Category: My Blog

The Bubbling Maelstrom

One of the things we’re consistently interested in is the intersection between individual and universal fears. And one of the images that has been percolating through our consciousness recently is that of a bubbling maelstrom. For those who don’t know, a maelstrom is a powerful whirlpool that occurs at sea or sometimes in rivers. Titled “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” it’s also one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most underrated short stories and one of our personal favorites. Driven into the maelstrom by a powerful hurricane, the narrator has been made prematurely old by the experience, even as he was also awe-struck by the phenomenon.


We’ve been thinking about this image and story in light of this year’s particularly destructive hurricane season as well as the larger picture that is global warming. It’s not just a maelstrom, it’s a bubbling maelstrom, a heated whirlpool in which the jets burn and tear at our flesh. It’s a race to our own destruction, the slow boil of the lobster and the final flash of Mother Nature breaking off our tail as she ingests and digests our journey’s end.


The image of the maelstrom also reminds of a conversation we had with a therapist. She told us that one of the things she likes to do is to ask clients to imagine their emotions as a body of water. What does it look like? Is it an ocean with huge rolling waves, rushing river rapids, a pond with ripples on it from a stone? Or is it a huge lake, calm on the surface for the most part, but dotted with a series of violent maelstroms? The goal, then, is to know where these emotional maelstroms, these moments of tremendous personal upheaval, are located on your lake. You know them by their location, but you also know how to avoid falling all the way into their swallowing vortex. You know where the doors are to your Nightmare Rooms.


Where do Podcasts Fit?

Podcast popularity has skyrocketed; between 2015 and 2016, listening grew by almost 25%. Around a fifth of all Americans over the age of twelve have listened to a podcast in the past month. Since 2013, monthly podcast listenership has increased by nearly 75%.

Originally intended as a “Netflix for Radio” solution, podcasts are beginning to turn away from news and politics and into the creative sphere. The all-audio platform has gained traction in several fringe circles, including political extremists, conspiracy theorists, and lovers of horror. From interview-based shows to creative readings and intense research, these fringe podcast creators can be incredibly prolific–sometimes creating two or more shows each week.

Many of us love horror podcasts—from the edgy Astonishing Legends to the incredibly popular Lore, the platform has something to offer everyone. But what place do podcasts hold in horror culture? How much will we cherish this archaic format decades from now?

Unfortunately, we believe that podcast horror is not suited to the long-term cultural zeitgeist. Similar to horror movies and television shows, the podcast format is necessarily passive; listeners often experience the stories while completing a separate task, such as cleaning the living room or driving to work. Horror books provide an entirely immersive experience, commanding complete attention of the reader. Podcasts just can’t do that.

This is not to say, however, that podcasts can’t be a great source of horror. Limetown, for example, is one of the best-written serialized stories we’ve ever seen (heard?). The NoSleep Podcast has an audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners, providing a combination of subgenres to ensure that every person is satisfied. We are merely saying that these podcasts will not be the first examples of horror that spring to mind. That designation goes to the horror books and films of our youth.


Books vs. Movies/TV in the Horror Genre

Like other scary story mythologies, The Nightmare Room is a good example of the difference between how books and TV/film age over time. In other words, the literary trilogy engages the imagination in a way that seems to translate through exposure to modern media forms. Movies and TV series also have appeal, but for those who grew up with it, it’s more nostalgia than fear. Sure, there are exceptions. Psycho, The Exorcist, and The Shining have all withstood the test of time, but these seem like the exceptions that prove the rule. And even so, there’s some question how scary these iconic movies come off to today’s younger, effects-driven generation….


Part of the reason that books endure the test of time is the inherent way they seem to stick with you. Sure, if you go to the last showing of a scary movie or stay up late binge-watching and then try to sleep in your creepy basement, the horror in digital media can give you the hee-bee-gee-bees for a couple days at least. But the way that a scary book can linger and haunt you seems qualitatively different. Plus, too much of the fear in cinema comes from unexpected sounds and images, surprise more than haunting, for example. We could also make the point that, to our personal preference, too much of the horror genre in film and TV has become straight gore.


We’re not literary snobs at The Nightmare Room, or at least, we don’t try to be. Psycho is a better movie than book in our estimation. We might say the same thing about Stand by Me (Stephen King vs. Rob Reiner, how could you go wrong?). Still, we see lists of a dozen or more scary movies that are better than the books that just leave us baffled.


What about you? Do you have favorite examples or long-standing arguments with your friends about which is better: The book or the movie? Do you have an unconventional opinion about a scary book or movie that’s better than its counterpart? Write to us and let us know.