Tea in the Sahara
Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic
As we glide into summer even here in Blighty we’ve been blessed with a rare appearance of that elusive fireball in the sky, the rest of the world likes to call the sun! This sadly is where the charming anecdotes end this week as we go dark, and a touch creepy with the immersive horror podcast ‘The Cellar Letters’ created by long-term pals Jamie Petronis & Jay Sayers. I would also like to thank the lads for bringing this podcast to my attention, and for allowing me the chance to look under its bonnet & kick the tyres. Shout out to Jamie for the introduction (cheers fella!)
Both chaps write & provide voices within this stripped-back indie podcast, designed with a ‘found footage’ sound production that I personally liken to what ‘The Blair Witch Project would sound like if it were made into a 2021 podcast. For me, the sound of this podcast feels like you are within a first-person shooter-style video game. Right there in the middle of the action!
The guys make no bones about being green to podcasting citing the awesome ‘Magnus Archives’ & ‘The Black Tapes’ as big parts of their inspiration for their fledgling audio drama. Jamie came up with the initial concept for the podcast, and Jay came on board having no idea what an audio drama was!
The chaps train of inspiration also calls in at Haunting of Hill House, Paranormal Activity, and Cabin in the Woods. I will also include into that mix of artistry Sam Rami’s Evil Dead for a touch of thrills & laughs and quirky horror. So what I’m hoping to do for you readers is paint a visual image of the personal inspirations of Jamie & Jay’s podcast (he hopes!)
The plot for The Cellar Letters really is quite a straightforward scripted horror audio drama, however, don’t let that detract from what is a refreshingly distinctive podcast concept. Two pals and one dog relocate to Maine in a bid to start out new with a clean slate. Nate voiced by Jamie Petronis rents a big old house for the guys to set up shop and begin their fresh start.
To fill in time, and jump on the ever-growing trend of people making random podcasts Nate decides to create his own documentary-style podcast to capture current events. Proving the need to decompress at a time of anxiety, and unlock a creative flow. Well, I thought that statement sounded quite articulated even if no one else does.
These podcast recordings are where this podcast differs from others. With its raw style of recording, it allows the show to wire the listener into each episode. It is also through these recordings that Nate begins to hear strange knocking noises coming from their abode basement; why does creepy knocking always start in either a basement or attic?
Sidenote – friendly advice time guys! Enjoy this podcast however you like to listen to podcasts, however in my opinion to truly appreciate the fully immersive experience of this audio drama I highly recommend listening through headphones as it just sounds mega. I cannot stress how jumpy the horror is within this podcast. Cliche doors banging, and ghostly voices really get the adrenaline coursing through your veins just like four double vodka Red Bulls, only without the alcohol, hangover, and caffeine overload!
Back to the drama and Nate investigates said knocking and discovers a room within the basement which holds filing cabinets filled with scores of creepy letters. If Nate is the straight no-nonsense part of the double act Steve (Jay Sayers) is definitely the joker in the pack. I like to think of them both as a modern-day Riggs & Murtaugh style pairing.
After the friend’s personal private eye investigation, Steve concludes that the house’s landlord Jim, or Jim the reaper as Steve prefers to call him is behind the creepy basement letters. Steve’s addition to the podcast lends a touch of comedy to the show making it less dark and more Scooby-Doo in parts.
To visualise Steve would be to think of the most annoyingly upbeat friend you have, the type of person you like as a pal, but can only be taken in small doses before you feel drained; but in a totally harmless lovable way.
The gruesome letters found within the basement are not the only theme running throughout the show. As the podcast progresses what becomes clear is Nate is clearly escaping from an event from his past which involves his ex-girlfriend walking out on him. This is the real motivation & driver for Nate moving to the East Coast adding backstory, context, and dimension to this audio drama.
I know, I know you are probably thinking why have I enjoyed this podcast, and who is it for? Well, I initially listened to this audio drama and blasted through five episodes without even noticing; which is rare for me and an indie podcast. I found myself absorbed in the stripped-back no-nonsense nature of the show. The no frills, no theme music, and no endless credit listings at the end of each episode are quite appealing to my inner minimalistic character.
I lmao at the NYE episode (ep.5) where the lads get tanked up and attempt to create a retro beatbox about Jim the reaper. The scene was pure comedy gold, and I would love to know if the writing of that scene was largely influenced by Jay…
Intentionally, or non intentionally I enjoyed the ingenious acting from Jamie & Jay as they slightly lose their minds desperately trying to understand what is going on. Being a nuance freak I found the way in which scary, jumpy scenes were delivered was nothing short of brilliant. The strange, lighthouse keeper hysteria created by our two pals as they descend into madness was excellently executed.
What makes the show is the chemistry between our two main characters. This is something that is not easy to re-enact if you are not already the best of buddies. Both chaps are super talented, with Jamie (Nate) coming from an acting background, and Jay (Steve) having worked at Disney, which does not surprise me!
My only minor criticism is that lack of divider when an episode ends, and the next episode begins means there is no real marker other than the beep of Nate’s phone/voice recorder. This is just a personal preference thing, and probably my personal OCD working overtime so feel free to take that statement with a pinch of salt lads.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this review of ‘The Cellar Letters’ which can be found on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you grab your podcasts from. Albeit podcast novices Jamie & Jay have made a cracking podcast here that needs recognition. If you are looking for a different podcast offering some horror mixed with hilarious banter, and clever plot twists you should consider giving this podcast a shot! The guys are doing a great job of carving out their own niche.
To coin a phrase by the late great David Bowie “never play to the gallery” and the chaps behind The Cellar Letters are certainly in no danger of doing that!
If you want to find out more about the guys and The Cellar Letters, head on over to their website www.thecellarletters.com for more info about the show. Whilst there you should positively check out their merch store on Redbubble for some ultra stunning podcast art by Jess Syratt. Let’s get on board with indie podcasters and show some support by rating & reviewing!
A while back someone commented on a review that I did for QCODES Soft Voice saying that the podcast wasn’t their typical jam, however after reading my review they tuned in, and really enjoyed it; this is the reason why I blog. Bringing you guys podcasts that you might not normally entertain. This is the reason why I write reviews.
So after reading this review, are you considering having your podcast reviewed by Tea in the Sahara? If so you can reach me via my contacts page. If you have enjoyed this particular review or any of my others please consider doing a few kind things to help me grow my website.
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Kev, I am so thankful for the incredible review you wrote for our little show. Your passion for them shines through in every line. The genuine passion and enthusiasm you show are the exact reason why creators like us do what we do. I genuinely believe you’re going places with your site and you will be an authority on the medium as it starts growing. Thanks again!
Jamie Petronis Writer/Creator of The Cellar Letters