Up and Vanished Podcast Review

up and vanished podcast review, erick mertz

I picked up Episode #1 of this podcast for one single reason: a missing person cold case. What could be better? Well, this “Up and Vanished Podcast” review will sort out whether or not Season #1 lived up to its eerie premise.

In order to get quickly up to speed, Season #1 of the “Up and Vanished” podcast came out in 2016 and in a two-part, twenty-four episode format it covers the real life missing person case of Tara Grinstead. Hosted by Payne Lindsey and based out of Atlanta, the show has already been optioned as a television series by the Oxygen network.

What Works?

I’m the target market. I am a sucker for missing person cold cases. Ever since I was a youngster watching Unsolved Mysteries, my spine tingles and my hair raises at a story that starts with a person that has mysteriously vanished into thin air. And Ms. Grinstead vanished.

The production on “Up and Vanished” is quite clean. From the early podcast episodes it feels streamlined and well put together.

The Grinstead case is a creeper, too. All of the missing persons tropes are at play and work their magic on the podcast.

What Doesn’t Work?

First off, Lindsey jumps into the Grinstead case right away. From Episode #1/Season #1, he’s talking to witnesses and sorting evidence.

The right into it approach works… I guess.

I barely knew anything about who Tara Grinstead was as a person before people were hanging up on the host. There was little to no sense of anticipation built into the podcast’s first few episodes. Sure, I knew she was a teacher involved with beauty pageants but I need a little more backstory to get my curiosity up.

As I stated previously, I simply love missing person cold case stories. The phenomenon is a staple of my Strange Air supernatural mystery series. But “Up and Vanished” seems to play fast and loose with the necessary component of mysterious circumstances.

Another issue I’ve had with the show is that it’s not a clean publication. My iTunes library is littered with so much bonus and extra content it’s really difficult to feel what is necessary and what is extraneous.

What Does It All Mean?

Early on, Payne Lindsey tells his listeners how we all got to Ocilla, Georgia. He was in love with the Serial podcast and out of that love, he started looking for a subject for an investigative podcast.

And here we are.

Everything about the “Up and Vanished” podcast feels constructed to me. There isn’t the organic sense of discovery from something like S-Town. There isn’t the spellbinding storytelling of Serial either.

How to summarize “Up And Vanished” podcast review? It definitely fills a void if you’re looking for a missing person cold case podcast to hammer on. But it’s first season isn’t going to keep you from searching and listening to your friends for more recommendations.

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The Magnus Archives Review

The Magnus Archives, Presented by Rusty Quill Productions

Everyone has that friend. You know the one I am talking about. The friend who knows about cool stuff before anyone else. In my world, one of those people is Jim. We can leave that right there at “Jim”.

I had not seen my Jim in a long while, but after some years, we had that long anticipated catch-up drink and during that session he introduced me to a new podcast. The Magnus Archives. Jim knows horror. Jim knows my affinity for horror as well, and it only took a few sniffs of strong ale and a burger before Jim got me excited about this podcast.

Here are the basics.

The Magnus Archives is a horror anthology podcast. Episodes come out weekly (on Thursdays) from Rusty Quill Productions and the story centers on a fictional London archive that catalogs weird and esoteric happenings.

The main character is a man named Jonathan Sims. In the podcast’s first season, he is new in his role of head archivist, having taken over for a predecessor who vanished mysteriously. His Sisyphean task is to organize an archive of accounts that has been left in shambles.

Sims is funny and filled with snarky bits. Most importantly though, the main character is a keen observer of strange and unexplained phenomena. As of the writing of this Magnus Archives review the podcast has featured over one hundred and thirty episodes and they are still going strong.

This Magnus Archives review will cover some of what works, what does not work and what that all adds up to.

What Works?

magnus archives review, erick mertz, supernatural fiction
A fan’s rendering of Jonathan Sims

First off, the podcast is among the more consistent productions available on the market. Consistency is a challenge in any storytelling (in the horror genre especially) and Rusty Quill shines through.

The writing is strong. The character voices are unique, which is critical, because every episode centers on Sims reading an account. This necessitates a different “voice” every time out.

The characters evolve too. Jonathan settles into his role as archivist. His snarky tone stays consistent but he accepts things as he progresses.

Another surprisingly satisfying aspect is the use of body horror. The production team employs a fair amount but do so judiciously. A few episodes involve some deeply grotesque subjects and images.

Usually body horror isn’t my thing, but the producers of the Magnus Archives are careful not to over do it. The storyline is not about body horror. Instead, they use those elements when the story warrants.

