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In Search Of…Inspiring A Generation

People ask me all the time what got me into horror. The answer has always been simple. Growing up a kid in the 70s, I was hooked by the weekly documentary TV show, In Search Of.

 

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It didn’t hurt that it was narrated by Mr. Spock, one of my idols at the time. His voiceover work on that show was always, and I mean always, pitch perfect. Somber, serious, Leonard Nimoy took us all on a trip to the weird and paranormal that has been noted as the inspiration for an entire generation of writers, directors and actors. I don’t think I’ve met a writer at Samhain Horror who hasn’t said this show deeply impacted their lives.

In Search Of was my classroom for the bizarre and unexplained. Every week, I sat in my living room sipping on a Nehi, huddled close to our TV that was as big as our couch (at least the cabinet was – the actual screen may have been 20 inches tops). It was where I was first exposed to Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, life after death, real buried treasure, aliens, the Bermuda Triangle and ESP, just to name a few off the top of my head. Everything seemed and looked so real, I couldn’t help but shiver at the thought of monster and ghosts populating the same world where I rode my bike with baseball cards in the spokes and played Wiffle Ball marathons until we could no longer see the ball.

The film itself was grainy, the terror palpable as each tale unfolded. Any episode of In Search Of back then was scarier than most horror flicks. And now that I can watch them on YouTube today, it still holds true. I’ve said it many times that the baritone of Leonard Nimoy’s voice is the horror soundtrack of my life. Without him and that wonderful show, I may have never discovered my true passion.

Summer’s winding down and Halloween will be here before you know it. Now’s a perfect time to watch this show for the first time or catch up with a long lost friend. At the very least, it will explain how we horror writers of a certain age came to be.

What’s your favorite episode? I know mine was Bigfoot and my first exposure to the famed Patterson Gimlin film.

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Mountain Monsters and Moonshine

My latest guilty pleasure is the cryptid-hunting ‘reality’ show, Mountain Monsters, that can be seen on both the History Channel and Destination America. Every time I turn it on, I just picture myself on a log cabin’s front porch with a bunch of good old boys, sipping fire water and spinning yarns. These proclaimed Sons of West Virginia travel the Appalachians searching for mythical beasts and deadly creatures of yore hiding in the dense forests and mountains.

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Do I believe they’re really hot on the trail of actual cryptids, from the Mothman to the Hogzilla of Hocking Hills and Fire Dragon of Pocahontas County? Hello no! Is there even the slightest chance I think any of the filmed evidence that they or their eyewitnesses present are anything but CGI, smoke and mirrors? Not a chance. Truth be told, I don’t need to know the truth. When I watch Mountain Monsters, I just want to be entertained, and on that level, they deliver.

I’ve written about America’s newfound fascination with hillbillys and reality TV. Mountain Monster is just another entry in a growing video library of redneck home cooking.

So, what makes this show work? Well, for me, I get to discover a host of new monsters supposedly roaming our land. I may be a New Yorker but I’m a freaking monster addict. Even I never heard of the Kentucky Hellhound (and I have relatives in Kentucky) or Ohio Grass Man (another take on Bigfoot). Gvie me a monter and you have my attention.

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The cast is downright amusing. These are good old boys of the highest order. I get beard envy every time I watch. Wild Bill is the standout for me. He mumbles better than Boomhauer from King of the Hill and looks capable of wrestling a Bigfoot to the mat. Dude is 50 shades of loco. I worry about portly Buck having a stroke running through the woods in the dead of night. Willy, who could be Rob Zombie’s demented uncle, builds homegrown traps that look straight out of Wile E Coyote’s playbook. Trapper is the elder statesman and leader with hulking Huckleberry as his muscle and FLIR camera wielding Jeff the brains (when he’s not playing Santa Claus). Scareist of all, these boys all carry some big ass guns and aren’t afraid to pull the trigger. With all their running around in the dark, I hope they’re shooting blanks. Plus, I want my Sheepsquatch alive, dammit!

