‘The Black Tapes’ podcast is good, old-fashioned ghost story
Like a lot of people, I’m something of a walking, talking contradiction.
On the one hand, I’m just a big chicken. My gut reaction to hearing a strange noise downstairs in the middle of the night is to pull the blankets a little tighter around me and hope it stops on its own. My rational mind knows that cotton sheets and a comforter — regardless of how high the thread count is, and I like ’em fancy — provide no protection whatsoever from the things that go bump in the night. But the part of my brain that never fails to trigger the heebie-jeebies when I go down into an unfinished basement always beats Rational Andi to the punch, forcing the level-headed adult in me to fight her way to the surface. After a moment or two, I put on my mental big-girl pants and go downstairs to investigate, only to discover something completely innocuous, for example that I’d accidentally hit the four-hour delay button on the dishwasher when I cleaned the kitchen after dinner.
On the other hand, despite knowing myself well enough to know that I have a predisposition to nervous Nellie-dom, I just can’t resist a good, old-fashioned scary story. There’s just something irresistible about that chill that goes up my spine when I catch a proper case of the creeps. I watch horror movies through splayed fingers, knowing that I’m going to take a good hard look in the backseat before I get in the car to go home from the theater. But the thought of seeing the latest video game movie instead never crosses my mind. Over the years, I’ve read a sizable chunk of Steven King’s novels, even if that meant I needed to keep my feet tucked up under me on the couch in order to maintain enough nerve to keep turning the pages. I know I’ve struck gold when the goose bumps show up.
Marilyn Monroe once said, “Fear is stupid and so are regrets.” I think she was on to something with that one. When it comes to entertainment at least, I’d rather risk a sleepless night or two than miss out on something truly remarkable.
Recently I’ve discovered a podcast that scratches that illogical itch to scare the ever-loving crap out of myself.
“The Black Tapes” asks its listeners a loaded question: Do you believe?
The podcast is the serialized story of intrepid reporter Alex Reagan, who begins working on a story about paranormal investigators but soon finds herself far more interested in one of her interview subjects, Dr. Richard Strand, a famous, and to some infamous, skeptic.
Strand is the founder of The Strand Institute, devoted to debunking any and all claims of paranormal activity. He is so certain that there are no such things as ghosts and demons and the like that he’s offering a $1 million prize to anyone who can provide indisputable evidence of paranormal activity. Unsurprisingly, since Strand is the one who gets to define what constitutes indisputable evidence, that prize has yet to be claimed.
While interviewing Strand, Reagan notices a collection of VHS tapes in black cases, giving the podcast its name and Reagan’s story a new focus. According to Strand, the black tapes are cases that haven’t been debunked, but only because the technology to do so hasn’t been invented yet. To his way of thinking, it’s not a question of if the events on the tapes will be proven false but, rather, a question of when. Through the two seasons currently available, the mystery around Strand and his family deepens and Reagan makes the mistake all reporters are warned about — she becomes part of her own story.
Throughout the episodes, “The Black Tapes” explore everything from demonic possession to urban legends to mysterious disappearances and mental patients who seem to possess the ability to be in two places at once. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll avoid spoilers here, but let’s just say that when it comes to “The Black Tapes,” few things are as they seem.
Many listeners may spend some time trying to determine if “The Black Tapes” is fiction or legitimate reporting. The show, which bills itself as a “docudrama” on its website, is meticulously produced in the style of “Serial,” with Reagan not only interviewing witnesses, officials and the occasional psychic, but also discussing, and sometimes arguing about, her reporting process with Nick, her producer. I admit to wondering about the show’s authenticity myself during the first few episodes. I was pretty sure it was the modern equivalent of old-time radio plays, but I avoided turning to the internet to verify that belief until I decided to write this column, because I decided it just didn’t matter. A good story is a good story and I was along for the ride regardless. But maybe it’s best to wait until the sun comes up to hit play.
I’m a few episodes shy of finishing the show’s second season, and I can’t honestly say if I’m any closer to answering the question of whether or not I believe in the paranormal. But one thing I’m positive about is that when Season 3 begins I’m going to be pondering that question some more.
“The Black Tapes” is available for download for free on iTunes or at www.theblacktapespodcast.com.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @swimswithsnark.