Gallowtree Season One

Gallowtree Radio details strange events from a town somewhere in England. These events range from literal identity theft to “homeless zombie scum” taking over the world… so predictable, huh? This is very much a story-driven podcast.

Listener’s should be aware that Gallowtree’s concept is noticeably similar to Night Vale, so if you like that podcast, odds are you will like this one. Basically, it’s as if Night Vale was set in a British horrorshow that’s being run by a mentally disturbed anarchist. Although the setting might turn some listeners off, Gallowtree has high production value and good voice acting.

Despire the limited voice cast, I felt that the narrator had a vivid personality and a very loud, creepy voice that suited the tone wonderfully – in particular, the tone and atmosphere. It does wonder for the tone and atmosphere. The writing is a little fast-paced if one is not paying attention. They could easily miss some really good social commentary and important details into a 1984-esque world.

The show has good pacing and good writing, often making references to problems in contemporary society, such as religion, police brutality, politics, and numerous other topics. The 22-minute format reminds me more of a science fiction TV show on the SyFy network than a podcast.

The background noises are so detailed and precise that it only makes you more involved in the insane world it presents. Small things like the echoing background noises sound more like a disgusting sewer than anything else, with rats scuttling across the floor and vault doors slamming  shut so politicians and zombies can’t get in.

This is obviously a labor of love, as it was made by only a few dedicated people who so obviously love the impact Night Vale had on podcasting and audio storytelling. Anyone who is a fan of creative, creepy stories and excellent social commentary should take a ponder at the British craziness that is Gallowtree.

4/5 Stars

The Grayscale: Cracks in the Pavement

The Grayscale is produced by Critical Point Theatre and has all the makings of a great Twilight Zone homage, from the opening of the opening and closing to the meat of the story. If there was one problem this first story has its with the story’s conclusion.

Let me explain. See, the opening few minutes sets up the series, and then slowly focuses in on a single character. This character is the one we follow for most of the story. It’s straight-up horror of the Lovecraftian variety, but the writing is nowhere near the pinnacle of that sub genre. It’s not bad, but at times it can be bland. Other times, in particular, the metaphors the writer used to describe the monster were simple, but do its job quite well.

Everything was good until the sappy, it was all just a dream ending. The falling action and denouement was rushed, making the climax feel just like every other Lovecraftian horror story. I can understand not straying too far away from the genre, but there’s an homage and then there’s downright rehashing of tropes.

By far the best part of this episode was the opening and the slow zoom in on a single character. The “voice in your head’s” The middle and meat of the episode was okay and the ending felt like every other Lovecraftian story out there. Still, this is definitely on my list of things to listen to when I have downtime.

4/5 Stars

The Strange Fate of Matthew Hornblower

My first BrokenSea audio production was both a frightening and exhilarating experience. “The Strange Fate of Matthew Hornblower” is a horror tale about a bar owner named Matthew, who falls in love with a monster in human guise. All the while his friends worry about him as he slowly starts acting more and more strange.

Already the more astute horror fans among you will probably think the monster to be a succubus (or in this case a succufish). There was no sense of suspense one might expect from horror stories nowadays–ones filled with jump scares. The closest this tale gets to that cliche of the movie medium is when the volume goes up and your heart is pounding afterwards. It’s quite effective and not something I’ve heard done in audio horror story. If you are easily startled, this story might get your blood pressure up, but for horror fans that’s probably a good thing.

One of the better aspects is the mystery behind the creature. The humming of the “Jaws” theme near the beginning is a perfect addition to the story as it adds a bit of foreshadowing. After all, a monster is scarier when the individual can’t see it coming, and audio drama is the perfect medium for giving the audience that sense of dread.

Overall “The Strange Fate of Matthew Hornblower” is a tale not for the feint of heart.

4.5/5 stars

Natural Selection

An audio drama from newly formed company Audioblivious Productions, this short piece borrows gracefully from the zombie and survival horror genre. The opening few scenes are there to make you sympathetic towards this father-son pair, and lead the listener into a false send of security. The scenes with the father and son feel a bit forced, but when shit hits the fan, watch out, because the tension only ratchets up from there.

