PodUK 2020 Horror Panel Transcript




Alasdair Stuart 5:33

Good afternoon, everybody and welcome to the horror panel. This is less a panel, more a cartographic expedition within which myself and my elite colleagues over here will attempt to map for you some of the more interesting and innovative elements of modern podcast audio horror. The best possible thing we can do at the top of every doomed expedition is of course, take the photo. You know, the one where people get crossed out as the polar bears eat them. [laughter]


See, same wavelength. So what we're going to start off with is introductions and I'll have all of us explain who we are and what we do and what kind of shows we work on. I'll start I'm Alasdair, your moderator for this evening. I co own the Escape Artists Podcast Network, along with my partner Margeurite Kenner. We produce four shows: Escape Pod which does science fiction, Pseudopod, which does horror, Cast of Wonders, which does YA, and Podcastle, which does fantasy. I host Pseudopod, the horror show, for a frankly, horrifying amount of time. Seriously, I don't want to think about it. I think there's, I think I'm on the Bayeux tapestry recording episode 49. In addition to all of that, I also write about the genre a fair amount, and I've turned up in several other voice acting capacities, most recently, as Peter Lukas, who is the unsung Hero of The Magnus Archives.


I'm on film. I'm on film doing this!


Alex Newall 7:06

Unsung?!


Alasdair Stuart 7:09

Percy, whose queen, who if everyone who listened to nothing bad would have happened, not that anything bad happens at the end of the Magnus Archives season 4. And speaking of the Magnus Archives, Alex.


Alex Newall 7:21

Hi. And so I'm the CEO of Rusty Quill limited, which is a podcast production company and Podcast Network. And we generate a large number of shows the most relevant of which to this panel is called The Magnus Archives, which is a horror series that pretends to be an anthology but it's not. And and basically, I think that's as succinct as I can really get. So


Gemma Amor 7:21

Hi, I'm Gemma, I'm the CEO of nothing. I write for I write for a number of horror podcasts I write for the no sleep podcast. I co write and voice act in a horror comedy show starring Kate Segal called Calling Darkness. I am also in season two of shadows at the door which Mr. Ault is involved in and various other scary spooky shows hiding on the internet. I'm also a writer. I write books and novels and various other. That's me. This is David.


David Ault 8:24

As Gemma said, I am David. David Ault. I am a voice actor in the NoSleep podcast just 48 hours ago came back off tour for a European tour so don't quite know what day it is or where I am. But I'm also the co host of shadows at the door with Mr. Mark Nixon here. And we do ghost stories M. r. James style horror with old stuff that has been adapted and new stuff from writers like Gemma Amor. I'm also on the white Vault and various other things so yes. I'm also Byron and the buyer in Chronicles, which has been going since 2006. [awe from the audience] I know Yes, I was fresh out of university and this American guy said, Would you like a podcast.


Yes. Then they get you hooked.


Alasdair Stuart 9:23

Oh, we're gonna be fine.


So this is your elite team of completely doomed scientists who are gonna walk up to the big squamous rogos blob of horror, poke it and see what happens. And the first question I want to ask everybody and I'm going to start at the other end and work back this time is what brings you to horror as a genre in particular?


David Ault 9:49

I think I arrived at horror via sci fi probably one of the reasons I got into voice acting all those many many years ago was Doctor Who. I was - it was in the the wilderness years between 1989 and 2005. Where there was no doctor who on TV - it was it was a long, long time. And the BBC started doing audio dramas with the old doctors and I really enjoyed those and I thought, Oh, are there any other people doing doctor who audio dramas, found some people online, listened to their work, listened to others. And then I've always liked ghost stories. So yes, I got involved with darker projects, then pendant audio, and basically it's sort of gone from there, but it's a deep seated love of ghost stories and coming in via sci fi.


Gemma Amor 10:46

I think I came probably via fantasy first, my first and biding love is fantasy. I grew up on a diet of Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time and the point horror books as well when I was a teenager And I've just always been - as a writer in particular, I'm drawn to making up things because you don't have to follow the rules. So that's why I will never write procedural crime drama because you have to know stuff and everything has to be based in an element of truth and with horror, you can pretty much invent your own landscape. Invent your own world. So. Yeah that's me.


