I love a good ghost story. The best one I’ve seen recently was The Innkeepers, a small film about a haunted bed and breakfast. In many ways it was like The Shining, and not just because of the hotel setting. Both flicks have an inevitability to them, that their events were fated to happen and there’s nothing you could have done to stop it.
Because of this love (and Halloween), I’m currently working my way through Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide. The Japanese love ghosts (well, maybe not ghosts themselves, because some of them are pretty damn horrifying, if perhaps justified); kabuki plays are filled to the brim with malevolent spirits that were wronged by the aristocracy, landlords, lovers. Japan’s love for monsters and ghosts is all over their modern day culture, whether in film (Ringu, Ju-on) or their soap operas. THEY LOVE THAT SHIT. And I do too. I’m a somethingawful.com forum member (colloquially, a “goon”), and my favorite threads tend to be the ones with ghost stories, where goons go to town scaring one another. This is the place that gave birth to Slender Man, a creeptastic modern monster.
But I hate ghost hunting with a blinding passion that could extinguish every ghost, ghoulie, and yurei from the face of this earth.
I do think that ghosts are great devices. They can deliver messages to characters (Hamlet’s father) that push the action of the narrative forward or provide creepy set dressing. But these are fictional devices and not actual ones. Richard Wiseman’s Paranormality gets into the actual nuts and bolts of how we perceive supernatural events, and the answer is that it’s all about headology. No, you stop with that quantum mechanics malarkey. I mean it. I will sic Benjamin Radford on you.
I’ve gone ghost hunting before, podcasted about it even. People see what they want to see. That’s no special insight. And I think that stems from people seeing ghosts as evidence of something beyond themselves. If you can communicate with your loved ones and that there’s a chance they are listening in another place, that’s comforting. The m.o. of psychics is to feed their audience comfortable lies.
But ghost-hunters typically don’t know what they’re doing, even if they’re taking scientific-like equipment into supposedly haunted places. Hand me a crucifix and holy water and send me into a lab to do science and I would be ill-equipped to come up with anything concrete, let alone useful. And to assume that whatever phenomenon happens is a result of paranormal activity leaves you wide open for ridicule, and what makes Ghost Force: Searching For The Truth so delicious.
I’m a fan of The Fotis and the work he does with his partner-in-improv Joe Bozic through Ferrari McSpeedy, so when I saw he was doing a show for the TC Horror Festival about ghost-hunting, my mind blew up a little. Yes, give me some of that please.
(Quick digression: God Damned Son of a Bitch is also part of the festival, and really, if you’re a fan of Sam Landman and Tim Uren, you should be throwing your money at them for whatever they do. This is a two-man show. Why aren’t you there now?)
I mentioned this on twitter, but I would pay good money to see The Fotis stuck in various horror films. I got a taste of that, since Ghost Force is essentially The Blair Witch Project set at The Southern Theater. The Ghost Force itself gives us a tour of the Southern and its resident ghosts (a porno lover and a suicide), and they are clearly excited that this is the first time an investigation has resulted in evidence of a haunting. Connecting to the ghosts drives the comedy here, since it sets up specific situations where the Ghost Force needs to entice them to manifest, which then unlocks something darker and distinctly other.
That darker other represents a shift in tone that I resented at first (I CAME FOR FUNNY, DAMMIT). In actuality, I’m not sure how I feel about it even after a couple days to turn it over in my head. There’s this part of me that wanted to continue on with the irreverent tone that GF:SFTT establishes at its outset. That’s the skeptic in me, who wants to keep snickering at the splintered institution of ghost-hunting. But the another part knows that this was a fictional world that The Fotis created, so it’s not like I should be mad about the path we were headed down. It’s like being annoyed at the magician for focusing your attention on his left hand when you should have been watching his right. And why the hell should you be annoyed with someone who knows what they’re doing and does it so well?