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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Things That Go Bump

Pick just about any broadcaster.  Odds are, you'll find a ghost hunting show.  A&E has 'Paranormal State.'  SyFy has the venerable 'Ghost Hunters.'  Even Animal Planet has gotten into the act with 'The Haunted.'

Now, when the execs at Animal Planet decided to go with a show based on the paranormal, you know the trend has truly peaked.  'The Haunted' quit even pretending to have an animal-centric point of view after the first few episodes.  Now they just throw in a brief shot of a cat every now and then before getting back to the haint o' the week.

Every show has its own slant.  'Paranormal State' usually brings everything back to demons.  They're in your cupboards, in your closets, under your beds.  If you move the demons Google you and show up in a couple days pissed because you bought a split-level ranch and they hate stairs.  If you stay the demons invite all their old college buddies over and before you know it the whole place stinks of brimstone and nobody can get a decent night's sleep for all the head-spinning and bed-shaking.

'Ghost Hunters' doesn't generally play the demon card.  Instead, they tend to focus on EVPs, the ever-popular but utterly un-provable 'I'm being touched,' and the odd instance of a door opening or a chair moving all by itself.  Most of the time, Jay and Grant depart after assuring the property owner that they're in no danger.  I get the feeling Jay and Grant have been doing their show so long they're absolutely bored with it now.  A ten-foot-tall spectre glowing with the intensity of a thousand 747 landing lights and bellowing in the voice of Satan probably wouldn't rate more than a 'huh, that's unusual' from Jay, these days.

'The Haunted' always starts small.  A bump in the night.  Something moved a few inches.  The sound of voices  down the hall.  But before the second round of commercials, the activity has reached full-blown bleeding-walls/flies in the Holy Water/Amityville heights and the terrified homeowners invariably contact a 'local paranormal research group' for help.  What happens next varies -- sometimes it's a restless but benign spirit, sometimes its a demon on vacation from the set of 'Paranormal State.'  In the case of the latter, Holy Water is flung, Latin is read, and we fade to a scene of a 'changed' house and some soothing credits music.

Tonight SyFy debuts a new paranormal show, 'Haunted Collector.'  So now if your house isn't haunted, your collectible figurines are, which quite frankly serves you right for collecting figurines in the first place.  I haven't seen the show, but I will make a few bold predictions concerning its format and subject matter:
  • There will be frequent use of green IR night vision shots.
  • Cut-aways will occur during pivotal displays of supernatural activity.
  • Dolls.  There will be lots of dolls.  Because what could possibly be creepier when filmed in grainy green IR night-shot than a roomful of brooding dolls?
  • EVP evidence will play a major role in the presentation of evidence. 
Those are my predictions.  If I score less than three out of four I'll wear white shoes after Labor Day.

I've dabbled in the field of ghost hunting myself.  I've even captured a few EVP recordings that are quite interesting.  So I'm not a hard-core 'unbeliever.'

I just find the recent proliferation of such shows amusing, that's all.  Mainly because I realize they live or die by ratings, and let's face it -- if the ghosts don't put on a show, the network has a vested interest in using a few tight-lipped production assistants to fill in where the dear departed failed.

Which is what led me to try recording my own EVPs in the first place.  I knew how easy they'd be to fake, and I saw how easy the shows made it appear to capture them.  So, I reasoned, if I go out a few dozen times and come back with nothing, well, it's clear what's going on.

I captured a reasonably clear EVP my first time out.  In a cemetery.  

How cliche.  You ghosts out there -- show some imagination!  A cemetery?  Seriously?  What's next, white sheets?  Rattling chains?

Still, I heard what I heard.  I can't explain it.  Even so, I refuse to even label the voices as those of 'ghosts.'  And until someone can absolutely rule out all other possible sources, I won't.

But there are plenty of people who will.  Their shows are fun to watch -- but bring the proverbial grain of salt.

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