There is not an ounce of skepticism in the bunch. If they see bones, hell, a wolfman must be feeding on cattle. When they zero in on a monster, everything they see has to be related to that monster. It reminds me of when my friends and I were kids, searching for creatures we made up and convinced ourselves lived around the reservoir by my house.

My advice to you. Suspend belief, kick back with the cocktail of your choice, and just have some fun. Want to take your fun up to a whole ‘nother level? I have a drinking game for you. Take a shot of your favorite beverage every time you hear the word ‘sumbitch’ or when Wild Bill grunts ‘huh’. You’ll be crawling on your hands and knees by the end of the show.

Dig monster like me? Check out Swamp Monster Massacre or The Montauk Monster in between episodes of Mountain Monsters.

And tell me what you think of the show. Guns up or down?

 

 

Ghost Mine Digs Deeper Into The Mystery

The entire gang is back at the Crescent Mine, searching for more than gold and getting creepier by the day. I wanted to wait until I watched a couple of episodes of Ghost Mine before writing about the new season. The first, short run season was so good, I wasn’t sure they could maintain the head of steam they’d built.

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Thankfully, I was wrong. Season 2 is even better. Viewers already know the back story and love the miners and investigators, so it was easy to just jump right into the thick of things. In the two plus years I’ve been doing this blog, nothing comes close to the attention my post on the first season of Ghosts Mine received. I’m not the only one who thinks this is the best paranormal show on TV.

I think we were all disappointed to see that the second shaft they had opened at the close of season one had been caved in so thoroughly, there was no way to reopen it this time around. I’ll bet there were a lot of disreputable people skulking about those hills looking for the mine after the show aired. Did the owner, Larry, bring it down to keep them out, knowing there was a good possibility of gold lurking in the depths? Speaking of Larry, there’s something very shady about him. He’s extra scruffy this season and comes across to me as a little puppet master, jerking the strings of the Crescent Mine crew as well as Patrick and Kristen.

What I hope will be a fortuitous addition to the team is Greybeard’s old man, Duck. You remember him. He’s the one that bailed when he heard Tommyknockers in the first episode last season. I feel that good things will come from having the wise, superstitious old miner around. There’s a good mix of old and young here, and it makes for a good dynamic.

Patrick, who I think is sporting more ink, has come  up with some more interesting toys to search for the paranormal. He’s a bright, no nonsense guy and his passion for what he does really comes through. And Kristen, well, she’s the living embodiment of Dana Scully, from the red hair to her quest for the truth. I know plenty of guys that watch the show just for her. Yes, guys are shallow. No news flash there.

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There are a ton of questions that need to be answered this season.

  • What do the Masons have to do with the mine? Was the newly discovered ballroom a meeting place for initiations?
  • Who is the mystery person lurking around the camp and mines? Or is Larry just trying to draw them off their game?
  • What happened during Bucket and Papa Smurf’s grandson’s missing time experience?
  • What did Jay see walk past him in the mine and what is that shadow in the trees?
  • Will Fast Eddie be convinced that something paranormal is going on before the end of the season?
  • Can anyone understand what Bucket says without captions?
  • Will Jamol’s cooking get any better?

Unlike other paranormal shows, we the viewers are just as interested in the mining and the lives of the cast as we are hearing EVPs or seeing video evidence of shadow people. And that’s what’s always set this show apart.

From all the feedback I’ve received, I know you’re all watching. What are your favorite parts of the show? What do you hope to see? Who are your favorite characters and why? I’ll give away signed books and ebooks to random commenters over the next few weeks. Now let’s get to diggin’!

Deep South Paranormal – Hillbilly Ghost Huntin’!

OK, I’m well aware that hillbilly TV is the hot thing right now. Duck Dynasty is the #1 reality show on the boob tube. Everything southern is in, from crazy kids with too much time on their hands to gator wrestlers, loggers, pawn shops and everything in between. So it was only a matter of time until Syfy caught on and melded rednecks with ghosts, giving us Deep South Paranormal.

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My immediate family are the only ones in the line that are sided with the Yanks. All of my cousins and aunts and uncles can be found in North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas. I may live in New York, but I love listening to Gretchen Wilson and Shooter Jennings and pretty much walk around looking like Larry the Cable Guy once the warm weather sets in. I can appreciate the love of the south (though I am no fan of the heat and humidity that comes with the territory).

