I have to state up front that The Black Tapes isn’t a podcast best listened to while browsing, gaming, or multitasking. I tried to get into this podcast several times and failed before I fell completely and utterly in love with it. Finally I decided to give it a try without three or four other things dividing my attention and the difference was night and day. This is a story that thrives on the eerie atmosphere it creates, and like the great radio dramas of yesteryear, the listener has to do their part and use some good old fashioned imagination.
The Black Tapes is a podcast about Alex Reagan, a digital radio journalist trying to start a series about people with interesting jobs. The first people she profiles are a group of ghost hunters and paranormal researchers. As the events of the first few episodes unfold, Alex and her producer decide to shift the focus of the podcast from a variety of people and careers to researching the mysterious Black Tapes she comes across when interviewing the famous skeptic Dr. Strand.
Via the podast’s website, the story is:
a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.
The production values and voice acting are both excellent and highly professional. The enigmatic Dr. Strand in particular has a compelling and rich voice that makes the listener eager for every line. He’s the sort of voice actor who could read the phone book and make it sound exciting.
I only have a few minor criticisms. At times indistinct sound effects take place before Alex explains what is going on, leading the listener to imagine the actors doing something much different from what actually happens. Now, that’s not a bad thing when they use it for suspense and humor. But on several occasions it happened for what seemed to be no narrative purpose. For example, after heated words were exchanged at one point, there are sounds like footsteps across floorboards and a door opening, seeming to suggest that one character was storming out, only for the listener to belatedly be informed that the characters were simply entering another room all together.
The only other minor criticism is that Alex’s introductory descriptions seem to veer slightly into purple prose territory on occasion, trying a little too hard to paint a picture. Generally speaking I think listeners will imagine a character’s appearance to fit the voice on their own, especially as the scenes progress and they forget the detailed descriptions they were fed. The descriptions of people often feel slightly at odds with the rest of the podcast. It’s not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the show, however.
It’s been a long time since a scary story has gripped me as tightly as the Black Tapes has. Give it a listen in a darkened room with a quality headset or sound system and be prepared for chills and thrills.