As podcasting has matured as a medium, it’s grown to cover almost every genre and style imaginable, from old-school tech talk and true crime, to sci-fi and sobering historical deep dives. It’s also proven extraordinarily adept at horror, with both fictional podcasts and real-life tales offering a variety of scares, chills, and unsettling encounters. Much like traditional radio dramas, there’s a distinct intimacy to the format, one that allows talented storytellers to unnerve audiences with nothing more than sound.
For Halloween, we’ve collected some of the best and scariest podcasts to grace our smartphones. They might be brand-new shows, or long-running classics, but like a great horror movie or novel, each and every one is practically guaranteed to leave you unsettled and looking over your shoulder. But don’t worry — they’re just podcasts, right?
Inside the Exorcist
Why we love it: Mark Ramsey’s Inside series tells the stories behind some of cinema’s greatest films, including Psycho and Jaws. Each season is a must-listen in its own right, but 2017’s Inside The Exorcist is flat-out the scariest podcast that I’ve ever heard. The impeccable writing, performances — and crucially, the sound design by Jeff Schmidt — all come together for a storytelling experience that is emotionally riveting, and at times as terrifying as the William Friedkin movie itself. I listened to most of this podcast while I was home alone, which was a terrible mistake. –Bryan Bishop
Why we love it: There are a lot of podcasts inspired by pseudo-urban legends, many of which are on this list, but one of the newest additions to the subgenre that’s piqued my interest is Video Palace. Created by Nick Braccia and Michael Monello for the horror streaming service Shudder, the podcast follows a video collector named Mark Cambria who finds himself investigating “The White Tapes” — fabled VHS cassettes that, when watched, can drive the viewer insane. It mixes the retro nostalgia of Stranger Things with the technological paranoia of The Ring, and three episodes in it has already worked its way under my skin. –Bryan Bishop
Why we love it: Alternate reality games love to blur the line between fantasy and reality, and one of my favorite podcasts of recent years took the concept to the next level. Rabbits is the story of a woman named Carly Parker who is trying to discover the whereabouts of a friend who has recently gone missing. She soon discovers that the disappearance is linked to a proto-ARG called Rabbits, that may — or may not — actually be real. The series starts incredibly strong, with Parker peeling back the onion-like layers of a conspiracy that is so enmeshed in our own real-world popular culture that it’s easy to think this could all possibly be true. The final ending doesn’t quite land as strong as the rest of the series, but that doesn’t make the journey along the way any less compelling. –Bryan Bishop
Alice Isn’t Dead
Why we love it: This podcast, from Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink, takes the shape of recordings made by a truck driver as she crosses the country in hopes of finding her lost wife (the titular Alice). Along the way she encounters all manners of spooky weirdness and otherworldly entities. While Night Vale was its own phenomenon, Alice Isn’t Dead stands out for its overall tone and the evocative, lyrical writing. It’s what helped sustain three seasons — and led to the recently released Alice Isn’t Dead novel, as well as a TV development deal. –Bryan Bishop
Why we love it: If you’re a fan of horror movies, John Carpenter’s Halloween casts a long shadow on the genre. This fall, film critic Amy Nicholson has been going over the story behind the classic franchise, looking not just at the making of the 1978 original, but why fans have stuck with the series in the decades since, all the way up to David Gordon Green’s new entry in the franchise. –Andrew Liptak
Why we love it: Archive 81 bills itself as a “found footage horror podcast,” and that’s a pretty apt description. It opens with recordings made by Dan Powell, an archivist at the Housing Historical Committee of New York State who is trying to make sense of some audio interviews that were recorded decades earlier. It eventually turns out that Dan himself is missing (there are a lot of missing people in scary podcasts), and the show is actually being put together by Dan’s friend Mark who is looking for him… and things just get weirder from there. Events can get a little tough to track at times, but the show is filled with a lot of unnerving fun, and it just recently wrapped its third season, with a fourth in the works. –Bryan Bishop
The No Sleep Podcast
Why we love it: This long-running podcast sprung up in 2011, when members of the r/nosleep subreddit decided to start turning some of its creepy stories into audio recordings. Over the years, it’s grown into a bigger and more ambitious anthology series, and also moved forward with a novel subscription model that lets the podcast generate revenue while still offering pared-down versions of its multi-story episodes for free. With 11 seasons under its belt, The No Sleep Podcast has a lot of content to listen to, and there’s no doubt something there to creep out and disturb everyone. –Bryan Bishop
The Magnus Archives
Why we love it: Starting in 2016, this anthology podcast follows Jonathan Sims, who purports to be an archivist for The Magnus Institute. The group catalogs accounts of the disturbing and the supernatural, and over the course of the podcast Sims, and other cast members, read the accounts found in the Institute’s archives as a sort of audio permanent record. Sims’ crisp voice, and the largely minimalist production, lend the stories an eerie, creeping dread that speaks to just how powerful a well-acted tale can truly be. –Bryan Bishop
Why we love it: Blackwood began just the other day, right in time for Halloween. The series is the recently discovered recordings of a trio of podcasters — Molly Weaver, Bryan Anderson, and Nathan Howell — who begin to delve into the story of a local monster called the Blackwood Bugman. As is to be expected with this type of story, things go sideways as it turns out that the monster is real, and that there might be a real, horrifying reason for why the creature has remained a secret for so long. -Andrew Liptak
Why we love it: Aaron Mahnke’s Lore is a podcast mainstay at this point. Since the show’s debut in 2015, it has presented bi-weekly tales of folklore and mystery, narrated by Mahnke in his calm, reserved monotone. Along the way, it has become a full-fledged media brand unto itself, inspiring a number of books, a series from Amazon Prime, and an immersive haunted house. There’s nothing innately scary about the show’s production or Mahnke’s delivery unto itself; the fascination is more in the way the show’s tales echo the common urban legends that permeate our society, or how the details of one story may tie into famous horror tales like Dracula. In that sense, Lore is as much about the influence of folklore as it is the legends themselves.
The show’s anthology format makes it a podcast that you listen to in streaks, and I’ve often found myself latching on for a few episodes here or there, only to drift away as the urgency of a serialized show captures my attention instead. But Lore is a show I always return to, and with the vast trove of folklore as its inspiration, it’s a show that Mahnke will no doubt be able to keep producing as long as he is interested. -Bryan Bishop