Fans of shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures may not take a shine to this addition to ParaTV because it’s not really about the ghosts. Nope, Deep South Paranormal is about the folks who like to traipse around haunted places in the dead of night. And oh what a group they’ve assembled.

When you look at the cast, your eyes immediately go to the 2 ZZ Top dudes with beards that leave me green with envy. The true star of the show is old man Hart, a colorful Cajun who walks around with a gris gris stick to call on spirits. He’s fast talking, funny as hell, and introduces us to colorful terms like getting the frissons, which means the shudders. I could watch this guy all day.

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Then there’s Keith, our narrator (who makes every episode sound like we’re setting down to catch the latest Dukes of Hazard) and rocker. Keith looks like he’s half asleep most of the time, but he does have a nifty little trick of playing his guitar to pique the interest of any nearby spirits.

Randy is young and brash and has more tats that an Attica lifer. He’s perfectly paired with Hart. Young and old really work well together and you can tell they genuinely like one another.

Jonathan is the head guy and seems to be the more level headed of the group. He’s aided by Benny, who is another funny good old boy, Kali (Randy’s sister) and Kevin, the gadget guy.

So, what makes this show tick? So far, it isn’t the ghosts. Even though they’ve investigated plantations and a saw mill, I’m more amused by watching them feed their friend’s pet gators, suck the breath from a frog for voodoo protection, pluck feathers from a live rooster and go mudding with their trucks.

Is Deep South Paranormal adding anything new to the world of paranormal investigations? No. But they are fun to watch. And it’s about time we had a ghost hunting show where everyone doesn’t walk around as dour as the Tall Man in Phantasm. Thanks Syfy.

Stranded : Syfy’s Latest Scare Fest

I never thought the Syfy channel would become the mecca for ParaTV, but thanks to the runaway success of Ghost Hunters, the network churns out new ghost-themed shows quicker than Willy Wonka on meth. The latest entry is STRANDED, a new take on the old theme, created by Destination Truth’s own Josh Gates. Now, Josh is by far my favorite para-celebrity because he doesn’t take things too seriously, but serious enough to put his life on the line while searching for the uknown. I swear that man is going to at least lose a limb while schlepping through the jungle looking for dinosaurs or an Africanized Bigfoot. It’s also produced by Jason Blum, of Paranormal Activity and Sinister (by far the scariest movie of 2012) fame.

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The premise of Stranded is simple. Take a handful of real people and drop them in one of America’s most haunted locations for 5 days. Arm them with cameras and some basic ghost hunting equipment and let the good times roll. No camera crews or Syfy production folks to get in the way. The best part is, no matter how scared they get, they can’t leave.

I mentioned in my previous post on Ghost Mine that I liked the idea of making folks investigate a haunted location for more than the obligatory night. That way we all get a better feel for the place, and allow enough time to stumble upon some real scares.

In the first episode, three twenty-somethings (exes Sarah and Sean and their non-believing friend, Xand) are dropped off on Star Island off the cost of New Hampshire. Their mission : to stay at the haunted Oceanic Hotel and find out if spirits really do roam the halls. The hotel has been shut up for the oncoming winter, ala The Shining. Anyone care to place wagers on whether Xand changes her tune about the paranormal?

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When they arrive at the empty hotel on the first night, a book is left behind explaining the haunted history of the  hotel. Ghost Hunters fans should remember when Jason, Grant and the team investigated the hotel a few years back. The trio spend the next 5 days living in the dark in the shuttered hotel, jumping at noises and filling up hours of night vision recordings.

Kudos to Sean for coming up with the creepiest method for ghost hunting – ever! It seems the spirit of a little girl likes to open and close the doors of the hotel rooms on the 4th floor. Sean decides to raid the nursery (a kind of prop for tourists to get their chills) and tie little nooses around their necks, with the other end on the door knobs. If any door is openened, they’ll know because the doll will be out of place. What we’re left with is a long, dark hallyway filled with strangled dolls on either side. They should have renamed it Hangman’s Hall.

