I loved listening to Icebox Radio Theater’s The Woods, even though it freaked me out considerably. I vacillate on whether I enjoy new audio podcasts that defer or exploit a connection to retro/OTR radio—sometimes it can feel like we are looking backwards rather than ahead, celebrating and even fetishizing a style and form of content from days gone by. However, sometimes a production can takes some elements of this OTR tradition and still create something new, making one feel as if they’ve experienced something timeless. In this sense, Icebox Radio Theater uses some trappings of OTR but still manages to come out from its shadow. For example, this production company, based in Minnesota, feels in many ways different to any other independent production company out there. Its advertisements, mostly for in-house or community promotion, hearken (unconsciously or not) to the days of real soap sponsors for soap operas (or serials as they preferred to be known) as well as any pledge drive run on PBS. I wouldn’t say it irks me, as good audio doesn’t happen for free, but it is a different experience to listening to monologues-with-effects, such as Saya’s Last Gasp, or what the BBC powerhouse continues to churn out.
The Woods has elements of thrillers from the days of War of the Worlds through The Twilight Zone to The X Files, yet it had a very strong suggestion, for me at least, of the Mark Gatiss The Man in Black series for BBC Radio 4. I guess what I loved best about The Woods, other than the fact it scared the pants off me, was its ambiguity. It set up an atmosphere of total confusion for two ordinary people on their way to a wedding, brilliantly evoked by an over-chirpy cell phone ring contrasting with the worn motifs of a horror story: the lone house by the side of the road, the country road itself devoid of any other signs of civilization. It worked extremely well for audio without resorting to a postwar era script. Not only could something like this happen in the present day, I felt, its stunningly ambiguous ending suggested it could happen at any time.
I love when audio allows the use of imagination to fill in the blanks, to create a terror more horrifying than anything you could ever see in film, but it also creates very potent foreboding!