“This place feels wrong,” Judith said into her recorder as she walked into Claire’s house. This is only one of the blood-curdling lines in Frequency Podcast Network’s new podcast, Parkdale Haunt, which launched on September 28.
The podcast follows the story of Judith Antoni, who tries to figure out the reason behind her best friend, Claire Sterback’s, mysterious disappearance. Re-listening to the audio drafts from their renovation podcast, Yes In My Backyard, Judith embarks on an investigation to prove her hunch that Claire isn’t fine-tuning her downward dog at a yoga retreat, as she had claimed.
As Judith works her way through the tapes with the help of her friend Owen, it becomes clear that something more insidious and unnatural is helming this disappearance.
Parkdale Haunt is set in one of Toronto’s most notable neighborhoods, the Parkdale neighborhood, which is known for its Victorian homes and awe-inspiring mansions. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Emily Kellogg and Alex Nursall, the creators of the show, chose this wealthy corner of Toronto to explore their love for the gothic horror subgenre.
Kellog and Nursall are U of T alumni and served as the Arts Editor and Illustrations Editor, respectively, for Volume 131 of The Varsity. They sat down in a virtual interview with The Varsity to tell us about their experience making the podcast and why listeners should plug in and listen.
The Varsity: So when did you both get the idea for the podcast?
Alex Nursall: I don’t know if you remember this, but there was a Toronto Life article about a ‘reno from hell,’ and it was about a guy who bought a house and it had all gone to hell. He tried renovating it in the worst way possible, and it had been proudly made fun of by the entirety of Toronto. Emily presented the idea of a podcast: “What if it was the reno from hell, but for real?” That was the elevator pitch.
TV: Relating it to other shows out there, what would you say is the style of your podcast?
Emily Kellogg: A mix of The Haunting of Hill House and Housebound, a New Zealand horror-comedy.
TV: What differentiates your podcast from other horror podcasts or shows out there?
AN: A lot of them don’t tend to have women at the front. Much like most of these things, there are a lot of dudes. Plus, it plays off of our pre-existing relationships –– Emily and I are already friends.
EK: A lot of other horror podcasts are anthologies where each episode is a different story. It’s more like a TV show in the sense that we use 10 episodes to tell one long story. It’s meant to be binged! That is, if you don’t get too freaked out.
TV: Circling back on what you said about having women leads, was that an important aspect when first starting the podcast?
AN: Yes. We wanted to explore how one navigates a situation in which one of your friends is struggling and you can’t identify what is really going on.
EK: We wanted Judith and Claire’s friendship to be at the core of everything. Part of the reason why I love horror is because it’s stories told in the language of trauma. We wanted to simultaneously talk about very human, real issues at the same time that we’re talking about the supernatural.
TV: In the podcast, the characters bring up Claire’s mental health prior to the supernatural occurrences. What was the reason behind this?
AN: Yes, it puts the seeds of doubt in your mind. Is Claire reliable? How does Judith see this? How do other people see this? What part of it is the house?
EK: In horror, there’s the trope of the hysterical woman, so she often isn’t believed because of her mental illness. There’s a fear for Claire, both of her own sanity and the fear of not being believed. If your friends don’t believe you, they can’t help you. That’s a kind of horror in and of itself.
TV: With certain horror genres, they limit their style to just horror. You guys had characters in the podcast that added some comic relief. Why was it important to include those characters?
EK: I wanted to create characters who were more humanlike — characters who had other things going on in their life besides the horrors of the house.
AN: I, traditionally, am not a horror writer. Emily has seen almost basically every horror movie. I traditionally write non-fiction and humour. We both wanted there to be a lighter edge to make the characters feel more real. We didn’t want them to be bummers. In real life, people would still be making some pretty dark jokes about what’s going on.
TV: Any favourite comedic characters in mind?
AN: Austin Bird. He was the most fun to write because he was the weirdest and terrible in a real way. Bird was voiced by Taylor Davis, a comedian who recently did a show with Carson Pinch, the voice of boring Adam, Claire’s boyfriend.
TV: There’s a lot of creepy audio effects in the show. What unique experience does your podcast offer that, for example, a television show wouldn’t?
AN: One of the hardest things is to set these things up in a situation in which you cannot show anything and can only rely on what someone is hearing, and it has to be done in a way that feels naturalistic. From a horror perspective, it both limits you and opens a lot of new doors on how you can scare somebody. Audio is freaky!
EK: I think a challenge was working in the framework that we kind of need a reason that everything is recorded. It’s almost like found-footage horror in that way. Think Paranormal Activity. Alex asked Ian Boddy, our sound engineer, about how we could make the sound of thousands of house centipedes pouring out the sink.
TV: Your initial goal in the podcast was to express your love for the horror genre. Do you think your goal has shifted at all due to COVID-19?
EK: Alex and I both got really into horror podcasts in a time when we needed escapism from reality. I feel like fiction is a nice alternative to true crime when the world is already too much.
TV: Was creating the podcast difficult in any way due to the pandemic?
AN: We were lucky because we started recording a year ago. By the time that the pandemic had really picked up and lockdown had started, everything was already recorded. By then, we had already done all the dialogue edits. By that point, it was just up to Ian to do all the sound design.
Parkdale Haunt explores the dark secrets of a decrepit house in the Parkdale neighborhood, with only a half-working flashlight. The house seems to have a malevolent mind of its own –– much like the Toronto real estate market.
Yet, despite this overwhelming darkness, Parkdale Haunt grounds the story in Judith and Claire’s powerful friendship, calming the listener’s nerves with occasional humourous soundbites that ultimately render this show deathly addictive.
Parkdale Haunt is a gift to audiences looking to spook up their lockdown, even more so with Halloween quickly approaching.
Audiences can now stream it wherever they get their podcasts.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.