Lastly, the concept of a podcast centered on a single paranormal archive would seem limiting. All of the statements come from Londoners, but the writers have been keen to ensure that is not claustrophobic. They work in a few accounts taking place at sea and in different countries (which includes my favorite, Episode #31, First Hunt).

What Doesn’t Work?

The baseline premise in The Magnus Archives of an archivist working to clean up a messy, disorganized archive really works for me.

For me, that is enough to hold it all together.

Through Season #1, a meta-narrative insinuates it’s way into the story. Not only are we experiencing these random accounts the archivist reads for our entertainment, there is something else going on in the archive.

I suppose that is fine. It’s not a clumsy meta narrative by any stretch of the imagination. My thinking, however, is that it doesn’t really need this to hold together. It’s fine as it as as a series of vignettes.

On a storytelling angle, I am not crazy about how modern most of these tales are. The accounts that the archivist reads for us are contemporary. That limitation makes me want for more variety.

Like geography, however, I think that the producers and writers of The Magnus Archives do a good job of pulling threads here and there in order to explore older times. This is a matter of my taste though. I like older times in fiction. The modern day holds less appeal.

I’m down to quibbles now, but it’s worth mentioning that as the meta-narrative develops into Season #2, it necessitates a few interruptions. This means, ss Sims is reading an account, someone from the office butts in.

Again, this is a quibble, but with a story flow that is often so good, I’m not happy when I’m pulled out of it.

What Does That Mean?

I could hardly recommend a podcast any higher than this one. It’s among the cream of the crop. It’s not only horror podcasting at its finest. It’s contemporary horror writing at it’s finest.

A Google search of The Magnus Archives reveals that fans are out there and many of them are already rabid.

Any Magnus Archives review would be incomplete without mentioning it’s binge worthiness. I often find myself going deeper than expected.

I might go for a walk expecting to listen to one, only to find myself two episodes in and wanting to loop back around the neighborhood for a third. My sincerest thanks to Jim for that.

Have you listened to this podcast? Want to add something to this Magnus Archives Review?

If so, leave a comment below.

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Follow on my Author Mailing List by clicking this link here.

I promise that I will not SPAM you to death. You’ll find out more about the fiction I’m working on.

Heck, I’ll even give you a free short story from my Strange Air series of supernatural mysteries to get a taste of what all the hullaballoo is about.

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The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward Review

erick mertz, charles dexter ward, supernatural fictionRecently the BBC dropped a new adaptation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward based on the horror novel by HP Lovecraft. First written in 1927, this story was never published in Lovecraft’s lifetime but in the 90 years since it has become one of his canonical weird tales.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, Charles Dexter Ward is a young man in his mid-twenties. The story drops us in at a crucial point where he is locked up in a “mental asylum”.

Ward’s psychological infirmity stems from a burning obsession with Joseph Curwen, a distant relative. Charles physically resembles his relative (an accused wizard) and he works to resurrect his relative’s occult spells.

The BBC has chosen to reinvent the story using a modern true crime style. Doctor Willitts (also investigating in the original) works to understand his disturbed patient. The podcast interviews begin further back in the form of recorded conversations with the boy. Willits contacts Ward’s teachers as well as a cast who knew the young antiquarian when he was into hanging out and playing video games.

Clearly, the BBC was disinterested with preserving HP Lovecraft’s tone.

erick mertz, charles dexter ward, supernatural fictionIt is critical to note the difference between podcast and audiobook. The latter format is defined as a simple dramatic reading of the text. The former however implies episodic and dramatic, and it lends itself to a broader and more adventurous story interpretation.

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward has been adapted into an audiobook numerous times. It is available on Audible and here. It was also broken down admirably with performances on an early episode of the HP Podcraft Literary Podcast.

The BBC ventures pretty far from the source. Their adaptation feels more like the wildly popular Serial that took the podcast world by storm than it does an audiobook. For one thing, the story is updated to the modern day. The story is also told using a female point of view. It views the titular character as a disturbed boy. Episode One even alludes to a most modern plague: school shootings.

It is critical to note the inclusion of a female character because Lovecraft almost never wrote female characters. Certainly none of those token mentions was given a point of view.

Another distinction is the inclusion of examination of an in depth child character. Once again the BBC is going somewhere the author rarely did. Aside from the fantastical creation of Wilbur Whateley in The Dunwich Horror children are largely left out of Lovecraft’s fiction.

For Lovecraft purists, the BBC’s adaptation may sting a bit. Some might take the view that it was unnecessary. My bristle is a bit more with how this adaptation employs too many stock horror motifs. We get a lot of female protagonists. Disturbed children are the genre’s bread and butter.

