Toronto Star

Scare waves

Did you know one of the world’s most popular horror-fiction podcasts is produced right here in Toronto? The creators of Parkdale Haunt share how their spooky series came to be — and what’s in store for the just-debuted Season 2

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Never in my life did I think I’d be so thrilled to have people tell me I fill them with dread.

ALEX NURSALL

A few years ago, a Toronto Life article called “We Bought a Crack House,” describing a reno from hell, made its way to friends Emily Kellogg, a creative-writing MFA student, and Alex Nursall, a commercial audio director. “The actual content of the article played no part in the idea (for the podcast), but the topic got us going,” Nursall says. “‘What if it was the reno from hell, but for real?’”

Kellogg has been a horror freak ever since she caught “The Shining” on TV when she was eight, while Nursall is more of a self-professed scaredy-cat, albeit one who’s able to tap into her late-night anxiety to spin tales of dread (she’s currently at work on a horror novel). “(Horror) gives you a lot of room to explore some heavy topics in a way that’s both couched in meaning and really, really literal,” she says.

The duo decided to create a horror podcast that would explore the bonds of female friendship. But, of course, it also had to be terrifying — and what’s scarier than the Toronto real-estate market? Parkdale Haunt follows two pals, Claire and Judith, in the wake of Claire’s inheriting and renovating a creepy old house in the titular neighbourh­ood. After a bizarre basement encounter, Claire begins acting strange, leading Judith to try to solve the mystery of her friend’s weird new vibe and figure out what on earth is going on in that house.

“We started off with something a lot goofier,” Nursall says. “But as the project started to take shape, the core story — the relationsh­ip between Judith and Claire — began to take over, and the actual renovation part took more of a backseat. You’re introduced to these people at a huge point of change in their lives, especially Claire. She’s struggling, her relationsh­ips are falling apart, and now she’s got this big spooky house to deal with. The first season is an exploratio­n of the growing terror that comes with watching someone you love spiral and fall apart from causes outside of your control.”

Nursall says the podcast format adds some extra spookiness to the story, too. “Everything has to be audible and understand­able to the audience, and that makes it scarier because your brain has to fill in the gaps on its own,” she says. “We all know how good our brains can be at taking something small and making it the scariest thing ever. A little static on the line is just a little static … until it isn’t.”

Audiences adored Parkdale Haunt’s first season: with half a million downloads, it rocketed to the top of the horror podcast charts and was named Outstandin­g Fiction Series by the Canadian Podcast Awards. “Never in my life did I think I’d be so thrilled to have people tell me I fill them with dread,” Nursall says. Now, fans hungry for more horrors can listen to Season 2, in which, Kellogg says, “we’re further exploring the dark past of Claire’s grandparen­ts. We’re considerin­g what happens when that dark past catches up to the present.” And in the upcoming Season 3? “We’ll be reckoning with the fallout of Season 2,” she says, “and our characters will be facing a huge supernatur­al threat head on.”

Despite the accolades and worldwide admirers — listeners spread across six continents — the podcast remains wonderfull­y, wildly Parkdale. “It was very important to us to set the podcast in Toronto,” Kellogg says. “So many movies and TV shows shoot here but pretend it’s New York or Chicago. We wanted to unapologet­ically set a story in our city. Atmospheri­cally, whenever I’m writing, I want to channel the feeling of walking the side streets on Parkdale, south of Queen, on an October afternoon, and celebrate a neighbourh­ood of Toronto that I love so much.”

 ?? CARSON PINCH ?? Emily Kellogg, left, and Alex Nursall wanted to “unapologet­ically” use the city as the backdrop to their podcast.
CARSON PINCH Emily Kellogg, left, and Alex Nursall wanted to “unapologet­ically” use the city as the backdrop to their podcast.
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