Amazon’s ‘Lore’ and the Gains and Losses of Adapting Podcasts

Just in time for Halloween, Lore brings together three of life’s greatest pleasures: podcasts, horror anthologies, and debates about when adaptations are justified.
By  · Published on October 17th, 2017

Just in time for Halloween, Lore brings together three of life’s greatest pleasures: podcasts, horror anthologies, and debates about when adaptations are justified.

The Amazon Original Series Lore, based off the wildly popular horror podcast of the same name, hit Prime Video this month on Friday the 13th (because of course it did).

Launched in March of 2015, as a podcast Lore dabbles in what goes bump in the night—more specifically, the cultural origins, eyewitness accounts, and psycho-social implications of that bump. That Lore is concerned with poking at the bloated corpse of real-life horror stories is what gives it its edge—whether or not said horror actually exists, the truth tends to outdo the fiction in the scare department. Every episode, the dulcet tones of Aaron Mahnke shepherd listeners through ghoulish and often tender accounts of everything from the Dyatlov Pass incident, Windigos, and Krampus, to more unnervingly human monsters like H.H. Holmes.

While the adaptation was announced way back in spring 2016, it wasn’t until last year’s New York Comic-Con that the podcast found a distributor in Amazon. “Lore is a thrilling podcast with a rabid following,” said Amazon Originals Unscripted head honcho Conrad Riggs“We jumped at the opportunity…to develop it into a series.

Lore enjoys a distinguished line-up of executive producers, which in addition to Mahnke includes Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead), and Glen Morgan (The X-Files). Cast-wise, Lore pulled a youhad-my-curiosity-but-now-you-have-my-attention by casting Robert Patrick (Terminator 2), who features alongside the likes of Holland Roden (Teen Wolf), Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood), Adam Goldberg (Fargo), Colm Feore (House of Cards), and Nadine Lewington (Misfits), among others.

Which Podcast Episodes Are In The Show?

They Made a Tonic — Regional panic in 19th Century Rhode Island leads a group of townsfolk to exhume the graves of three local women (podcast episode).

Echoes — A brief and horrific history of lobotomy (podcast episode).

Black Stockings — A man in 19th Century Ireland believes his wife has been replaced with a changeling (podcast episode).

Passing Notes — At the height of the Spiritualist Movement, folks prodded at the veil between the living and the dead…and sometimes something prodded back (podcast episode).

The Beast Within — In 16th Century Germany, a werewolf is suspected of killing women and children (podcast episode).

Unboxed — There’s nothing quite like a curse, and there’s nothing quite like Robert the Doll (podcast episode).

Is It Any Good?

Lore’s reception has been justifiably mixed. The format is familiar, with a visual twist: Mahnke narrates a set of folklore-inclined stories connected by a common theme, while illustrations, multimedia, and re-enactments compliment. The Guardian accurately called it “Drunk History, but sober, and spooky.”

Mahnke’s captivating narration—the beating heart of the show—is preserved. Unsurprisingly, Lore most resembles its former self when Mahnke speaks, guiding us to the moral crux at the heart of each unwieldy horror show. Episodes of Lore run roughly 10 minutes longer than the podcast’s, and fill this time with dramatic reenactments. There is some imaginative license lost in having these stories visualized, and they do tend to dip into the ridiculous. A degree of ironic enjoyment of flatlining dramatization is required, and it can be difficult to get invested when Mahnke’s narration interrupts. There’s a lot less of the creepy animation and archival footage than promised and the dramatic portions are a weak tea to the podcast’s lucid historical poetry.

That said, the dramatizations are far from a lost cause; hearing about how lobotomies are performed and seeing one performed step-by-step are two very different things (there’s nothing quite like the visual of metal shards being tapped through eye sockets). Lore ought to be praised too, I think, for its committed dissociation from jump scares and shock-value gore, to something more refreshingly gentle and quietly insidious. 

So, is there anything gained by adapting Lore to TV? Sure. But there is some sacrificing of that special something that convinced millions to tune in the first place. The shift could not, for instance, convey the intimate feel inherent in the podcast medium, that sense of folklore being enmeshed in everyday life, as Mahnke strung together fantastic tales while listeners went about chores or sat in transit. This goes without saying, but a significant part of the joy and attraction of listening to podcasts is inextricably to do with its being purely auditory.  

Instead, Lore the TV show assumes a sort of half-hearted allegiance with the likes of Tales From the Crypt, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and even Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. More properly, Lore shares a family resemblance with shows like Boris Karloff’s The Veil and Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, series framed around real-life reports of the supernatural and the unexplained. Lore’s pre-existing kinship with these televised anthologies probably helped broker its transition to the small screen. A part of me wishes the show had leaned further into this resemblance. As it stands, Lore is in a no man’s land somewhere between informational Vox video and historical reenactment; embracing its common ground with preexisting horror anthologies might have given it some clarity of vision.   

Our own Paola Mardo has written about the issues raised in the adaptation of podcasts, most interestingly, their creation of “transmedia” storytelling environments; “a process where the integral element of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.” While Lore seems to be primarily occupied with retreading old ground, the potential to coordinate cross-platform is rich. Some unfolding story where two diverging perspectives are delegated to each medium, perhaps. 

Podcast-to screen adaptations are coming out of the woodwork these days. Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail is developing Homecoming for Amazon, Robert Downey Jr. and Richard Linklater are producing a movie based off an episode of Reply All, and of course, there’s perpetually some adaptation of Serial in the works. Existing podcast adaptations don’t have a super excellent success-rate (cough). That said, while Lore’s transformation into something equal or more impressive than its original iteration seems fraught, its foundation in the freaky, in myth, in folklore, and in urban legend has a timelessness to it. The past tends to stick around. 

Lore is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).