Alex Newall 11:23

I mostly came to horror through convenience. [audience laughter]


Alasdair Stuart 11:27

That is the single most you sentence -


Alex Newall 11:31

Okay, so for me and horror, I suppose I have the most experience on the sci fi side as well actually. But in terms of horror as a medium, it is one that's interested me because I think it lead - it simultaneously, people think it's easiest one to get into because, you know, it's just like 'ah, the tropes they're there. You do the tropes and you've done a horror!' But at the same time, it also leaves you very little wiggle. room between good horror and hot garbage, which I quite like, operating in that space. But I have recently been made aware that the things that I make that aren't horror are still nightmare fuel? Which is news to me. I wasn't aware that's a thing, now I know. And so as a result I can I can work with that.


Alasdair Stuart 11:35

I came to horror ... very similar to David's in many ways. In that most of my entry point was science fiction, coupled with the fact that I was from a relatively young age, perpetrating an elaborate genetic con. I was about six foot by the time I was 13. And my voice broke really early. And that was useful, especially in a small rural community with a single screen cinema. And the nice old lady behind the counter whoat no point went, 'You're 18 aren't you sonny?' 'Yes!!!' She just kind of assumed and so I saw a frankly ridiculous amount of movies, I had no business seeing at least five years early. It left marks and very much a good way! It horribly traumatises you, but in a good way!


Alex Newall 13:20

This explains so much...!


Alasdair Stuart 13:24

Oh, and it's also partially Paul Daniels' fault. [audience gasps] For those of you who don't know, Paul Daniels was kind of the avatar of TV stage magic in the UK for a really long time. And he is one half of a very curious, binary experiment with horror that the BBC carried out and which went very well. And as a result, they were terrified. Never did it again.


David Ault 13:45

Was this Wizbit?


Alasdair Stuart 13:47

No, Wizbit is the thing of the demon realms. Not to be brought forth like - Youtube Wizbit, and we're not sorry. We're not sorry. Paul Daniels famously did a Halloween special in the very early 1990s, where he finished with an elaborate escape, which was supposed to be him getting out of an Iron Maiden, which is not him having the band fired at him at high velocity but rather a very large spiky cupboard, which shut on him and apparently killed him. And they just didn't mention anything about it for like two hours and of course, being terribly British my family I've watched this and went, 'fairly certain we've just seen a man die. ..D'you want a cup of tea? [audience laughter]


And this this landed in a very similar kind of period of time to Ghostwatch. Ghostwatch, for those of you who haven't seen it, is terrifying, terrifying. It's terrifying in an insidious and really evil way. It is presented as a terrible early 90s live TV event. It's presented by the exact people you think would present a terrible early 1990s live TV event and then about half an hour in, very slowly it starts to go to hell. And the final sequence which involves these words in various stages of combination: TV studio, flames, demonic voice, talk show host.. seared themselves into my brain so the whole time I'm going along going obviously I'm science fiction guy cuz I like spaceships and nuns from hell..! Pseudopod finally let me realise that I was a horror guy wearing a space suit! And that's kind of where I am. So I'm going to jump around a little bit in order and ask Gemma my next question which is what keeps you in horror?


Gemma Amor 15:34

I think the licence to be as imaginative as you can, you can do anything with horror and I love that and I was talking to somebody at the stand earlier on today. So my jam is people based horror, I write about people first and foremost. And my main concern when I sit down to write anything is is how the characters' feeling, what are their main motivations? How do they go through their lives and why. And the decisions and the Stories grow up around the people. And sometimes the horror is almost incidental. It's something that happens around them. But with horror, you can just, it's just free licence to let your imagination run riot. And I think that's what keeps me there. And I do dip into sci fi and I do dip into the more kind of psychological thriller side of things, but I like ghosts and ghoulies and monsters and things that go bump in the night, because you can just let your imagination go. And yeah, that keeps me keeps me firmly grounded.


