Every now and then, a man going by the alias Soren Narnia will put out a new episode of his podcast, Knifepoint Horror. With few exceptions, every episode starts the same way, in the same, barebones aesthetic: slowly, with deceptive calm, the man begins, “My name is ___,” then takes the listener on a mesmerizing first-person journey into the heart of terror.
I discovered Knifepoint Horror, a minimalist horror anthology podcast that has been scaring listeners for 11 years, through word of mouth, as I expect most of its tiny but loyal fanbase did. With no advertising, no podcast network, and no production studio — not even a theme song — to gussy up its narration, Knifepoint is about as grassroots as podcasting gets. The pseudonymous creator has rarely used his platform to advertise his other works; all of his creations are released under a Creative Commons license, so fans may re-record, remix, and make fanworks. The whole enterprise — an anonymous creator intermittently dropping gifts of spine-tingling campfire tales onto a select band of groupies — feels like a one-man underground subculture. Sometimes, Soren Narnia has a guest voice actor or two on the podcast. Sometimes, when he’s really feeling adventurous, he uses sound effects.
For the most part, however, he just talks into a stiff, eerie silence, in a monologue that he seems to ad-lib or summon forth from a macabre collection of fables that exists only in his head. In every episode, his character for the evening relays a tale of Weird fiction — that Lovecraftian horror subgenre that necessitates a confrontation with the cosmos, of some dark expansive evil too vast and horrible to comprehend without descending into madness.
With no frills and no production frippery, Knifepoint’s effectiveness derives partly from its minimalism. Soren Narnia allows the silence to fill your mind with terror. The settings are always crucial to these threadbare stories, with their complete lack of adornment — just a man, a voice, and a journey somewhere very, very scary. One week we might revisit a childhood school where secrets lie buried or explore an abandoned factory with a strange inhabitant. Perhaps we’ll trek to an icy arctic wasteland, visit a town where a horrifying cult has taken over, or find an isolated European convent where no gods dwell.
Our narrators’ levels of reliability and sanity often vary, but Soren Narnia’s masterful storytelling never does. There’s something about the impact of that grave voice reaching into the dark that’s sometimes so frightening it becomes exhilarating. The first time I heard “staircase,” about a disturbing home invasion, the story’s gradually deepening terror had me literally transfixed — physically rooted in place, frozen with fear.
“You live your whole life and then in one second, you learn what it’s like for primal terror to swallow you, mind and body,” the narrator tells us — even as the story he’s in achieves a level of primal terror, in part because of its vivid imagery, in part because of the simplicity of its narration.
The podcast currently consists of 64 stand-alone episodes ranging from 40 to 70 minutes in length. In addition to “staircase,” I’m fond of “rebirth,” “landmark,” “sisters,” “attic,” “legend,” and the recent “I was called Anwen” — though every tale in this collection might wind up in your nightmares. A sampling of Knifepoint’s most popular episodes is also available on YouTube, along with other experimental stand-alone stories. New episodes are released from time to time, whenever Soren Narnia feels like it; a recent story about a most grisly tourist attraction just appeared for Halloween.
Over the years, Knifepoint Horror has gained a small but dedicated fan following, and I think that’s in part because there’s something deeply brave about Knifepoint as a creative exercise. Many of the stories feel as though they’re being spun aloud, impromptu. Soren Narnia’s YouTube channel is full of similar spontaneous storytelling exercises, and he’s said before that he often works from a general outline of the story rather than a full script.
That makes every story in Knifepoint Horror feel like a triumph, a rough diamond of creative expression that dares to speak itself aloud, flaws and all — to exist in the tense space between Soren Narnia’s brain and a judgmental audience steeped in horror tropes. Except somehow, defying all odds, the rough diamond is always brilliant, sparkling in the dark.
Knifepoint Horror can be listened to at this link. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.