Consider me a paranormal enthusiast. If you put ghosts, aliens, mythic beasts, possessions, hauntings, haunted histories, deep dark city secrets, and other such things framed as non-fiction programming on your network, I will try to watch. So long as you don't give me a reason to hate everything about your program (Paranormal State, I'm looking at you), I'll probably stick with it.
Cue Travel Channel's mixed bag program Ghost Adventures.
Basically, a trio of young men - Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin - get permission to be locked inside some of the most notoriously haunted locations in the United States for overnight investigations. They film everything themselves, and even subject their footage to the scrutiny of other investigators and film experts to try and prove their claims. They use a variety of standard and experimental investigation equipment and generally make asses of themselves in an attempt to stir up activities.
What does that last quip mean? As far as I can tell, Bagans' style of investigation must have been inspired by the Ghostbusters theme song, specifically the repeated call of "I ain't afraid of no ghosts." The team shows up, places static equipment and cameras all over the house, then starts screaming idiotic threats to violent entities like "I'm the new warden in the prison and I am going to beat you every day for being the scum of the earth. Come out and tell me what you think of that...into this blinking red light." The tough guy act quickly dissolves as soon as they hear a single knock, in which case a seemingly endless stream of profanity emerges that would make Dick Cheney blush. They then start ribbing on each other for showing fear and encouraging the ghosts to react, when in reality they make it quite clear that they want to be scratched, pushed, punched, and pissed on by the ghosts in question. Otherwise, the guys are perfectly nice, articulate, and professional in their documentary behavior.
In the following clip, Zak and his team - after having no real reactions to speaking to the spirits of a Spanish fort in English - decide to do a few questionable things: 1) they bring out a Spanish/English dictionary and mangle a beautiful language to harass the spirits; 2) they dump sand (which seems to have been taken by violating local law judging by the signs in a prior scene) on the floor from the site of a massacre of French Protestants by the Spanish Catholics running the fort; 3) Zak repeatedly calls sand "soil" just to drive me bonkers:
I know it seems like I'm being extremely critical of their method and behavior, but the Ghost Adventures crew does seem to get results from it. It's just so far removed from what any other team is willing to do on television that it does seem like they are just putting on an act to stand out. The initial documentary from 2006 features only a small amount of this type of behavior; otherwise, they are far more cautious and traditional in their approach. Their equipment and methodology are sound enough. I give them credit for not including a "psychic" or "empath" who claims to feel exactly what every single solitary spirit in the location has ever felt in the history of the world. When one member of this team gets that kind of sensation, they freak out like a rational human being. It's actually refreshing to see investigators genuinely afraid of things they cannot explain.
Here are the benefits to the program:
- Zak, Nick, and Aaron approach the material like skeptics. The analysis scenes at the end of each episode are refreshing. They don't just say "and we proved it" or "our data is inconclusive, so the place may or may not be haunted," they demand that others investigate the footage to see if they manipulated the sound, added computer effects, or altered the evidence in anyway. They won't even claim that equipment breaking or batteries dying is definitive proof that a spirit is there. They will make a note of the occurrence and leave it to the audience to decide. The team wants more evidence than most shows will provide.
- The team, for the most part, is not going to the standard sites for these shows. I don't know how they are getting the permission to film on some of these locations that others are continually shut out of, but they are. The fort video from above is a pretty standard location for investigation shows; but the condemned buildings and privately owned property they routinely showcase are not.
- Zak, Nick, and Aaron will actually take the time to show you how they are setting up the investigation. They talk about camera angles and techniques. They define new equipment each week and explain how it works. And they aren't using Dowsing rods, Tarot cards, or upside wineglasses on Ouiji boards.
- It's very entertaining. There are moments in episodes where I'm scared out of my mind, and there are moments in episodes where I feel the only possible improvement is to play Benny Hill chase music as the three guys start freaking out.
- They also, like any good documentary crew, clearly do their research about the locations and ask their interview subjects - historians, other investigators, property owners, former employees, visitors, etc. - questions that go beyond "So what happened here?" They'll know that a room they can enter that night was only discovered a few years ago and held piles of bones and even skeletons hanging on the wall that had been walled in to die. They'll then ask questions to really find out as much as they can about the circumstances and theories as to who did what to whom, when, and why.
If you have any interest at all in paranormal investigation, Ghost Adventures is a lot of fun to watch. Their methodology can be off-putting at times (other such shows actually explain why you shouldn't poke "demonic" entities with a stick and how it can affect the results of an investigation and cause a significant safety risk) but otherwise the program is solid.
In conclusion, if I were a ghost, I'd be afraid of Zak Bagans, for sure. I mean, the guy is jacked. He could probably snap me in half and use my rotting corpse parts to lore a spirit out of hiding.
Which is why I can't do anything but highly recommend you watch Ghost Adventures on Friday Nights at 9PM on the Travel Channel. Or TIVO it.