Scholars postulate that Ward is HP Lovecraft’s biographical character. I think of this this story as Lovecraft’s most purely psychological. While his tales often involve insanity, the ancestral stain that afflicts Charles is a little more relatable. This is less about monster myths and more about an inborn psychological frailty therefore this story stands as pretty modern and stands up to adaptation.

The BBC’s adaptation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward works because it reminds us of a key aspect in understanding HP Lovecraft: the open source nature of his work. The author wanted new generations of writers to tinker with his worlds and this should be viewed as a reflection of that desire.

If Lovecraft were alive today (a phrase that launches countless debates) I am pretty sure he would listen to podcasts. He might even produce one.

I would hazard a guess then that had The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward been written in 2018, it might sound a little more like this.

Want to check it out for yourself? Here is the link to the BBC Sounds presentation of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward.

Have You Listened To The Podcast Version of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward already? 

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I promise that I will not SPAM you to death. You’ll find out more about the fiction I’m working on.

Heck, I’ll even give you a free short story from my Strange Air series of supernatural mysteries to get a taste of what all the hullaballoo is about.

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Podcast Review – “Welcome To Night Vale”

erick mertz, welcome to night vale, supernatural podcast reviewI don’t know whether it was a mistake to announce at a recent board game night that I was in the market for a new supernatural podcast. When the entire room shouted “Welcome To Night Vale” in unison I felt like a fool.

Only momentarily a fool though. Then I felt grateful.

To say that “Welcome To Night Vale” has everything would be an understatement. The podcast takes the form of a free form community calendar with each episode featuring town news and updates on the locals. An idyllic, small town feeling exists throughout, and there is usually a piece music to boot referred to as “the weather”.

The fictional Night Vale is not a normal town though and your host isn’t an everyday local radio DJ rube. Strange things happen in Night Vale. Bizarre turns of events are part of the community character. A recent High School Football preview show dissected the local team’s chances on the gridiron… only with bizarre touch like dismembered limbs and undead coaches. You get the picture.

Did I mention your bi-weekly host? Cecil Baldwin is the show’s host and narrator and one of the first things listeners notice is the resonant magnetism of his voice. His baritone read on news is a draw. He’s funny. He’s mysterious. When I listen to Night Vale it’s easy to just slide in and forget I’ve ever lived elsewhere.

The world of Night Vale is more surreal that it is terrifying. It’s bizarre. In one episode a boy turns into a tree which is a strange fate but his transformation is for poetic reasons and his fate is cruel, yet touching.

The writing is top notch. The characters are memorable. On the binge worthy scale, “Welcome To Night Vale” is up there and well-worth your headphone time.

Have you checked out “Welcome To Night Vale” yet? 

Leave a comment about this podcast, this review, or suggest a supernatural podcast for me to check out. While you’re at it check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.

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Podcast Review – “The White Vault”

erick mertz, supernatural fiction, the white vault, podcast reviewIf you’re anything like me, your stack of unread books is three feet high and rising. Your Netflix queue begs for a flu. And now you’ve got podcasts. To help sort out the latter at least, I’ve decided to run a few podcast review blogs.

First off, The White Vault by Fool & Scholar Productions.

The White Vault follows a multi-national repair team’s mission to a remote Arctic outpost. The story which spans two seasons is told using a found footage style made of cobbled together recordings from their journeys into the ice as well as the messages they sent home.

The basic story is as follows. The team gathers at the outpost and begins their repair mission. All of their unique personalities come out. Strange discoveries are made in the ice. Then a massive storm hits.

The White Vault really hits my sweet spot when it comes to supernatural fiction. For one, I love the Arctic. Also, I love confinement. Throw in some long buried ancient civilizations and I’m ready to go.

One of the reasons I enjoyed The White Vault is that it’s writers don’t try to deviate from what makes Arctic based horror scary. Characters are confined in a hostile environment. That storm hits at just the right time to make the already dangerous surface deadly. Portland based writer K.A. Statz hits the mark right on.

What works in movies like the original version of “The Thing” or in books like HP Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness work very well here. There has been something of a fan backlash against found footage of late, which is understandable. The style was played to exhaustion about ten years ago.

My issues with The White Vault are quite small. Some of the actor’s performances feel stiff at times. My  issues with found footage are that the story really becomes the domain of the assembler of that footage. While The White Vault does nothing to get me over that hump, it’s not a distraction.

The White Vault really is worth the listen though which is why I chose it for my first podcast review. I binged most of the first season in a couple of days, only to find out that I had to wait for Season #2.

Have you checked out The White Vault yet? 

Leave a comment below about this podcast, this podcast review, or suggest a supernatural fiction podcast. Meanwhile, check out my book page to see the latest Oregon supernatural mystery I’m working on.

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