By: Kelly Chia, Peak Associate
Demons and Bellinis is a podcast started by two SFU students, Molly Lorette and Ashley Smith, in 2018. Demons and Bellinis is a project where the two long-time friends talk shit about demons — and at 32 episodes, they’re still going strong. The Peak spoke with Lorette and Smith about this passion project and what it means to them to start a podcast like this.
As the title suggests, Demons and Bellinis is a casual podcast with a spooky undertone. Lorette describes it as having a “campfire ghost story kind of vibe, but you’re in your 20s talking shit.” Lorette and Smith’s contagious laughter as hosts truly make it feel that way.
Of all the episodes the two have recorded, “50 Berkeley Square” — about a supposedly haunted location in London — has been Lorette’s favourite to record. Lorette fondly recalls how the episode’s described entity had tendrils that made wet slapping noises, prompting Lorette and Smith to make numerous jokes about Victorian era hentai.
Though they love to joke and banter about horror, they also find themselves interested in the ways horror can be used as a lens for the past. “We have discussions about how there can definitely be more than meets the eye [ . . . ] Horror is definitely a product of a time and place: it can tell you a lot about philosophy, about psychology, and history. Stories bring us all together,” Lorette says.
“Horror is definitely an interesting medium in learning history because there’s so much terror in what people were scared of and what the cultural anxieties were at the time,” Smith chimes.
For example, Smith points out that many horror stories happen in homes, because it’s the place we know best and are most vulnerable in. “I think the idea of a home being haunted or something awful happening in the home scares a lot of people. It strikes them where they feel most at ease [ . . . ] If we lose our sense of safety at home, what do we have left?”
The two are both passionate about exploring the full context of paranormal stories and noticed that while many paranormal podcasts recount these stories, most did not analyze them.
Smith critiques those in the paranormal community for not speaking up when these horror stories or tropes are founded on troubling history. “The Goatmen stories are loaded with racially charged history. You can’t just talk about the Goatman Bridge without talking about the KKK or white supremacy, you know?”
These stories are about spirits that appear as half man, half goat, and seek revenge for injustices. One specific story discussed on the podcast is that of the Goatman on Alton Bridge, the location of the murder of a Black family by the KKK.
Another harmful trope Lorette points out is the use of Indigenous culture as a backdrop for horror. “As someone who identifies as Métis [ . . . ] but also wasn’t raised in a Métis or Indigenous environment, it can feel like [ . . . ] I don’t have a place in this conversation because I’m white passing. But I can use my voice to elevate these issues.”
Lorette feels a lot of frustration with the way Indigenous horror is handled in the paranormal community. “I [watched] a YouTuber who I really liked and looked up to using the term ‘Indian’ when referring to an Indigenous man, as well as making assumptions of him being wise, [playing into] the ‘Stoic Chief’ archetype that a lot of older Indigenous men frequently find themselves pegged as,” Lorette laments.
In particular, she noted that the Swiftrunner story — about a Cree man who becomes possessed by a wendigo (an evil spirit largely known from Algonquin folklore) — is often covered in an unsatisfactory way. The wendigo that features in the story has been used as the basis for a lot of Western horror with writers excessively misrepresenting and oversimplifying the spirit. After reading an article on how non-Indigenous horror writers borrow from Indigenous experiences, she wanted to voice her concerns about how Indigenous stories are appropriated.
“I finally found myself determined enough to cover the Swiftrunner case in particular in a way that didn’t centralize white people, as well as create dialogue revolving around the ways that the case is handled by white paranormal enthusiasts.”
Demons and Bellinis is definitely a casual podcast, and the two know how to lighten the mood as they recognize the value in humour and good company — especially when talking about horror stories. But what grounds the podcast is Lorette and Smith’s ability to be critical. Horror so often creates caricatures out of marginalized people, be it BIPOC culture or people with mental disorders. Calling out horror when it appropriates and stereotypes people is necessary, especially when horror seems like a purely entertaining and apolitical space.
For Lorette and Smith, horror is a way that the past interacts with the present, and a way to subvert the familiar.
“Horror writers and people in the paranormal community telling stories have a responsibility to [ . . . ] understand what these stories are trying to make us scared of and [whether] it’s justifiable or not. We shouldn’t be relying on these tropes to tell a scary story,” Smith explains.
As expected, with Halloween approaching, the pair is very excited about releasing new content. Coming up next? The Salem witch trials.
If you’re looking for a fun and introspective podcast this Halloween, Demons and Bellinis can be found on Spotify, Castbox, Podbean, and YouTube.