David Ault 16:33

Absolutely, well, everything that Gemma just said. But also I the thing with horror, and especially with ghost stories is that they are timeless. They don't have they can be absolutely present day but they can be so timeless, which I don't need to explain the word.


But that's what horror and especially audio hora.


I love the all the audio medium Simply because it leaves all of the details to your imagination. It is all there and you are painting your own pictures and you can scare yourself as much as you want to, with what you're listening to, or if it's on a book, what you're reading and so that that's, that's what I like it, it becomes a lot more personal to you as the as the devour of the horror. If you like that's, that's my Yeah.


Alex Newall 17:33

For me, I'm gonna give a sort of shorter term answer, which is that for reasons beyond my understanding, but I'm happy to know, cosmic horror is currently basically getting in vogue, which is phenomenally useful. But what that also means is - oh God, Alex has just had a brain drop from like 10 years ago. Okay, cool. So we have emergent culture. We have dominant culture and we have residual culture. As lovecraftian horror shifts from emergent to dominant, one is left wondering what is emergent next. Now what I'm what I'm getting at is -- [audience laughter]


yeah, I just channelled a 10 year younger version of me who was a pompous ass.


Gemma Amor 18:18

very intimidating.


Alex Newall 18:19

So what what is interesting to me is we all know now what's currently interesting, what's kind of in vogue and what's going there. But for horror, we are due something new. And the same way that sort of the zombie trope came in and then kind of faded and so on, we are now due one. And a lot of the time what is due next is defined by what leaves public domain because that is what allows -- sorry what *enters* public domain, because it allows experimentation within the space. So it's like, Okay, cool. This thing has become public domain, it's fair game. And in podcasting, what we are as an industry is one enormous playground where people get to make things that *no one* in their right mind would *ever* option for anywhere else. Right up until it's successful and go, 'Oh, yes, we were definitely thinking about that.' But what that means is that right now we are due a big new thing - and I don't know what it is, for horror - combined with an industry that's still able to just suddenly have 10,000 people go, 'I think it's this!', 9000 to be wrong and everyone to still be having a good time and not care. You know, like, that's why I'm here right now, if you know what I mean.


Alasdair Stuart 19:26

I'm in horror because I really like [?], especially cultural ones. I firmly believe horror is one of the most fundamentally hopeful genres of fiction there is and it's hopeful, I think in two very different ways. There is the schadenfreude element, which is well at least that's not happening to me.


Alex Newall 19:43

Yes.


Alasdair Stuart 19:47

And there's also the survival element. And I mean, this is kind of an easy get, but I think an awful lot about cabin in the woods, and about the moral dilemma that breaks down very starkly in the final 15 minutes of that, and where various characters land; that idea, that kind of visceral interaction with ethics, something which I think horror does. I wouldn't say no other genre does it because I know lots of other people in those genres and I know where I live. But I think horror engages with it in a way that very few others do. And I really respond to that. And I've my dark days, I've had tremendous strength in horror stories.


Gemma Amor 20:27

I think, yeah, to add to that, I think for me personally, as well, I have been very open about mental health issues and my own experiences with them. And I feel like horror is a safe space, a safe space to explore that and I think a lot of horror fans are drawn to the genre for that reason, they find actually scary stories quite comforting for their anxiety issues. I know I do. But also you can -- ..there is a lot of horror to be found in the everyday and in your own struggles and in your own story. So I think that also keeps me in the genre because I run about these things, those things interest me and I explore my own issues through the thing, the things that I write. Yeah, I think you're Yeah.


Alasdair Stuart 21:09

I want to pick up on something which Alex mentioned, which is the idea of 'the thing that's coming'. For two reasons. Firstly, because my favourite definition of horror is William Friedkin's one of how true horror is seeing something approach. And secondly, because I'm curious, it plays very neatly into one of the things I wanted to talk about, which is, why do we think horror audience is growing? Because it is.


Alex Newall 21:31

Be happy to take a stab.


Alasdair Stuart 21:33

Please do. Take several!


