Though I enjoy ghost tours and ghost stories, I’ve never been a fan of ghost hunting TV shows. It felt like if I’d seen one I’d seen em’ all and there was no way even the most gifted ghoster can capture something on a weekly basis. Despite an open mind, I have little patience for “Wow, did you feel the room suddenly get cold?” or someone claiming they’re nauseous after entering an alleged haunted site. I’m not calling these folks liars or anything, just that these plot devices kill my suspension of disbelief.
The same can’t be said for my kids who love these programs – especially Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. I’d never heard of the guy nor his show but apparently, my teens have been watching him for years and think he’s the bomb. They brought him to my attention recently after his long-awaited docudrama, Demon House, became available to rent on Amazon. I’m not sure what shocked me more: my kids having a secret fascination with ghosts or the fact they’ve been regularly tuning in to the Travel Channel.
The day after they brought it up, my friend Jason sent me a link to the trailer. Clearly, some supernatural force was guiding me towards this film. I was surprised to learn the so-called ‘Demon house’ was in Gary, Indiana and only 30 minutes from where I live. The trailer even showed the infamous HELL IS REAL sign I’ve passed many times when driving through Indiana. Sufficiently intrigued, it was time to rent the movie. Before I continue, I should mention there will be a few spoilers here though most are public record and I’ll try to be vague.
What to say of my kids’ idol, Zak Bagans? He’s definitely one of a kind. My initial observation is that he’s a good-looking guy that comes off like a used car salesman. I found his narration interesting as it somehow manages to be both methodical and melodramatic all at the same time. I also felt the film style (quick/flashy cuts) was more suitable for a television show than film documentary. Despite all this, it did keep me engaged and I must admit, I enjoyed it.
The movie revolves around a house notorious for its unexplained phenomena. Many who enter claim adverse effects – with one of its previous occupants supposedly full-blown possessed. This was a child who even walked up a wall backward in front of a group of hospital staff. In fact, there’s been so much bad mojo associated with this place, even the Gary Police Department hated going anywhere near it. Considering the crime rate of the socioeconomically challenged Gary, I wouldn’t brush that off. With a long list of professionals validating its paranormal activity, it’s not surprising the ‘Demon House’ was heralded “the most authenticated case of possession in American history.”
Naturally, this caught the attention of Bagans who’s been producing Ghost Adventures and other related shows since 2008 and actually bought the house himself. Filming wrapped in January 2015 before struggling three years to its eventual release. Given its notoriety, I was surprised he didn’t bring in a team of paranormal investigators armed with state-of-the-art equipment to investigate. I once spent a fun evening with Chattanooga Ghost Tours and they gave us access to numerous gadgets for a simple cemetery walk. Outside of placing cameras in every room, why weren’t any of those materials used here?
During the course of the movie, Bagans describes having demonic dreams while getting irritable with crew members; something he attributes to the house’s bad energy and “200 demons” possessing it. I’m no filmmaker, but my understanding is that it’s not unusual for folks to get a little cranky during long hours of production – be it supernatural horror or romantic comedy. We also see one troubled member of his crew go bonkers behind the scenes and later hear he became a devil-worshipper. Had the man in question looked more like the boy next door rather than a meth head, this would have had more of an impact. People involved with production also became ill which, as mentioned earlier, isn’t something I’m particularly impressed with. However, there are some things about this movie I did find rather interesting.
Without going into details, Bagans makes a scary and strange move towards the end of the film that he later claims caused the house to harm him physically. The ailment requires him to wear special glasses to avoid surgery and he has worn them on his show since the movie’s completion and long before its release. Regardless if this affliction is natural or supernatural, it does lend a bit more credibility – especially since he’s a relatively attractive TV personality wearing unflattering, therapeutic glasses.
After filming, Bagans also made the choice not to sell or utilize the house for anything further and had it demolished completely. This brought a lot of criticism from local clergy (the empty lot is now a favored spot for seances) and paranormal fans who’ve now been robbed of the chance to see it investigated further and armed with something more than a camcorder. Even I shook my head thinking how stupid this was. Or perhaps I was confusing stupidity for nobility? If Bagans truly was the charlatan he appears, why destroy the place unless he truly believed it dangerous? Ghost Adventures has been on for a decade now, so clearly, the man has enough showbiz savvy to see its potential.
What fascinated me about Demon House is that it didn’t matter whether I believe it was possessed or not. What mattered is that I believed Bagans believed it and that alone made it worth watching.