From Penny Dreadful to Inside No. 9, the small screen has become home to a growing number of scary shows in recent years. Despite the eclectic mix of supernatural spooks and darkly comic anthologies, though, Amazon’s new series, Lore, is something surprisingly different. The series is based on the hugely successful podcast of the same, which has won a sizeable following with its blend of historical facts and terrifying true tales. Translated to the screen, the result is something more akin to an educational lecture than a traditional ghost story: Lore is unlike any horror series you’ve ever seen.
For the most part, that works brilliantly in its favour, as the series (produced by The Walking Dead’s Gale Anne Hurd, among others) makes the smart decision to keep things broadly unchanged. Most important of all is Aaron Mahnke, creator and host of the podcast, whose distinctive voice provides the narration for each instalment: part-professor, part-enthusiastic fan, the show is at its best when just allowing him to wax lyrical about the trivia he’s encountered in researching the episode.
He explains how the fear of being buried alive was once a very real possibility, with devices containing bells invented for coffins so that those who could afford them would avoid the risk of waking up underground, undiscovered. He gives us an insight into the origins of changeling body-snatchers and vampires, in a likeable blend of etymology and folklore: every episode presents a real case, before culminating in a neat pay-off that links to modern-day genre tropes or legends. Did the phrase “saved by the bell” really originate with those bells on top of coffins? Maybe not, but Mahnke certainly makes a persuasive argument that it did.
Accompanied by some nifty animation work, the result is essentially a visual podcast, relying on the effectiveness of audio to entertain and inform. When Lore ventures more explicitly into televised territory, though, it starts to stumble: the re-enactments of these historical case are a mixed bag, which don’t always live up to the intrigue established before and afterwards. Campbell Scott as a grieving father in the 1800s brings some weight to his story, while Colm Feore is excellently cast as Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of the icepick lobotomy, who begins to see his medical practices fall out of fashion – he’s backed up by some disturbing surgery sequences. The story of Bridget Cleary – a housewife who becomes outspoken against her husband, Michael, and is therefore suspected of being replaced by an evil fairy – fares less well, not because of Holland Roden’s performance as Bridget, but because of the rest of the supporting cast, who often come across as two-dimensional and artificial.
Throw in some occasionally uneven pacing and Lore is an awkward success, capturing exactly what makes the podcast a captivating listen without always making it cinematic – the series is stuffed with interesting observations that stand apart from the wave of fictional horror TV currently on our screens, but it mostly makes you want to listen to the podcast, rather than binge all six episodes. A bit more polish and future seasons of Lore could become something really quite special. For non-podcast fans, meanwhile, put this on in the background and you’ve got something genuinely unique to watch this Halloween.
Lore: Season 1 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.