Alex Newall 21:36

I think certainly one element is picking up on what Gemma was just saying, which is that horror is a very useful space for you to literalise issues both of the time and of a personal nature and stab them repeatedly. By which I mean, yeah, it's really useful to have a space where allegory is not only encouraged, but accepted and a bloody useful tool. But what that means is shocker - in times of uncertainty, horror tends to do well. And it's because what you're doing is - at least what you can do, this is not the only answer by any means - is you can take The Big Questions, you know, 'are we all doomed?' and maybe bit smaller, and you know, like, questions about economy, questions about mental health, genuinely anything that's really gnawing at people, the thing that you wake up in the morning and you have that thought again and go - *deep sigh*.


And then what it does is it allows you to transcribe that onto a landscape that has A: a set of rules that you can navigate - 'don't open the door.' If you open the door, you deserve it, c'mon. And don't split up. But my point is, these are these knowable rules which help you codify this weird, scary idea that you've got into something that you can navigate because we all know how Stories work. So when a character is navigating that space, you're navigating it with them. And then the additional thing is it makes them conquerable, like Alasdair was saying about survivable is, if your world is trying to kill your characters and your world is an allegory for whatever you want to explore. If your characters are surviving that, you're taking that journey with them, you'll survive anything that you're afraid of. And I should stress that's not the be all and end all of horror. In fact, that's often not the way that I personally engage with horror, but I think sort of culturally speaking, that probably strikes a note with a decent number of people


Alasdair Stuart 22:54

Cool! Either of you two want to jump in?


Gemma Amor 23:34

I'm just trying to think of a way of phrasing it. I want to use the term humanist, but I'm not sure that's the right expression -


Alasdair Stuart 23:46

Sounds good to me!


Gemma Amor 23:47

But it's the idea that, you know, we're all human and there are certain things in our lives that drive us from the day we're born, to the day that we cease to be, and they're quite basic things. I think in times of hardship, for example, you know, we've been having a bit of a shitty time in this country lately and people revert back to those humanist principles as things to sort of comfort themselves with. If that makes - Does that make sense? I'm gabbling. I gabble. Yeah, it's Yeah. And it's about, it's about something that you can relate to, I think as a reader or a listener, or watcher, or a consumer of any kind of media. And I think the popularity increases, particularly in conjunction with things like Netflix streaming and looking for content, and they want so much content that we're now seeing much more prevalence with horror on things like TV. And I think that goes hand in hand with podcasting and everything else. So I feel like it's a human driven thing. Like we want to watch and listen and consume things that remind us of ourselves. Which sci fi perhaps you don't, it's grander, isn't it? The scale is grander with sci-fi.


Alasdair Stuart 25:01

It's almost the payoff between pragmatism and realism


Gemma Amor 25:04

You said that much more efficiently than I -


Alasdair Stuart 25:08

I couldn't have got there without you!


Gemma Amor 25:09

-- going around the houses and you got there in like one second.


David Ault 25:14

And I think it also, it also gives people control over what is going on in the horror. Because as we've been saying, we've been we've not been having a fun time recently, anywhere in the world really. And that can be very, it can give a lot of people a lot of anxiety about -- especially where you, you can't do anything about it. We're fed news with with a theme tune which is like a heartbeat and we're conditioned to take in this news and be filled with this horror that is happening out there, but we can't do anything about it! We're given the option once every --Two years, four years, once every five years to even have a go at doing something. And that puts us in a really -


Gemma Amor 26:10

- a bind -


David Ault 26:11

It is! It's a horribly helpless place. So having the opportunity either to write horror and externalise or to watch it and go along with it, but also be able to stop it. Gives us that control over over some aspect of this emotional stimulus.


Alasdair Stuart 26:34

Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, those are all amazingly great answers. I'm actually just letting that sink in for a second. All of this seems to be building up to something which we will touch on, which is the sense of there is something coming next in the field. And I'm curious before we get into the kind of nitty gritty of the logistics of voice acting, and kind of soliciting work and script writing and being the arch.. lich nemesis genius child and all of that.


You were given a cloak today..! [audience laughter]


Gemma Amor 27:10

Don't look at me!


I've never had a cloak before!


Alasdair Stuart 27:20

what do we think is next for the field?


