9 blood-curdling horror and true-crime podcasts for Halloween

Kt Hawbaker
Chicago Tribune

Scary stories are some of the first we learn to tell.

A time-honored tradition at childhood sleepovers involves passing a flashlight around in the dark and trying to one-up your buddies with tales of the macabre. Monsters, real or imagined, are used to reinforce social mores – mothers shouldn’t hurt their children, don’t take candy from strangers, etc. Horror reinforces the rules just as we’re learning what they are.

Podcasts offer a return to that narrative flavor, and its freakiest renditions are just begging you to hit all of the lights and turn up the speakers. From serial killers to cults to whatever the heck that just was, here are nine horror and true-crime podcasts that’ll throw a chill down your spine.

(Obviously, these podcasts contain graphic language and descriptions.)

1. Heaven’s Gate

Solid investigative journalism plus the true story of a 20th century suicide cult equals “Heaven’s Gate,” hosted by Glynn Washington of “Snap Judgment.” The 10-episode show uses archival recordings, new interviews with folks who survived Heaven’s Gate and conversations with family members of those who did not. Washington, who was raised in a different religious cult, is able to offer an inimitable and empathetic lens.

2. Generation Why

Buddies Justin Evans and Aaron Habel began this true crime and unsolved mystery podcast back in 2012, and have since amassed a huge following with episodes revolving around cases like Chandra Levy (unsolved murder) and Brock Turner.

3. Last Podcast on the Left

On the “Evil Dead” of horror podcasts, Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski delve into humanity’s darkest corners – Jonestown, the Donner Party, war crimes – but take on an electrifying shock jock-approach along the way. Real talk: It’s super bro-y and not for everyone, but the hosts are transparent and thorough with their research.

4. The Apex and the Abyss

Erika Gwynn tells tales of true crime past and present, offering fact-driven narratives that rely on conventional journalism – Gwynn takes the subjects seriously, making this a good option for news junkies.

5. The NoSleep Podcast

A horror fiction podcast, “NoSleep” is up to its eleventh season and offers a beginner’s guide to those new to its vast archive. Each episode is made of a handful of short stories, with a deployment of sound and music that should scare the beejeezus out of other shows.

6. Spooked

Also hosted by Glynn Washington, “Spooked” is a spin-off of “Snap Judgment,” a killer weekly storytelling podcast produced by WNYC. The initial podcast’s annual Halloween tales were so well-received that the radio station decided to embark on a separate horror series, which is now in its second season. Think of it as “This American Life” but covered in goosebumps, with the kind of sound design you’d expect from public radio.

7. Pseudopod

One of the original horror fiction podcasts, this low-fi production borrows from great authors and unknowns alike, hoisting up suspense. Led by Alasdair Stuart, who was briefly employed as a circus geek, it feels like the slashiest campfire hangout ever.

8. My Favorite Murder

If you’re a terrible person who enjoys canned wine as much as you enjoy TV shows about serial killers, this one’s for you. With a pack of loyal fans who call themselves “Muderinos,” Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff lead this loosely-researched and often hilarious true crime podcast, taking turns at telling each other a different story of murder or survival each week.

9. Alice Isn’t Dead

Presented by the equally eerie “Night Vale,” the fictional show follows a queer truck driver as she searches across America for her late wife who – you guessed it – isn’t dead.


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