They do get a disembodied voice giggling and there are odd sounds every night. It’s just enough to put them on edge, which, as a viewer, is where we want them. It ain’t fun until the skeptic cries, and in that sense, Stranded doesn’t disappoint.

The first episode was interesting, but I’m hoping it can crank things up in future episodes. Personally, I’d like to see them bring in some older, more grounded people who are less prone to suggestion. The trio in the first episode were on edge the  moment they stepped onto the dock. I wish they hadn’t been given any info on the stories of the hotel. It colors their perception of things. Better to let them discover the paranormal for themselves. Use graphics to clue the viewers into the history.

For those of you who saw it, what did you think? Para-good, or para-bad?

I’ll be staying tuned. Hey, Syf, feel free to drop me off any place you’d like. Let’s see how a horror author holds up in a haunted house.

Ghost Mine : Syfy Strikes Gold

Let me start off by saying that I fully understand that all paranormal TV shows are entertainment. Some slant more to the entertainment side than others, but I’m not fooled into thinking everything I see on my television screen is a pure scientific approach to exploring the supernatural. The fact that there are no real scientists conducting experiments is enough to dispel that myth.

Syfy’s Ghost Mine has become, by far, the single best paranormal show on the air in very little time. Why it works so well is pretty simple and I’m sure other production companies will be working hard to imitate them.

We all like to be scared from time to time. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any amusement parks, and for real kicks, we’d watch reruns of Matlock. Even without the threat of ghosts lurking in the dark, an abandoned mine is scary as hell. It plays on our fear of the dark, claustrophobia and, well, you can die pretty easily in there. Mines are about as safe as Congress is effecient.

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Ghost Mine focuses on a hearty band of miners looking for gold in the long abandoned Crescent Mine in the hills of Oregon. The mine itself has a rich history of the unexplained. They are joined by 2 paranormal investigators, the intense and gadget-loving Patrick Doyle and his partner, Kristen Lumen, a red haired beauty among the rough and tumble men. She can certanily hold her own and has to fight against the tide of supersitions about having women in a mine. It seems that other mining teams have bailed out on the Crescent Mine because of the supposed spirits that drift in and out of the tunnels.

What makes this work has nothing to do with the paranormal. It has everything to do with the miners themselves who make up one of the most interesting casts of characters on TV today. From the grizzled veterans Papa Smurf and Grey Beard (everyone has nicknames they’ve earned from years working in mines) to the fast talking Bucket and a pair of “Greenhorns” who are down on their luck and hoping to save their family’s finances. you can’t turn away. Just learning how these guys go about securing the mine and how much work goes into extracting gold is enough to hook me. Just think Axe Men with ghosts.

This is the first show that doesn’t zip in to a location and haul ass out the moment they think they’ve caught an EVP. We get to really explore the mine with them, and become emotionally invested in the miners.

Add in shadows that appear against laser grids, creepy voices and cabins being struck with the force to knock things off the walls, and you have must-see Para TV.

I admit to feeling my own walls closing in when Patrick and Kristen walk deep into the grave-black mines, searching for the heart of the haunting. The evidence they catch is compelling, but nothing can stop men with gold fever. The spirits in the mine, disturbed by the blasting, have also dispersed out of the mine, haunting the miner’s wives and children in a nearby B&B. Everyone’s on edge, including the viewers.

Ghost Mine is both informative and eerie. I’d be happy watching an episode dedicated only to mining as much as I would one centered on the ghost hunters.

As an added bonus, we get hints that the Masons might have something to do with the restless spirits. Conspiracy nuts, don your foil hats and strap yourselves in!

I’m a horror writer, and I’d be happy as a pig in you-know-what if I came up with a plot and characters this fascinating. So I’m not going to worry whether everything or not is real. I’m enjoying the ride.

The only negative is that the show has a very short run. Note to SyFy, feel free to cancel The Haunted Collector, find a new mine and get cracking on a full season.

If you’ve watched Ghost Mine, I’d love to know your thoughts about the show. Where would you rank it in the pantheon of modern Para TV?

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