Ghost Hunters and Flower Power

Author: Craig DiLouie

Fade to Black is a popular ghost hunter show that is starting to lose its ratings and uniqueness. They need something big to revitalize the show and ensure a second season. Enter the Paranormal Research Foundation, a derelict old mansion slotted to be torn down that was the center of unethical paranormal research in the 1970s.

The TV crew is led by a husband-and-wife team: Matt and Claire Kirklin. Matt has always been fascinated and optimistic about the paranormal, having had a run-in with a friendly ghost as a child. Claire, however, is all about science, and her job is to debunk everything the team is finding. It’s getting a bit old, and Claire wishes for something bigger, something better, some real research.

The rest of the team includes an ex-cop who ran into a demon, an unflappable camera man, and a likable actress added to the series to give it some pizazz and characterization.

As the team spreads out across the institute, hippie music and moving objects tells them that something from the beyond is there and waiting. They all might get more than they bargained for, however, in this epistolary, Blair Witch like recreation of reality TV meets spookiness meets pseudo-science.

Episode 13 was not my book club pick this month. Honestly, I dislike paranormal shows. They are always so fake and hokey: poorly lit rooms, shaky cameras, and people upsetting themselves theatrically over nothing. It’s all so . . . scripted and low budget. I also don’t believe in ghosts . . . so what is there to find anyway? It’s filled with more tricks than a pro-wrestling tournament.  But . . . what’s the point of being in a book club if you don’t expand your horizons and try new things? This same club also chose The September House, which I expected to hate and entirely loved.

Episode 13, despite all the above-and-beyond Audible production value that includes multiple voices and sound effects, it is a distinctly dull read. It’s told in alternating viewpoints. Sometimes we hear tapes recorded by each of the people on the ghost hunter team. Sometimes videos. Sometimes we get to hear from their journal. It’s a hodgepodge, giving insight into each person. It’s not especially inspiring though, despite the stellar attempts of whoever put the Audio book together. It’s all just very stereotypical. The cameraman who is unafraid because of his abusive past, the tough cop with something to prove, the husband and wife who fail to communicate, and the actress who is torn between being a mom and seeking a career. None of this is new, and somehow, despite the effort, none of it comes through as convincing. We feel like we’re watching a real reality show. In other words, we feel like we are being had and there is no real substance to the story beyond overblowing common interactions between fractious humans.

The hippie vibe, with everything from the music to the smiley faces and ghosts is just, frankly, beyond corny. How is flower power scary? And how are the old scientists, who we hear and see briefly, really playing in the tale? Despite the work at the epistolatory format, it’s all about us being told things and not really seeing them. The explanations are pat, pronounced, coming in when we need them, and all very distanced from the actual actions and risks. They also don’t make a heck of a lot of sense.

We finally get a weird ending, very House of Leaves-ish. It’s not exceptionally well explained, or at least, not particularly credible. There are interesting elements in the end, but I never felt truly engaged, and the kitschy cameras, journals, voice overs and how they all get conveniently found at the end, to make this final episode, this 13th entry into the series, is just blahh.

I went in with low expectations. I was impressed by the effort put in to make this a more complete story on Audible, including the sound effects and different voices, but despite all that production quality, the story itself was nothing special or memorable. People who truly love ghost hunting shows will probably, however, like this offering, as it captures the atmosphere perfectly and does give you the final “jump scare” of a supernatural ending and an answer. All in all, though, Episode 13 just wasn’t for me.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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