Monday, 9 October 2017

October Nightmares III #9: Ghost Hunters (2004 - 2016) & Most Haunted (2002 - ) - Who Ya Gonna Call?

Permit me a minor digression, for today I would like to focus on the 'phenomenon' of paranormal investigation TV. For can an exploration of horror TV truly be complete without at look at those shows about a bunch of knobs overreacting to dust flakes. These paranormal reality shows, purporting to investigate real life ghosts, are ripe for piss taking - existing in their own little bubble. All too willing to rewrite the laws of nature on the flimsiest evidence, such as a slightly peculiar (but explainable) noise. They're like Sam Neil In The Mouth of Madness knocking on the dresser and proclaiming "you hear that? Reality".

Of this type of show it is Ghostbusters Hunters which is (or was) the big daddy. Presented by two plumbers, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, Ghost Hunters is the adaptation of Luigi's Mansion as done in the style of the live-action Bob Hoskins Super Mario Bros movie. Of course it isn't, but wouldn't that have been good?

Instead we followed these two dolts and their team around as they toured America and visited supposedly haunted locations such as old inns, lighthouses, forests, churches, prisons, ships, and theatres. Occasionally they'd go to more famous places such as Alcatraz, the O.K. Corral, and Mark Twain's house. That's one point in Ghost Hunters' favour; it regularly offered up a good slice hauntingly beautiful America. Decrepit colonial era houses, creepy red wood forests, black caves, quaint suburbia, and outright oppressive brutalist buildings; this paranormal team certainly knew how to pick suitable filming locations.

Oh sure, they were supposedly 'contacted' by the public who requested they search their homes and buildings for ghosts. But answer me this: did you ever see an episode of Ghost Hunters set in a McDonald's soft play area? Surely accident-prone kids have died in those places, so you'd think the team would have come up against one or two or those. Instead it's bleak buildings ripped straight out of the nightmares of the Soviet Bloc.

But Ghost Hunters was by no means as interesting as the title - which sounds like a show about the spectres of Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway picking up elephant guns and carrying on killing nature's creatures - suggested. They'd mostly just walk around buildings with poorly-defined equipment, and shout "Hello?" every thirty fucking seconds. About 90% of the screenshots available on Google for this show are in black and white, because they always had the lights off and the night-vision on. Either they were after the ghosts of Instagram girls who'd only come out if they knew they were being filmed in at least sepia filter; or this crew, who were supposedly only interested in the rigours of science, were trying to artificially create a spooky atmosphere.

One thing I did appreciate about Ghost Hunters was that it attempted to employ empiricism, instead of simply using queer feelings as evidence of ghosts. We all tuned in to see if they'd finally capture unquestionable evidence of a ghost, knowing full well that they wouldn't. But this meant long episodes of nothing but slight breezes or vibrations, or an odd noise or bit of lighting. The Ghost Hunters team usually did accept fair is fair and offer scientific explanations for the 'happenings'. They were still far too quick to claim a smudgy photo of an indefinable object was a ghost, though. Just imagine if they'd accidentally walked into a KKK meeting - they'd have creamed themselves. 

Compared to the other show I'm about to review, however, Ghost Hunters displayed an almost Richard Dawkins level of science and rationality.

Most Haunted is something of a guilty pleasure of mine; a holdover from my days of unemployment. It's the turd that won't flush - having been cancelled in 2010, only to come back. Functionally, Most Haunted is the same basic format as Ghost Hunters but it's far more renegade about the whole thing. A team of paranormal investigators explore the castles, manors, and inns of Britain, Ireland, and desolate European hellholes like Romania. I'm just kidding Romania, please don't set Dracula on me.

Unlike Ghost Hunters, the more poshly named Most Haunted is more interested in spinning you a story. It employs all manner of tricks from the spooky music to the haunting trope-laden hosting from Yvette Fielding,who deserves a Blue Peter badge of her own for going full ham. The show will spin you a chilling story about the places the team visit, which is thick on spine-tingling detail but thin on the facts and figures. But it is Most Haunted's former secret weapon which lands it on this blog - a man named Derek Acorah.

If you don't know who Derek Acorah is, he was supposedly a psychic medium (as opposed to the non-psychic kind) but was really just some chancer. He wore fake tan, jewellery, smart suits; had slicked-back silver hair, and just generally carried himself as someone who'd vote in favour of Brexit despite regularly holidaying in Benidorm.

Acorah's main purpose was to provide the history of the place the team where in - the Horrible Histories version, not boring statistics-driven history) and he'd also communicate with the dead. On occasion, he'd get 'possessed' by these spirits. This played out with Acorah closing his eyes, pulling a face like a poo had just gone back up inside of him, and putting on a silly voice. At least two of these 'possessions' were indisputably proven to have been faked, and he left after 5 seasons.

Of all the ghost-themed reality shows, it is Most Haunted that feels the most like genre-fare. They always pick the most Gothic looking buildings with the most bloodiest stories, and instead of hard evidence this group settle for an ajar door moving in the breeze as their big 'capture'. Fielding overreacts to everything as though she is auditioning for The Blair Witch Project - minus the snot. Most Haunted can barely even be called a reality show - more guilty pleasure cum light entertainment. At any rate, it is the ghosts who I share the most sympathy with. Imagine being butchered in your sleep and after two hundred years of bleak post-life existence, you have to talk to this Derek Acorah knob.

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