This Amazing Horror Podcast Subverts Every Stereotype in the Best Way Possible
See you soon, family.
With so many podcasts out there, picking a new one to listen to can be difficult. I tend to try podcasts I hear about from other shows I like or through personal recommendations (because who’s got the time to waste on a bad podcast?). Old Gods of Appalachia is a podcast that had been circling my orbit for a while before I listened to the first episode.
The fiction horror podcast takes elements of H.P. Lovecraft’s eldritch god-like creatures and mixes them with the folklore of the Appalachian mountains. As the oldest mountain range on the planet, the Appalachians could very well house things completely new to humans. To be honest, even though I love eldritch horror and folklore, I was a little nervous to check the podcast out. Lovecraft’s writing features rampant racism and sexism throughout, and many of the works inspired by Lovecraft often verge on repeating his terrible themes. But after listening to the first episode of Old Gods, I was hooked. Not only do they take Lovecraft’s vibe to another, better level, but they also subvert horror tropes in the best ways possible.
An ancient horror
Created by Steve Shell and Cam Collins, Old Gods of Appalachia takes place in an alternate universe where ancient creatures humans cannot comprehend live in the mountains and surrounding areas of Appalachia. Most of the creatures are malevolent and seek to harm humans, but some serve “the green” and want to keep the world a beautiful place. The anthology series weaves together the stories of the many unfortunate folks who stumble into the wrong neck of the wood, as well as mortal witches who do what they can to protect others.
The first episode debuted in October 2019; I didn’t start listening to the show until October 2022, so I had a lot to catch up on. After just one episode, I was hooked on Shell’s calming voice, the ultra-cool Gothic country music (featured at the beginning and end of each episode), and the way Shell and Collins weave a tale together. Anytime I was alone (cooking, driving, showering—whatever), Old Gods was on. When I finally caught up with the current episodes, a deep void opened in my life.
Creepy stories without troubling tropes
This show is effectively creepy without being overly descriptive or needlessly gory. Don’t get me wrong: It still carries an explicit rating and isn’t for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t prioritize shock over good storytelling. Most of the series takes place during the 1800s and early 1900s—not the best time to live in the south if you weren’t white, straight, and upholding the patriarchy. The beloved characters rarely fit the normative mold, but they aren’t outcasts of their communities, either. In Old Gods, the “bad guys” are the religious zealots, racists, and misogynists who typically get away with their crimes in other stories. One of the longest-running villains is a railroad and mineral company that literally sucks the life out of the land to turn a profit (and they say capitalism never hurt anyone).
For once, there is a podcast with tons of amazing female characters who I love. It’s really hard to pick a favorite. There are also a few LGBTQIAP+ characters, and the show does not make a big deal of their sexuality. One of the main underlying themes is a concept that we often fail to achieve in reality: All humans should be treated with equal respect. In one episode, the existence of shapeshifting women is explained: “Sometimes folks are just born into the wrong-shaped bodies and need to shift to find home, and that’s alright.” No matter our shapes, sizes, or orientations, we are all in this together.
At one point in a fairly early episode, it seemed like a new mother and her baby might be harmed. Just when I thought here we go, Shell assured the listeners that the story would end with mama and baby doing just fine. Old Gods doesn’t fridge women, bury gays, or kill dogs—an immense relief for me as a long-time horror fan. Most true deaths on the show have an emotional weight to them, and I can honestly say that I have shed a few tears while listening to Old Gods.
Horror stories can feel so alienating. Everyone is trying to get out alive, sometimes at the expense of other characters. Old Gods, on the other hand, creates a strong sense of community. At the end of each episode, Shell checks in with the audience, usually starting with a “Hey there, family.” Although Shell and Collins keep the show’s contributors and settings local, they also strive to create an online community that spans the globe.
Next time your horror-loving heart yearns for something new and wonderful, the Old Gods of Appalachia are there waiting for you.
(featured image: Steve Shell, Old Gods of Appalachia)
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