About a year ago, I set off on a hunt for new podcasts to satiate my hunger for all things mysterious and downright creepy. Having had my fill of true crime fare like Sword and Scale and Criminal, I was itching to expand my podcast queue to include more bizarre real life mysteries that perhaps weren’t always so readily explained by forensic science. As a long time fan of the horror, sci-fi, and mystery genres, I have always enjoyed a trip into the further reaches of the unexplained in my entertainment, where unsolved historical mysteries, accounts of otherworldly creatures, and disquieting conspiracy theories are regularly discussed.
When I stumbled upon KCRW’s Here Be Monsters in my search, I have to admit that I did not do much prior reading on the actual nature of the podcast before listening to my introductory episode. Based on the title and tagline (“Podcast About the Unknown.”), I assumed that it was going to involve regular investigations into bizarre stories about cryptids or the supernatural. As I began perusing the episode titles and brief descriptions, however, it quickly became clear to me that I was perhaps looking into an entirely different kind of podcast; episodes on Nessie, the Enfield Poltergeist, or Area 51 were nowhere to be found in the Here Be Monsters archive. Still, I remained intrigued by what I did find.
The first episode I experienced—because each episode of HBM, as I’d come to find, is truly an engrossing experience—was “Crossing the River, Feeling Watched” (HBM041). The episode’s title and premise seemed to promise for a tale of a chilling nature, and while it did deliver on this expectation, it was certainly not quite in the way I expected. The episode features an enthralling narrative account from host and HBM creator Jeff Emtman about his time in a village tucked away in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, during which he began to feel as if he was being watched. What transpires in Emtman’s account is indeed unnerving at times, though no folkloric monsters or real-life madmen are the cause for this. Rather, Emtman’s perspectives on his unsettling vulnerability, social anxiety, and paranoia in unfamiliar territory serve to paint an anxiety-laden scene grounded in reality—a place where one’s internal fears can appear just as threatening as blood-thirsty beasts in the wild.
I found quickly that “Crossing the River, Feeling Watched” is a perfect example of what Here Be Monsters does best: tell strange, but beautiful real-life stories in which individuals explore and face down their fears, personal weaknesses, and the unknown corners of everyday living with mettle, insight, or just sheer curiosity. The podcast’s stories—which are produced by Emtman, Bethany Denton, and a host of other extremely talented guest producers, and edited by Nick White—take on a host of topics that are often odd, frequently meditative, sometimes emotional, and occasionally unsettling. Above all, though, they are always downright fascinating, and the gripping and inexplicably hypnotic sense Here Be Monsters elicits with each episode is a true testament to the exceptional storytellers currently active in the world of podcasts.
If you are a fan of podcasts unafraid to dive into the unknown, but also appreciate stories grounded firmly in the reality of everyday life and the human experience, Here Be Monsters is definitely for you. Not sure where to begin? Here are five notable episodes to get you started.
Prod: Bethany Denton
“Call 601-2-SATAN-2,” for me, is by far one of the most fascinating and entertaining HBM episodes. It consists of select voicemail prayer requests made by Satanists to a now-defunct prayer line managed by the Satanic Missionary Society in Olympia, Washington. These recordings include pleas from folks asking for divine help from The Wicked One in engaging in an affair with an in-law, starting a rap career, and seeing Shrek 5 come to fruition. The episode heads into top-notch territory when it catches back up with one of the callers years down the road—a young man named Tyler who asked Satan to help him get into an acting school.
Prod: Jeff Emtman
Like “Crossing the River, Feeling Watched,” this episode is another first-hand narrative account from Emtman, this time detailing his efforts to hitchhike across the U.S., curious “to see if strangers would chop him up and put him in their trucks.” The episode is a funny and fascinating diary-like account of Emtman’s journey back home after actually encountering violence in Mississippi, further solidifying his natural talent for spinning details that might otherwise come across as banal into a moving reflection.
Prod: Bethany Denton
“What Jacob Heard” is by far one of my favorite episodes of HBM to date. It tells the story of Jacob, a Pentecostal man who admittedly invited a demon into his body as a teenager when he decided that he could not reason his gay identity with his Christianity. Though it may come across as outrageous at times, the episode actually paints a very accurate portrait of many of us in the LGBTQ community who have had experiences with the oppressive nature of fanatical religious ideals. This account of how fear and shame over one’s identity can lead to desperation, isolation, and crippling self-loathing is both a heartbreaking and enlightening message of self-love and acceptance.
Prod: Lisa Cantrell
“The Wake Up Stick” was the second HBM episode I ever listened to and it is truly one of the oddest offerings the show has served up to date. This episode details the story of Dylan, a man who put out an ad online asking someone to come and wake him up every morning, simply because he has “waking up problems.” Beyond the strange premise, the episode touches on the distress caused by Dylan’s problems and how they have long affected his relationships, job security, and personal happiness.
Prod: Marlo Mack
One of the most touching episodes of HBM, “Deep Stealth Mode (How to Be a Girl)” follows guest producer Marlo Mack and her transgender daughter as Mack recounts first encountering her daughter’s awareness of her true gender identity as a three-year-old. Complete with candid conversations between Mack and her daughter about a child’s transgender experience, “Deep Stealth Mode (How to Be A Girl)” is a timely and hopeful entry for the podcast.
You can find all of the episodes of KCRW’s Here Be Monsters at www.hbmpodcast.com.