Viewer's Discretion: A taste of folk horror and the glory days of radio


Folk horror is a vague genre that wraps together hauntings, the human relationship with the ancient landscape, and often a bit of ritualistic paganism. It's all concerned with the idea that there is something larger and unknowable in this world and humans are always on the brink of it, but never comfortably in the middle. In it's depiction of an English estate with recurring horrors, "The Living and the Dead" does folk horror well, but adds some excitingly original digressions that move not only across spiritual realms, but temporal ones, as well.

The return to his family estate sees a Victorian psychological researcher, Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) and his wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer), contend with the uneasy staff and the secrets that Nathan has left behind. There's also some strange phenomenon going on — specifically hauntings — and Nathan is put in the position of confronting it all and deciphering whether it is related to the new field of psychology, to his own pain, or manifestations of the history of the land — or all of the above. But the show takes an extra step in examining the role perception plays in defining what exactly a haunting is.

"The Living and the Dead" is an elegant throwback to some of the great British horror films of 1960s, beautifully shot and well-written and acted. Never over-the-top, but consistently creepy and frequently thought-provoking with its twists, the series also benefits from an episodic structure, which is becoming more unheard of. As genre dramas become routinely more serialized, "The Living and the Dead" does the good work of using separate incidents to build to larger, unifying ideas that makes it stand apart in the realm of horror television.


America used to be very different, you can feel the difference in the air, but it's sometimes hard to explain exactly how. One of the differences was that it was defined by randomness, by not knowing what was coming next. You could travel around any given region and there was no consistency to things like radio and television. America's unified culture was actually very splintered. One standard feature of any given road trip was the recurring action of having to find a new radio station to listen to every time you went out of range of the one you had settled on. This reality created little bubble universes. Reality was a multiverse. Everywhere was different, everything was unexpected.

Following the career of free-form radio show host Bob Fass, "Radio Unnameable" does an excellent job at investigating one of the pockets within that reality. As a DJ on WBAI in New York City, Fass took to the air in 1963 and the show immediately became an on-air meeting place for anyone awake after midnight. He'd talk, he'd have guests, he'd play music and sometimes he would even incite public actions that proved more bombastic than he expected.

The documentary benefits from recordings of his show through the decades, providing crystal-clear examples of what I was talking about. The reality presented in Fass' show was a personal one that could not be accessed any other place in the country. It was an intimate window into New York City counter culture, and the tapes prove that this world existed.

The show itself functioned as a time bubble — by the late '70s, the show seemed trapped in a counter culture that was passe and separate of that which took its place. But it's a fascinating time piece nonetheless, and if you're someone who mourns the passing of what radio used to be, you'll find much to appreciate here.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at


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