How Lore Crafts Its Signature Cerebral Scares

A killer who traps his victims in a house filled with hidden chambers. A lighthouse on the coast of Maine that some say is populated by ghosts. A terrifying countess who bathes in the blood of her own handmaids. Each of these stories is featured on Lore, a podcast that’s got a cult following of horror fans and history nerds alike. They’re also all true.

Aaron Mahnke has been posting episodes of Lore every two weeks since his podcast launched in 2015; its first episode was about a town where people fought a deathly disease by feeding their sick family members ashes made from a burnt corpse’s heart. Every story is equal parts fascinating and chilling, like listening to a particularly well-read friend spin tales around a campfire. Six of these tales come to life in a new Amazon show based on the podcast, which premieres its first season this Friday. Topics include the aforementioned sickness and the inventor of the transorbital lobotomy, all illustrated with narration, diagrams, and dramatic re-enactments.

“I’ve always been interested in stories about bizarre things,” Mahnke tells Vanity Fair. “I don’t have a particular format or topic. That’s why I hop around a lot”—covering everything from urban legends to cryptids to medical mysteries—“because there’s so much that interests me.” Lore listeners have no idea what they’ll get each week, which is exactly how Mahnke likes it. He also keeps episode descriptions vague, “because I don’t want people to go into it saying, ‘Oh, I already know this story about H.H. Holmes,’” he says. “I want them to experience it from my point of view, with fresh eyes and ears.”

Instead of pure historical drama or docu-style narrative, the Amazon show combines the two approaches, with Mahnke’s familiar narration threaded in throughout. Before the actual subject of an episode is introduced, all the pieces of the puzzle are laid out for viewers who may not be experts on, say, safety coffins, which…

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