A WECB Show Profile: The Haunted Hour
by Liam Thomas
I recently caught up with Ellie Bonifant, a sophomore WLP major and the host of The Haunted Hour, an episodic story-podcast talk show that airs on WECB Monday nights at 10. The Haunted Hour is one of the most eclectic, diverse, and well-executed shows I’ve had the pleasure of tuning into on WECB. Each episode clocks in at one hour, with the first 20 minutes devoted to an ongoing horror-comedy storyline that functions as something akin to a weekly radio drama. For the remainder of the show, Ellie interviews the actors involved with the production and asks each to share a ghost story. The actors’ tales are punctuated with songs of their choosing, interspersed with everything ranging from Halloween Punk to music from Emerson bands. Talking with Ellie about the show was an absolute blast; she spent years writing and structuring the story of The Haunted Hour, and it's something she genuinely cares a lot about. I definitely recommend tuning in Mondays at 10 pm.
So first of all, I really wanted to talk about the setting of the show. I know you’re from Raleigh, North Carolina, and the show is set in the fictionalized North Carolina town of Lantern, so could you name some of the personal experiences that you’ve been drawing from for the show?
Yeah, totally. So, last episode I mentioned this place called The Velvet Cloak Inn, which was like this abandoned hotel near my high school where kids would always go and take these beautiful pictures. So I definitely drew a lot from that. The high school where the show is set is definitely based on my high school, too. It had this massive field in the front of it filled with these deeply ominous crickets. And the fact that the characters walk everywhere is another connection to my hometown. Because everything there is really accessible by walking, and that’s not the case in most of North Carolina. But honestly, a lot of the show is based more around legends than personal experiences.
Could you go into detail about that? Which local legends, in particular, served as inspiration for The Haunted Hour?
Absolutely. There was this one called The Beast of Bladenboro that I definitely drew from a lot. Basically, there was this big mountain cat roaming around Bladenboro, North Carolina in the early 1950s. And like, people didn’t really know what kind of animal it was at first, but a lot of cats and dogs were getting killed in the area and everyone was freaking out. Then, a person was mauled and gave a description of the beast. The whole thing became real to the people of Bladenboro then. They called in this group of hunters from Wilmington, North Carolina to kill the beast, but the hunters didn’t find anything save for more dead cats and dogs. So eventually, the hunters shoot this giant bobcat they found and hang its body up in the center of town, and the killings stop, right?. But then, like only two weeks later, this movie comes out in the local theater called The Big Cat. So a lot of people speculate that the beast of Bladenboro wasn’t some cryptid or creature, but just one big promotional stunt for this movie. But they still can’t explain the person who got mauled. So that’s the story, although I may have butchered it a little bit.
No I totally get it. But on the whole, I think it’s really special that you’re bringing a storytelling element to WECB’s already diverse programming. You said you’d been workshopping the story for this project for almost two years, could you tell me a little about your process to get where you are now?
Thank you! And yeah, I started writing the Haunted Hour when I was in high school. It originally started out as a series of different monologues. Because pretty much every year I was in high school, I would start a new podcast script, because that’s kinda what got me into horror and writing in the first place. Listening to shows like Nightvale, Limetown, all of these. So I would start to write these scripts, but I went to a high school that was very oriented around sports so I didn’t really have a cast of actors to help me record it. So after my second semester at Emerson, I applied to be a manager at WECB, and they were asking how to bring more people in to the station. I realized then that doing a project like The Haunted Hour where you have a huge cast of actors and a whole crew of people could help bring in a lot of listeners that aren’t necessarily associated with the station. My friends Karthik and Allie were actors this week; they had never been on the station, like never even heard of it before. And also I’m really involved in the Emerson music scene, so I wanted to use the show to spotlight different acts. So we have sequences in the show where there’s music playing from a car radio that’s composed by Emerson bands, both our intro and outro are produced by Emerson bands. So it’s just a fun way to involve a lot of people and get other people to listen to a station I’m really passionate about.
That’s really awesome. I’m especially interested in the fact that the show started as a series of monologues, which is pretty skeletal compared to what it is now. I just wanted to know how you got from Point A to Point B. What was the process from turning The Haunted Hour from a series of monologues to what it currently is?
Okay, well I had a professor named Lise Haines for writing my second semester Freshman year, and she really really helped me evolve the way that I tell stories. One strength I kinda developed in that class was dialogue, and it made me realize that while monologues are fun to write, they’re not as interesting as two people talking to each other. Also, from a writer’s perspective, it’s a lot more challenging to get across information without the characters just sort of saying it verbatim. At that time I was listening to a bunch of different narrative podcasts, like the incredible Life After, which is about this company that basically re-creates the voices of the dead from their social media profiles. It totally blew me away, and I realized that there’s really so much you can do with podcasting. So I kinda wanted to avoid having something like a narrator, because I feel like there were ways to tell the story without that. Working from that point forward, I realized the monologue structure I originally had wasn’t gonna work. There were longer arcs I wanted to tell than the 15-minute monologues I was doing because originally part two of the series (4 full ep, 20 min each) was just gonna be one 20 minute episode, and I can’t do that. Like I can, I guess, but I really didn’t want to. So from there I just did my best to find interesting ways to connect the characters like through sibling relationships, friendships, kind of Love Actually style where everyone is secretly connected.
So when you first detailed the show to me, you described it as a horror comedy. In my own personal opinion and experience, I find those two genres to be especially hard to blend together effectively. So how do you go about balancing the horror and comedy aspects of The Haunted Hour?
So, I’ll be the first to admit that The Haunted Hour is neither very horrific nor very funny, but now that that’s out of the way, I’d say I take a lot of inspiration from shows like Buffy and Twin Peaks. Shows that aren’t full of a lot of explicit jokes per se, but still have excellent situational comedy.
Like, I really like thinking about how 15-16-year-old kids would actually react to (and this is a spoiler by the way) a giant amphibious creature in the basement of a high school. I think there’s a lot of potential for comedy in stuff like that. Finding how people would really adjust to these supernatural situations can yield itself well to a lot of really good comedy.