Gemma Amor 27:24

I think you'll see more genre blending. I think Say for example, cosmic horror, folk horror, cosmic folk horror, that kind of genre crossover -


Alex Newall 27:34

cosmic folk horror, that's the answer! I bloody love that!


David Ault 27:38

Coming soon from rusty quill! [audience laughter]


Gemma Amor 27:42

You can't have that, that's mine this is copyrighted now to me! But you know, like I think people are getting much more adventurous and also, unique ideas are kind of few and far between. Now, in the field, there is no such thing as a unique idea. Everything's been done before. That's why we have tropes and tropes are enjoyable for that reason.


Alasdair Stuart 28:00

And we'll be getting to them.


Gemma Amor 28:01

Yeah. But you can have a new take on an old fashioned trope. And one of the ways of doing that is by blending the genre. And I think that's where we'll go. I think we'll see a lot more crossover between, like I said, those kind of sub genres, if that makes sense.


David Ault 28:23

I'm certainly thinking Armageddon, just in general.


Alasdair Stuart 28:28

Possibly also in fiction


David Ault 28:29

and also Yes, possibly. Yeah, I think that with films like Midsommar, and what was the other one?


Alasdair Stuart 28:40

hereditary


David Ault 28:40

Hereditary, that's the one! Sort of bringing back Wicker Man style ideas - Yeah, I'd go along with the folk horror, but I'm just thinking what's out there in the world today. How can that be reflected because it was about 10 years ago that that was that huge swell of - like weather films. [panel agrees] Then suddenly everything was being destroyed by cold or wind or tornadoes or something. And there's just a huge swell at the time and as we look at the world today, I think probably more personal horror -


Gemma Amor 28:41

Plague stories -


David Ault 29:19

plague stories but yeah, I think personal slash folk slash... slash.


Gemma Amor 29:26

But everything cycles as well - trends cycle, and like David said you'll have a spate of disaster moviesand then a spate of something else - it'll all just go through the various cycles and then come back to slashers probably in about 10 years time if you're talking movies


Alasdair Stuart 29:44

There is there is one thing I've seen a little bit of evidence for and I think this will be fascinating, which is we might actually be in the time period where Lovecraft is successfully contextualised, his corpse separated from its bones Those bones salted and buried in multiple locations across the Earth, lest he rise again! We are a couple of weeks out I think from the release of a movie adaptation of The Colour Out of Space, which is one of the genuinely very good Lovecraft stories directed by Richard Stanley who directed Hardware which is a film which feels like you have contracted a fever while you're watching it. And starring Nicolas Cage(!) [audience laughter]


we might be off to the races here my friends! All joking aside, there are multiple projects which seems to be approaching Lovecraft in a in a very kind of clear eyed .. way, 'wild eyed and hasn't slept for two weeks' way, which are engaging with very negative elements of his past and his beliefs and finding something positive that they can tear off those bits to get to and I would... One of the core frustrations of this field, I often find, is that it's its tendency to feel the very strong gravitational pull of Lovecraft in particular. And I, I like new things. I like things which have been created by people who don't look like they could conceivably be my brother, or the uncle that we really don't like to talk to. I like those stuff as well. I just like new things a lot, too. And I would be really interested and very hopeful to see the field kind of going that direction.


Gemma Amor 31:24

I think that's a good point as well to mention representation in horror. And horror diversifying through for example, women in horror, much more obvious movement now of women writing horror, doing very well. And all sorts of different diverse voices; Latinx horror, the full works and if you hang out on Twitter at all, you'll see various different hashtags and, and things trending and I think that will influence the genre as well hugely as we move forward.


Alasdair Stuart 31:50

And even better because there's always a tendency with foreign language material to assume it's terribly worthy, and it's not, it's all -- there are just as many greasy cheeseburgers with foreign language subtitles on them as there aren't. There's a Netflix show called Diabolero, which is literally Supernatural just in Mexico. And it's exactly as much fun as that sounds, so that there's so much great stuff out there. And one of the upsides of the late stage capitalist consumer culture, we are all trapped in is it's much easier to get to. So yay!


