The best horror isn’t jump scares or torture porn, it is the unease of the familiar shifted two degrees to the right. It is the idea of one’s regular life interrupted by something unknowable and thus unstoppable. It is the five seconds it takes to turn the lights off in the basement and then walk up the stairs, refusing to look behind you just in case. It is the ‘bump in the night’ that knocks on the front door and invites itself in to visit – and never leaves.
I love horror but most of the modern stuff has me rolling my eyes and checking my watch. That was until I started listening to ‘The Magnus Archives’.
The Magnus Archives is a recent discovery of mine but it has been around for about two years now and quickly gained a rabid and intensely loyal following. It follows an Archivist – or librarian – for a London-based occult research agency called the Magnus Institute. They have been around for a long time and they collect statements of people who have had unexplained encounters with the supernatural. Each episode consists of the Archivist reading a statement from a past case with follow up commentary from the Institute’s investigation into the matter.
It may sound boring but the nothing could be further from the truth because frankly, the stories contained within the statements is the absolute best horror stories I have heard in years. The stories run the gamut of supernatural lore. The stories aren’t garish or over-the-top with gore and obscenity screaming demons – most of the statements portray regular people giving matter of fact statements as they try to work out what just happened in their lives. But the incidents themselves are unsettling – some of the standout episodes involved getting lost in a peculiar slaughterhouse, a statement of World War I soldier who may have encountered Death himself, and a guy who notices a horrible odor coming from the apartment above him.
The stories are aided by the minimalistic production values. The audio is purposefully lo-fi and the music/effects are kept to a minimum – after all, these are statements being read in the basement of an academic institute. But because they are sparingly used, they are more effective for it. Additionally, the casting has been brilliant. This is a show made in England, so the voices and the setting of a majority of the story are British with all the cultural nuances intact. There hasn’t been a voice yet that was jarring or incongruous.
The best part of the Magnus Archives for me has been the progression of the story. The initial setup was the new Archivist – replacing the previous one who had mysteriously disappeared – reading standalone statements. It quickly becomes apparent there is a common thread among the various statements and as the series has progressed, new players and questions about the panoply of threats facing the Archivist and the Institute. To say even a word about it would spoil the surprise but the stakes rise with each new revelation. In the beginning episodes, the Archivist was calm and collected in reading the statements. By the end of the recent episodes, he is harried and desperate as he attempts to find answers in the pages he is reading.
The Magnus Archives has quickly become my favorite fiction podcast. There are other horror podcasts out there but nothing this expansive, interesting, and well-done. They’ve just completed season two and there are eighty episodes ready to explore with season three resuming in November/December. The creators of the podcast have indicated they have a master plan for the plotline that will take the show through several more seasons.
If you are in a mood for REAL horror – you need to be listening to this podcast.