8 Horror Podcasts for Spooky Season

I love a good horror movie or gothic novel as much as the next girl, but there’s something about podcasts and audiobooks that sticks in my brain more than the other formats. Maybe it’s because I’m doing something on autopilot when I listen, like washing dishes or driving to the grocery store, so my attention is pretty fully focused on the show, but I’m still existing in my own space. It’s almost like the podcast itself haunts me… like, for example, when I drive to a particular post office, I recall the execution by electrocution of the Rosenbergs. Or, when I go to the guest bathroom of my house, I always think about how djinn like to live in the bathrooms of houses.

Whatever the reason, ‘tis the spooky season for horror podcasts, and here are a few the ones that haunt me the most fully:

This Is Actually Happening

This storytelling podcast presents first-person stories of ordinary people who experienced “uncanny” and “extraordinary” events that changed their lives forever. Whit Missildine is the host, and he helps their guest speakers tell the stories of, for example, being tortured in an Iranian prison, surviving an airplane hijack, and growing up in a cult. If you like documentary specials, like I Survived or Dateline, This is Actually Happening will be an easy transition out of the visual and into the auditory medium.

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Speaking of cults, this podcast is exactly what it sounds like: hosts present a deep research dive into some of the most controversial religious sects in history, explaining how they started, what they’re based on, and how they kept going. They talk about Jim Jones’ doomsday cult, the bioterrorist cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Heaven’s Gate, the Moonies, and many more, less-famous sects. I think of this podcast as the equivalent of a survey class about the topics: they hit all the major points, and if you want to go deeper into the research, they provide all their sources.

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Conspiracy Theory

Okay, so this podcast is less directly scary, but I still find it super spooky and sometimes even more haunting. From the same network as Cults (Parcast on Spotify) comes Conspiracies: an awesome podcast about some of the biggest and best-covered conspiracies in history. Most episodes are two-parters: the first part explains what happened, and the second part goes into the conspiracy theories behind it. For example, the two-part episode about The Mafia talks first about what the Mafia actually is/was, and then how it evolved into what we know it as now. The second part then details major conspiracies about the Mafia, like, did they help put Richard Nixon in office? Were they in cahoots with J. Edgar Hoover to assassinate Fidel Castro? It’s good stuff—and even though the hosts are not conspiracy theorists, they lay all the information out in a narrative that’s easy to follow for the layman. (Full disclosure: I’ll be writing a forthcoming episode for this show, so stay tuned for the Hillsborough Disaster and its conspiracies.) The scary aspect of this podcast is that some of these conspiracies have been proven true decades after their occurrences.

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Scary Stories to Tell on the Pod

If you’re familiar with Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s books of short stories, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, this is a great, spooky podcast for you. Hosts Andrew Farmer (Best Foot Forward) and Anna Drezen (Saturday Night Live) read their favorites tales from the books and then discuss the folklore in the books’ legends… all with a lens of high comedy.

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Everything Trying to Kill You

This podcast (though on hiatus) discusses all your favorite horror films, from classics like Dawn of the Dead to contemporary blockbusters like Midsommar, and the hosts provide analysis and humor from the perspectives of women of color. They answer questions like, Why they ain’t got good sense? Is it fair to set this film on an Indian Burial Ground? Does this type of horror hold up? (Full disclosure: I’m one of the hosts.)

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I love folklore, so of all the spooky podcasts listed here, this show is the one I most frequently have to pause and chill out from. True, when we think of folklore, with think of it as fake, a story created to explain something in the past that defied science… but some of these stories just sound too real. Like the sisters who communicated with the dead via séance after the first World War or how people with rabies were mistaken for werewolves. It’s a must-listen.

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The Hidden Djinn

This podcast is on the same network as Lore, Grim & Mild, and their content is fairly similar: The Hidden Djinn focuses on the folklore around the ethereal beings of the Arab world, the djinn. Rabia Chaudry (an incredible author, by the way) takes listeners through the different regional beliefs, their presence in the Quran, and even some personal experiences with djinn themselves. It’s very spooky.

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It’s Always Halloween

If you want to binge-listen to episodes about Halloween and spooky season specifically, I absolutely recommend Lucé Tomlin-Brenner’s show, It’s Always Halloween. She explores the origins of Halloween traditions, regional celebrations of the holiday, and even some nostalgia from other generations. It’s a really fun one to get in the mood of the season.

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Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.