Alex Newall 32:24

if I may, I know we wanna move on, but you know me, I can't shut up! And I think with the risk of sounding like I'm trying to devalue horror - I'm not - that there is a reactionary element to horror as well, which is one of the ways that you can see the shape of things to come in terms of horror, is you look at the way of the shape of what's what's big at the moment. And horror is going to deliberately try and do something different to that or underwhelm now or break it apart into little bits. So take a look around you what what you seen a lot of at the moment - what's that? Disney owns the world? And it's all superheroes as far as the eye can see? My instincts say that as much as I would love a brand new Monster, it's not gonna happen. It's not the way it works. But what realistically I think you're going to start seeing is, the more that we lean into this homogenised model of storytelling, where -- and people rejected stuff like the dark universe, you know, the Tom Cruise one where basically when they went, 'cool, we'll make horror the way that we make all the other stuff that we make!' and everyone went 'nope, hate it. Don't do that.'


And I think that as a result, if you just take whatever's there, and invert it, you're at least gonna start getting the shape of things, I think, which means that I totally agree with you in that I think you're gonna start seeing probably a schism, if I'm honest, where I think you're going to see a lot of people still pushing for the huge scale like, you know, 'I sneezed and the world ended! Explore.' But also that real nitty gritty, grounded focused one and bringing in some of the more older styles like certain things coming back into circle where it's like, it is a very tight family drama. Well, one of the characters was dead all along or whatever. My point being that it's far more focused rather than the huge sprawling stuff, which is everywhere all the time.


Gemma Amor 34:09

I think less so perhaps with podcasting though and with audio drama you you have much more diverse material that tends to reach your ears before things reach your eyes on the screen. That makes sense. Yeah,


Alasdair Stuart 34:23

definitely. And further to that, I'm curious as to what tropes in audio, in audio horror, make the panel kind of sit up and pay attention.


Alex Newall 34:35

Audio specifically?


Alasdair Stuart 34:36

Audio specifically. We are at PodUK!


Gemma Amor 34:37

Well, I mean, from my perspective, probably from David's, we we are no sleep people. And we are big lovers of the creepypasta. So the creepypasta trope, I guess, is a trope.


Alasdair Stuart 34:48

Could you explain that just in case any of the audience don't know what it is?


Gemma Amor 34:51

So for anybody that doesn't know what creepypastas are, they're short internet based stories. And the NoSleep podcast in particular started by adapting the subreddit - so there's a subreddit with a load of very short, creepy stories written by whoever wanted to upload one. And it grew from there. So I think from my perspective, I am very fond of a creepypasta, I'm fond of a campfire story and I think that is a trope that will never die. And you can see it with the multitude of YouTube channels dedicated to it. Hundreds of podcasts out there that all do that kind of 'let's tell a scary story around the campfire'


Alasdair Stuart 35:26

it's a gleeful refusal to contextualise that I love about them. It's just 'here is a horrible thing that's happened, the end.'


Gemma Amor 35:38

and it's usually first person as well. So 'I went to the store and somebody chopped my head off the end.' And that's actually really enjoyable because you can relate to it and it's very easy and quick to digest and you can have fun with it. So I think that's my favourite trope - was that the question


David Ault 35:55

On the flip side, the long form claustrophobic, atmospherics slow burn ghost story or horror that builds up over time which is definitely the Jamesian style of shadows at the door that we enjoy but the white vault and things like that is a very claustrophobic slow burn - it's a bit like The Thing but even longer so that that's - The Long Thing. Yes.


We're being filmed Gemma!


So yes.


Alasdair Stuart 36:34

I was actually just about to say I'm really glad you brought that up(!) [laughter]


David Ault 36:40

Come again?


Alasdair Stuart 36:42

maybe later!


Gemma Amor 36:43

I'm getting real hot here..!


Alasdair Stuart 36:45

It's been a long day..! There's actually a new version of The Thing being - yeah. Which means one of two things: it will either be the equivalent of a three minute guitar solo, which is what really good Blumhouse movies tend to be, or will be the equivalent to three minutes of lift music guitar solo, which is what the other Blumhouse movies tend to be!


Gemma Amor 37:11

very sceptical.


Alex Newall 37:14