Against the bright lights of Blackpool, a supernatural killer is at work and a dark and dangerous love affair begins… A sinister, disturbingly romantic seven part podcast drama written by Marty Ross (BBC’s Catch My Breath & Ghost Zone and Audible’s The Darkwater Bride) and starring Con O’Neill (Chernobyl, The Batman) and Rhiannon Clements. A contemporary Gothic horror tale set against a background of life on the narrow edge between Pleasure Beach and wild cold sea, between secret desire and a deadly evil. Also starring, Kyle Rowe, Pamela Mayoss, Steven Gidwaney, Patrick Price & Ryan Clayton. KISSES IN THE DARK was written and recorded against the backdrop of 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic.
Warnings: Violence, Depictions of homophobia, Domestic abuse, Childhood abuse, Some ableism and fatphobia
Fiction podcasting and radio dramas sit in the liminal space between novel and film. They have the element of performance to be sure, but they also are not unlike listening to an audiobook in practicality. Does this count as a novel? Well it’s my blog so I say, close enough. Written by Marty Ross, this horror podcast tells the story of a sinister monster who stalks the night streets of Blackpool, and starring the incredibly sensual vocal performance of Con O’Neill.
The writing in this piece of work is gorgeously done. Told through a series of character monologues, with each character telling their piece of the story with their own unique voice and personality, it’s a story that is told at times hauntingly, crassly, sentimentally, or angrily. Props to both the author and the actors who poured incredible performances into this narrative and kept me at the edge of my seat through every single episode. The story follows John Tusk, a sinister being who devours the souls of the living through a life-force siphoning kiss. His quasi-vampiric nature is perfect for the gothic scenery and narrative, as he unexpectedly falls for his neighbour Kate. Kate is in an abusive relationship, and finds solace in developing a relationship with John, although of course listeners are aware that John is just as dangerous if not moreso than her boyfriend. It’s a violent, gothic romance full of emotional turbulence and trauma, and the writing explores some very dark places that the actors tackle with absolute abandon. I will say however that I was disappointed with some elements of ableism and fatphobic language within the narrative.
The extent to which this piece engages you on an emotional level is astounding. Not only is every single character interesting and complex, with heartrending backstories and individual personalities, they also all express themselves and their emotions and experiences incredibly well. The strength of a monologue based story is after all that it’s almost entirely about its characters, how they experienced something, what kinds of effects the experienced events had on them and their emotions and their sense of self. It’s so very beautiful in its exploration of messy lives and people. On that note however I will make mention that there are several potentially upsetting scenes involving abuse and bigotry that are difficult to listen to so do mind the warnings, since it explores very heavy subject matter. The other way in which this piece is emotionally engaging of course, is in its developing relationship between John and Kate, which grows so differently on both of their sides; Kate seeing a compelling and charismatic gentleman, while John slowly develops a stalkerish obsession. There is real trepidation on the part of the audience as we are kept wondering how this relationship will turn out.
There is some very lovely worldbuilding here in the mythos, and how it is slowly revealed over the course of the story. There are many questions the listener might have about this world- what exactly is John? Where did his power or curse come from? How long has he been stalking the streets of Pleasure Beach, and what happens to the souls of his victims? All of these are answered by the end in a cresendo of folklore and violent revelations, and it is phenomenal how it weaves these reveals naturally into the course of the narrative. It doesn’t feel info-dumpy, even when John is spilling his secrets, as it comes about throughout the course of the story. Of course the details of the mythology here are spoilers so I can’t speak too in depth about the world its working with but suffice to say the way it blends its monster fable into a story about abuse and obsession is really wonderfully well done.
Dear lord this story is sexy. There is one sex scene, which is some of the hottest vocal work I may have ever heard and comes as a gasp for air after holding your breath for these two to consummate their growing relationship. But even aside from that, Con O’Neil imbues every single scene with a sensuality that gets under your skin and deep into your bones. I was in love with John Tusk, and probably would have easily let him kill me with a kiss. Incidentally, these scenes in which he murders his victims with a kiss are some of the sexiest monster horror I have ever heard. There’s a real intimacy between him and his victims that just had my heart racing with that wonderful mix of longing and terror. I can’t imagine anyone could have pulled off this role as well as Con did, it is a crescendo of violent sensuality that I just couldn’t get enough of. Props to the writer and to Con for really committing to the heady combination of fear and lust together.
Altogether one of the most spectacular pieces I have ever had the pleasure of engaging with. I wish there was a physical CD release so I could own it forever. Its such a unique blend of gothic horror with sensuality and phenomenal voice work, and its just the perfect thing for this spooky season.
Have you listened to Kisses in the Dark? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!