JADE VAN DARTEL | REPEAT OFFENDERS
Providing a sensory experience of murder and mystery
Podcasts are the hottest new form of media that, with the lack of censorship laws and the need to appeal to all audiences for monetary security, has created a hub for niche interests and stories to be explored. The easy accessibility in creating and producing podcasts has allowed for anyone, regardless of skills, monetary support or experience, to finalise their ideas for anyone to hear. I think about the success of Inkwyrm, a series following the antics around the titular ‘intergalactic fashion publication,’ that was written, voiced and produced by a small group of college and high school students. While this certainly proves that anyone with enough enthusiasm, ideas and time can produce an amazing podcast, that does not mean that podcasts have not entered the sights of those with a history of talent in the media industry.
Darkest Night, produced by The Paragon Collective Network — the same network that hosts the multi-award-winning horror anthology The NoSleep Podcast, cannot only proclaim fantastic reviews on Apple Podcast but also a star-studded cast. Already starting out strong with narration from Lee Pace (yes, the man famous for his portrayal as Ronan the Accusor in the MCU, as well as Thranduil in The Hobbit trilogy, that Lee Pace) the series features other acting talents like Missi Pyle, Denis O-Hare, Maynard James Keenan, and Jeffery Bowyer-Chapman. Much to my shock, having never gotten into the habit of reading the credits for episodes before listening, RuPaul and close friend Michelle Visage also flex their frankly fantastic voice talents multiple times throughout the series; I did not know I need Michelle Visage playing an unhinged limo driver in my life, but I was fundamentally changed after her episode.
The three-season audio drama follows intern Katie Reed at her new job aiding Project Cyclops, and is self-described as an exploration into ‘the last memories of the recently deceased, slowly revealing a horrifying master plan.’ However, this simple description fails to prepare you for the horrifying gorefest that is to follow. Each deceased individuals’ memory reveals more dramatic and bone-chilling ways that a person can be murdered and/or tortured, all before the final blow that sends their heads to the sinister Roth Lobdow Center, after which their memories are viewed through the aforementioned Project Cyclops.
Horror and slasher-focused media have always been a guilty pleasure of mine, but visual-based thrills always prove to be too much for my overactive imagination — I could barely handle Sinister’s silent found-footage massacres, let alone sleep that night or the next. While horror writers like Stephen King have never failed to entrance me, the intimate nature of podcasting’s auditory horror, wherein the narrator or characters themselves can provide real emotion to the scares happening in the script, has me completely hooked. It is just hard to be enthusiastic about such interests when most people find your fascination with listening to surrealistic and bodily horror to be incredibly off-putting or worrying (but hey, where better to rant about such a thing than in this article focused on niche interests?).
The likes of The Magnus Archives, Archive 81 and Alice Isn’t Dead have helped revolutionise podcasting and its combination of genres like horror, thriller, and drama. Each has a unique sound designed to bring the story to your ear, creating very different but enthralling experiences. Still, Darkest Night stands out in its unflinching goal to have the audience experience every grisly second of people being dismembered, skinned, gutted and even eaten in intimate detail. When headphones are used, the sound design of the podcast performed suitably on a binaural microphone (which looks like a human head- What the hell?) makes it so you feel like you are right in the middle of the scene, with characters’ voices coming from every direction, and the gore sounding like it is happening right in front of you. I have jumped more than once whilst in the middle of grocery shopping from a sudden door slam, realistic creak of floorboards, or a comment whispered directly into my inner ear.
Despite the different deaths afforded to each episode, the way every character and motive feeds into each other, creating a complex web around the Roth Lobdow Center, makes it so you are craving for the next clue in the mystery. The opening episode feels like what could have happened if the movie Knives Out had encouraged the family to kill for the inheritance, but it suitably hooks you while laying the trail to the season final. The deaths can absolutely be defined as gratuitous, but the plot makes it so each death has motive packed into every blow; a particularly strong example being the supposedly date-drugged woman switching it up on her attacker and revealing herself to be a hired assassin, who then takes her time in killing him as a form of revenge.
This podcast absolutely is not for everyone. Definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for those adverse to graphic descriptions and sounds of violence and body mutilation. It also does not flinch away from nor censor uncomfortable subjects: the aforementioned attempted date-rape, coerced suicide, cults, bad Grindr dates with the kind of head you would never want (I swear that this comment is funny after episode 18), you name it. It definitely should be mentioned that none of the episodes lists the possible triggers, which is an obvious flaw but I mention it now, so people interested in the podcast know what they are getting into.
Regardless of its controversial content, for a secret gore-enthusiast like myself, this podcast is a gem that you can be equally repulsed and intrigued by in turn. The all-star cast and production quality make it a shining example of how the podcast industry is becoming a formidable alternative to television or film and I can only hope that Director/Producers Alex Aldea and Victor Figueroa take on another project together in the future.