for bone chilling fictions or something a bit more realistic and informative, there are plenty of horror podcasts to give you scares on the go. However, unlike their predecessors that mostly featured male voices and narrators, the female horror host has found her home in the golden era of the podcast. From investigative journalists and personal diary entires to reviews and analysis, more and more women are lending their voices to scares.

So turn off the lights, pop in your headphones, and listen to any one of these chilling podcasts helmed by women.

Serial: Sarah Koenig

True crime podcasts are more popular than ever. This is largely thanks to 2014’s Serial, which helped set the mold for audio investigative journalism. Hosted by Sarah Koenig and co-created by Julie Snyder, Serial tells one story over twelve episodes. Sarah investigates the 1999 murder of a young woman in Baltimore named Hae Min Lee and the questionable conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Masud Syed for the crime. Sarah’s narration is both informative and transparent, which helps listeners work through the disturbing subject matter. She is refreshingly candid and frequently expresses her conflicting feelings about the case. This helps to soothe the minds of her many listeners, whose opinions about Adnan also change with each passing episode. 

The Black Tapes: Alex Regan

The Black Tapes is a bi-weekly docudrama that follows journalist Alex Regan as she tries to solve a bizarre mystery surrounding paranormal investigator (and renowned skeptic) Dr. Richard Strand. Alex delves into an investigation of Strand’s “black tapes,” which are files that feature paranormal activity that he was unable to disprove. As Alex becomes consumed by the creepypasta-style tapes, she is forced to fact the ghosts (both literal and figurative) that haunt her and Strand. Not only is Alex a likeable narrator, but she is also incredibly relatable. What woman hasn’t struggled to achieve a healthy work/life balance? The found footage (or audio) approach of the podcast makes effective use of the medium and feels just so unnervingly real… especially in one particular episode that features a  demonic noise that will kill everyone who hears it. 

Alice Isn’t Dead: Truck Driver 

From the minds of Welcome to Night Vale comes Alice Isn’t Dead. The serialized podcast follows an unnamed truck driver (voiced by Jasika Nicole) as she drives across the United States searching for her missing wife, Alex. The search quickly takes a nosedive into the supernatural and brings the truck driver into a world of serial murders more terrifying than she could have ever imagined. There’s a believable feeling of loneliness that permeates the truck driver’s journey and the ways she recounts the haunting memories of her marriage and her wife’s disappearance. Episodes shift from sad to terrifying to gory, often at the drop of a dime. Fans can also get their hands on a novel based on the series, which will be released next year. 

Limetown: Lia Haddock

If X-Files and Twin Preaks had a podcast baby, it would be Limetown. Set up like a radio show, this serial podcast follows journalist Lia Haddock who is investigating the unsolved mystery of the titular Limetown, a research facility where over 300 of its residents disappeared without a trace. Similar to Alex in The Black Tapes, Lia uncovers a personal connection to her own question, “What happened to the people of Limetown?” As Lia’s investigation unfolds, listeners become just as invested in the podcast’s leading woman as her work. Limetown feels overly convincing at times… and is best watched alone in the dark. The Limetown prequel novel, written by Cote Smith & published by Simon & Schuster, is also available now. 

Faculty of Horror: Alex West and Andrea Subissati

This may seem like a bias choice, what with one half of The Faculty of Horror being Rue Morgue’s Executive Editor. But if you’re not listing to this podcast, you’re missing out on some of the best brain plumping horror film discussions you’ll get your ears on. Hosts Alex West and Andrea Subissati dissect your favourite classic and contemporary horror movies with a slash of analysis and research. The pair curate their episodes thematically, making them feel like informal seminars that are equal parts engrossing and informative. It’s clear that the duo love horror and their playful camaraderie is infections as they deliver their master-class on the genre. Alex and Andrea are inspirations for anyone who grew up thinking there wasn’t space for feminist analysis in horror. Catch up on all 60 episodes now. 

My Favourite Murder: Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff 

Hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff might call their podcast a “comedy,” but rest assured, My Favourite Murder delves into some very morbid topics. The comedy duo started their podcast as a way to deal with their fears and to explore their love of true crime. The result? A hit podcast consistently at the top of the iTunes charts and a Facebook group full of dedicated fans. Each week, Georgia and Karen give the listener the lurid details of some of their favourite true crime stories. Less concerned with facts than about painting a morose picture, the pair’s witty banter is contagious and makes it feel as though I’m sitting down with my girlfriends talking about the one thing we’re told we shouldn’t: murder. 

Maddi McGillvray
Maddi is the Editorial Assistant at Rue Morgue Magazine. She is also a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, where she writes extensively on the horror genre. Maddi is completing her doctoral dissertation on women working in horror. She is also currently writing book chapters titled "Fleshy Female Corporealities: The Cannibal Films of the New French Extremity" as well as "To Grandmother’s House We Go: Documenting the Aging Female Body in Found Footage Horror Films."