What is it with this latest obsession with ghost hunting? What has everyone from kid vid friendly wee-ones to moonlighting sewer repair men running around abandoned hospitals and prisons looking for poltergeists? Back when Bill Murray and the bunch made ghost busting seem a heckuva lot of fun, we didn't see dozens of TV shows spring up, each one focusing on a different brand of haunt hacker, specious scientific equipment, and an Amityville Horror pile of supposed true stories. Yet for some reasons, you can't surf the endless options of the new digital domain and NOT find someone looking to capture Caspar on video. Heck, Hollywood has even bought into the home grown conceit, giving the fad inspired Paranormal Activity a high profile platform from which to scare the bejesus out of the easily influenced and gullible. In a realm that sees Roto-Rooter technicians turned specter hecklers TAPS going great guns on SyFy, along comes the Travel Channel's investigative squad and their Ghost Adventures. The big difference between the two? The Hunters want to believe, but play skeptic to expose obvious scientific and pragmatic explanations for so called spirits. The guys in Adventures are just out to turn minor audio anomalies into 100% abject proof.
According to the program mythos, lead investigator Zak Bagans once had a face-to-face encounter with a female apparition. Since then, he's dedicated his life to capturing on video what he saw in real life. Bringing along only co-paranormal detective Nick Groff and team technician Aaron Goodwin, he seeks out supposedly haunted realms around the world, does a little pre-lockdown research, and then purposefully spends the night in these notorious locales - no lights, no camera crews, no outside observers or influences. Just Zak, Nick, Aaron and their night vision camcorders. Whatever they record, whatever they experience, becomes fodder for each 43 minute episode of Ghost Adventures.
The DVD contains eight installments of the series, following the fellows as they travel to and through these noted "realms of evil":
Moundsville Penitentiary - a deserted West Virginia prison which saw rampant death and inmate abuses, including the boiling of one man in a pot of beans.
Bobby Mackey's Music World - a thriving Kentucky country music nightclub which was previously a slaughterhouse, and a proposed site of massive satanic activity.
Houghton Mansion - a Massachusetts home which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a former resident.
Riddle House - a West Palm Beach abode has the spooky distinction of being the location of a former resident's suicide...by hanging...in the attic!
Sloss Furnace - former iron workers, treated cruelly by their bosses, supposedly still rally around this former Alabama refinery.
Former Psychiatric Hospital - the New Jersey asylum saw the death of hundred of patients, insane victims of a slipshod system which now roam the halls of the abandoned building.
Edinburgh Vaults - an ancient series of tunnels in Scotland once held the victims of the Bubonic Plaque. It is now visited by such colorful specters as Mr. Boots, and tiny ghost Jack.
Old Idaho Penitentiary - more pissed off former prisoners are hanging out in the Midwest facility, including more than a few infamous inmates.
If hunting for spooks has become the post-millennial past time for people of limited para-psychological skills and well-honed TV personalities, then Zak "Don't You Dare Call Me Bilbo" Bagans and the crew of Ghost Adventures are the dude-speak court jesters of commercialized paranormalcy. Unlike their rivals in "realistic" supernatural exploration, the Ghost Hunters, this motley crew of Central Casting clichés are all about the set-up and the payoff. Indeed, Ghost Adventures is the very definition of the power of suggestion. For 10 to 15 minutes each episode, Zak and his 'buds' head out to a noted locale, grab their gear, and begin the process of defining their fright foundation. We get "eyewitness" accounts of creepy experiences. We hear the horrendous history behind some of the sites. Experts add their two cents about why certain areas are more malevolently "active" than others. And all the while, Zak and the gang drink in the atmosphere of eeriness with pumped up fratboy fascination. By the time we get to the overnight "lockdown" - meant to instill a sense of authenticity in the audience, we are primed like Cub Scouts at a campfire. All we need is the spook story - and the big "BOO!" pay-off.
