Everyone loves a good mystery. It’s practically ingrained in our DNA. Whether it’s a tale of global espionage or just wondering who it is that stole your lunch from the break room fridge the search for answers to the unknown compels us like nothing else. That’s what makes Video Palace, the first original podcast from Shudder, so incredible. The ten part series available to binge on the streaming service or through your favorite podcast app is a mystery in the mockumentary/found footage style that I’m, truthfully, not the biggest fan of. I was prepared to be super critical of it for this reason alone but the story and its portrayal are just too good not to love.
Let’s get the specs out of the way. Video Palace was created by Blair Witch Project producer Michael Morello and Nick Braccia. Written by Bob DeRosa and Ben Rock from 20 Seconds to live and starring the voices of Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End) and Devin Sidell (Rob Zombie’s 31) the series is oozing with talent. Directed by Ben Rock the episodic stories follow Mark Cambria, a director and podcaster, and his girlfriend Tamra who find themselves gripped by the mystery surrounding a nameless white VHS tape. The white tapes are a series of audio visual mysteries that elicit bizarre sleepwalking episodes, illness, memory loss, and paranormal activity. As Mark’s journey to piece together this puzzle continues he finds himself stepping into dangerous situations and finding bizarre clues that all point back to a defunct and forgotten video store: The Video Palace.
The first thing I can already hear people asking is “Why not just make this a series?” A few good reasons come to mind, not the least of which being production cost. It’s much easier to write, direct, produce, and distribute what is essentially a radio drama than it is to create another horror television series. This also leads to some personal thoughts on the topic. The oversaturation of original series on streaming services and cable has been both a boon and a burden. Being a podcast allows the mind to wander and the imagination to take flight. Audiences now have the elements, the essential descriptions and characterizations and what they create inside their own minds can be more terrifying and visceral than any filmmaker could dream of.
Podcasting itself is also a booming area and a genuinely untapped market for creative, scripted entertainment. We’ve already talked about a local, independent podcaster who works under the name Count Drahoon who is following this same formula through his on air (or on pod) ghost stories and horror tales. Video Palace takes this model a step further by offering a very cinematic take in creating a gripping, atmospheric story through the completely auditory medium.
The style of Video Palace makes it more compelling and unique for the medium. Fans of podcasts like Lore and Strangeful Things will be familiar with a storyteller or group of storytellers sharing thoughts and research into strange, paranormal incidents. But the nature of Video Palace takes it a step further. Those unfamiliar with it as a scripted tale might confuse it with an actual documentary and investigative journalist style of narrative with the main character sharing his thoughts and recollections of events with recordings of his encounters with the people and entities affiliated with the story. The writing is straightforward, engaging, and creates a narrative that immediately sucks the audience in. With acting and editing that adds to the level of suspense, it’s easily one of the best original horrors of 2018.
If I have one gripe, and you know I do, it’s with the actual streaming of Video Palace on Shudder. The episodes play out to stock footage of the Shudder Curator rewinding and cataloging all of the anonymous white tapes in the archive. That in itself isn’t bad until you hit the segments that jump into 3D with blue and red borders warping the image. I mean, it’s kind of picky on my part, I know, but it’s true. I ended up with a little bit of a headache drifting off into the repetitive scene over and over again. There again, the imagery lends itself nicely to the overall story.
Video Palace is available now on Shudder, iTunes, Google Podcasts and other podcasting platforms. The first season is short, ten episodes ranging from 20 to 30 minutes each but the story will definitely leave you wanting more. If you haven’t already listened to Video Palace, you’re missing out on an incredible mystery full of horror and suspense.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.