Hello again to you all. Now it is near the witching hour, my final article for Halloween will be something special. Those of you who have been reading the other articles not by myself here this month may have noticed a certain sub-series: Sleepless Nights. Given that I specialise in audio, I thought it was only right to write an article on the joys of and shudders down the spine of audio horror. But how do I begin?
Horror as a genre has had many forms: The ghost story with your friends, Lon Cheney and his Phantom, The Bates Motel, all the way to the modern jump-scare riddled films – which inexplicably seem fond of coming out in summer – but compared to them audio has one major advantage. It’s much more personable.
Just imagine: The lights are either off completely or very dim, the moon is high in the sky and you are lost in some story in the early hours of the morning. Be it one in first person addressed to the listener, an audio original chiller in the style of Stephen King or John Carpenter, or one that is reliant almost entirely on sound. The killer or the creature is approaching their target. The characters aren’t aware as the monstrosity approaches them. You feel yourself worrying for them, calling for them to get out! But what’s that noise? Your home doesn’t creak like that. Does it? Should you investigate? You couldn’t have some crazed madman of your own…do you?
That feeling? That split-second scream of primal horror in your mind? That is what audio horror is truly the best at. The indescribable, truly human panic. Horror audio – audiobooks, podcasts, or full cast productions – is also usually the realm of expert use of music and sound effects. That inhuman howl for a werewolf, the hissing for a furious denied vampire, or the horrific musical stings that sound like the steps of the unknown. There are so many sounds that go bump in the night…and they know exactly how to get inside your mind. I can’t even name the number of times I’ve fallen asleep listening to a nightly piece of audio entertainment only to jerk awake during a scene because of some nightmarish noise.
Not to mention there are quite a few audio producers these days who take advantage of the format to tell stories aimed solely at the listener. The use of dead air, possessed radio transmissions and various other similar techniques make it very engaging to an isolated listener. You can think of this as the audio equivalent of the ‘Look Behind You!’ story device. However you’d be surprised how well it can be adapted and altered as needed.
One other thing I will mention is the development of creatures or abominations made of sound. I can’t help but admit I have a soft spot for these things – mostly due to Big Finish Doctor Who audio classic Scherzo – but they can be truly Lovecraftian. THINGS which have existed since long before the birth of man or perhaps monstrosities born from a badly phrased wish on a monkey’s paw or magic lamp. Be careful when working in the domains of the inhuman after all.
I completely adore audio horror in all its forms. Visual horror may not be my preference – aside from the days when the main focus was suspense – but suspense is still very welcome in the realm of audio. It doesn’t matter if you prefer professional productions from audio exclusive producers, the enthusiastic work of eager amateurs or work from companies such as the BBC, Black Library or Audible, you will find something to send chills down your spine over Halloween Night. I know I won’t be the only one with a tradition or traditions all my own,
Just keep an ear out for those unnatural noises in the dark. The music of the children of the night. You never know what’s sneaking up behind you!