After a scene where a pregnant pig is killed by other swine, all hell breaks loose, and the heroes must survive a night of living hell in the vein of a survival horror story. The creepy music and ambience only adds to the feeling of hopelessness the character’s face.

One downside of this piece is the acting. That’s not to say it’s not good, but given the context, the actors give performances are a bit over the top. This is probably due the usual audio drama over the internet most companies have in place. Most people probably won’t notice or care, but as a critic you tend to notice subtle things like that. The army officer who shows up near the end is a good example of the acting.

The story itself ends on a relatively sour note, almost as if the writer felt he needed to not only get the characters out of danger, but also justify the reasoning behind why the animals acted the way they did. The answer to both is a bit of a letdown as the story would’ve been fine without the reasoning aspect, because it doesn’t make sense.

All in all, the tone of the piece and constant state of anxiety for the listener as they wonder who’s going to survive make this audio drama short an excellent first episode for a new audio drama company.

4.5/5 Stars

John Falls into Another Dimension

A lovecraftian tale from Pocket Radio Theater, this horror story of a man’s slow descent into madnes is nothing new to the Lovecraftian subgenre. “The Rats in the Walls” was my first introduction to Lovecraft. This is certainly reminiscent of that, and based on a little light research a common trope of both Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction.

“John Falls into Another DImension” is a full cast production because of the inclusion of different actors/actresses for the various roles. More often than not, stories with narration and character-spoken dialogue have a tendency to halt the soundscape or the narration, as if you can’t have both at the same time. The problem then lies with the mixer and his ability to properly convey what is going on.

This production sides more on the side of an audiobook and therefore dodges that particular problem. The writer and narrator of the story, Karl Sparks, does a good enough job of setting the scene with the words and the infliction of his voice that sounds layered on top of it would’ve only distracted from the tale.

That’s not to say the actors didn’t play an important role, but since most of the story takes place inside John’s head, it’s hard to rate their perfomances because their lines were so few and far between. At least when compared to the amount of narration.

There’s not much else to say, other than the ending may be an obvious twist and seen in a lot of stories in general, but it still left an impact on me. The bulk of the horror comes in the form of a series of increasingly strange events which test John’s sanity.

4/5 stars

The Seventh Key

This was a wonderful story with an ending that didn’t quite bring it home. Without going into too much detail, the “what really happened” ending felt overly complex for the sake of being complex, rather than to enhance the story. Twists are a great tool for short stories, but audio seems to hardest medium to tell this kind of story. It can be done well, as in Alone in the Night.

The ending aside, this story hooks you right from the beginning. If you’re a writer, then hearing the protagonist struggle with trying not to rehash the same old stories will hit a cord deep inside and give you immediate rooting interest. Even if you’re not a romance author, like Ms. Applegate in the story, the problems she’s going through are ones which ring true for all fiction writers. If you aren’t a writer, it still gives an interesting insight into the thought process of the average writer.

That alone is worth the price of admission: time.

4/5 Stars

Phantom Canyon

Phantom Canyon succeeds in being horror. A horror-western is a bit of a stretch. Yes, the story is set in the old west, but I felt this was a much better horror piece than it was a western. That’s all good, because those two genres almost never work well together. I’d pin this audio drama at 75% horror, 25% western.

How good of a horror is this? I slept with the lights on for a few hours after listening to it. Horror films don’t scare me. It’s only after they’re done that my mind begins to play tricks on me. Phantom Canyon had that same effect.

The actors and actresses did a great job of bringing life to their characters. That, combined with the fantastic production value, made for a truly immersive story. Without any spoilers, the final scene succeeds in achieving the want for a sequel without promising there will be one. Such a balance is hard to get right.

Aside from the tiny genre complaint, there’s not really much to criticize this for. As Pendant’s first “Prestige” show they did a bang-up job and was worth the small amount of money that was shelled out to get it.

Rating: 5/5 stars.