This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 25th January 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
Tonia Thompson’s Nightlight focuses on horror stories written and narrated by black creatives. It’s one of the most put together, sharpest horror fiction podcasts around and I had the pleasure of listening to the most recent episodes this week.
‘Blitz’ by CJ Silver is one of those stories you just don’t see coming. A rancher, newly widowed and with a blind young daughter, finds himself struggling to make ends meet. Morgan’s a good guy, but Morgan’s also a pragmatic guy. He doesn’t have any truck with his mother’s beliefs, wants his daughter to make friends so she can socialize better and refuses to look his own grief in the eyes. He’s too busy holding the farm together essentially alone to do anything else. Until his mother gives Mo, his daughter, a puppy…
Silver unpacks a box of horror and cultural perception here in a manner that’s as stacked as as it is impressive. This is a story about masculinity’s terror of emotion, the complex psychological and emotional algebra of being a lone black man in a rural industry, about being a father and a widower and a farmer and a realist. Most of all, it’s about what happens when all of those things collide with the ones Morgan dismisses out of hand. It’s a measured, deliberate story that changes gear and tone once an act and earns every single thing that happens. Silver does an expert job not just with the horror but with the grief driving Morgan’s family and the way they come together in the closing scenes is stunningly well handled.
The other episode I listened to, ‘The Deacons’ Girl’ by Jennifer Harris, is the Sleepy Hollow do over I never knew I desperately needed. There’s no comforting hero or panicked school teacher here. Rather, the story follows the scout who tracked the burial party for the Headless Horseman’s head and was witnessed by it. The supernatural curse defines generations of his family’s lives until one year, pushed to the edge by grief, one of them fights back.
Expertly narrated by Chachanna Simpson, this one takes the well known story and strips it of all niceties. This is a brutal, straight line monster facing off against a family and the family is consistently on the back foot. Harris drops subtle hints about what may be able to assist them but for the most part this is clenched knuckle, monster fighting horror with wit, heart and a clear gaze. Best of all, it’s followed by an extensive interview with Harris which explores Sleepy Hollow, horror’s inability to see black creatives and a possible future for the Deacons’ Girl. One I’m really looking forward to.
Nightlight is one of the best horror podcasts out there and also doing vital work in educating the field and its fans alike that black horror is a massive, vital in every sense of the word, part of modern horror literature. Tonia’s editorial vision is as clear as it is wide ranging and I’m diving straight into the back catalogue to catch up. Check out Nightlight, and if you can, help out via their patreon.
Nightlight is available now via all good podcatchers