Naturally, said shocks occur...kind of. Indeed, the weakest element in any Ghost show - Hunter or Adventures - is what passes as proof among these so-called 'experts'. During a particularly potent sequence, a small "ball of energy" will be viewed. Sometimes, a scratchy incoherent "voice" is heard. Shadows will be shot slinking across walls, and in one memorable incident, a child's toy suddenly shifts its position. Granted, for those poised to believe anything that comes out of Zak and company's cameras, it's some "don't you dare watch it alone in the dark" histrionics. But certifiable proof? NAH! Indeed, what passes for evidence on these shows would make the Amazing Randi (noted magician and well-publicized skeptic of such unscientific 'stunts') jump for joy. A grizzled, almost inaudible bunch of electrostatic feedback is not some woman weeping. A flaw in a digital recorder's hard drive is not some dead Satanist trying to warn the living away from his ritualistic altar. No matter how many roly-poly Exorcists you bring on for support, or questionable experts in EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) you interview, the "facts" are still specious.
And then there is Zak's pumped-up/passive personality. He's all talk and macho bravado when he initially walks into a situation. But the moment something "happens", he turns into a quivering mass of gym-jerryrigged muscle, all chutzpah drained from his fearless façade. This happens a lot in Ghost Adventures, be it during a moment when he "sits" in the forbidden zone of an underground Scottish vault, or experiences a demonic "hand grab" while investigating an old smelter. Bagans definitely comes across as the star of the show, since he is on camera more than Nick and Aaron, but these supporting players have a part to essay as well. The former gives good 'startled', easily beating feet when a noisy ghost bothers his attempt to urinate. The latter, on the other hand, seems more like baggage, brought on to handle the various camera and mic issues while looking bemused over the supposed situations he is in. Of course, by the end of each episode, the location is "proven" to be haunted, and then all is right in the realm of the haunted huckster. While it's almost impossible to know just what is and is not "out there", one thing's for certain: Zak Bagans and his Ghost Adventures would probably miss it. They seem to busy making folklore out of falsehoods and false positives to care.
Shot in 1.78:1 widescreen, the episodes here are offered in a wonderfully lush and detailed 16x9 anamorphic format. If you are a fan of the show on regular (or digital) TV, you need to see this amped up DVD version. It looks amazing. Sadly, most of the footage is pale green night vision (and variations on same). This doesn't mean that the opening and closing material suffers. But when you have a technology that really tweaks the visual aspects of a presentation, having most of it in sickly pea soup monochrome doesn't help.
You'd think that a show which relies on the random noises picked up by a bunch of ghost trappers would go for something a little more sonically superior than standard Dolby Digital Stereo. The 2.0 mix treats the conversations and interviews well, but once we get to the proof, the aural element here lets the series down. We want to hear the haunted voice whispering "I will kill you!" What we don't need to hear is various ambient noises as part of the production.
There are some interesting bits of added content thrown in by Image. The first features "the scariest moments" from all eight episodes and is a good place to start if you just want to cut to the chase with Zak and the gang and get it over with. Each two minute segment gives you backstory, situation, and spooky payoff. There is also a featurette on the gear used by the Ghost Adventures team, as well as a group of deleted scenes which add little to the overall experience (there are no great revelations not already found in each show). Toss in some trailers to advertise the Travel Channel choices and that's it. Not too shabby for an otherwise average and rather obscure TV series.
Either you believe, or you don't. Either you are in lockstep agreement with the conclusions drawn by a show like Ghost Adventures or you're convinced Zak Bagans and the boys are laughing all the way to the bank with the premium cable channel paychecks. Though it's only moderately realistic and even less authoritative, there is no denying its indirect entertainment facets. If you're into such spookshow shenanigans, you find it all Highly Recommended. If you're not, a Rent It won't fully explain your rampant disbelief. So we'll split the difference and go with an easy Recommended rating. If anything, Bagans has only gotten more manipulative with the show. Recently seasons have seen him tone down the science and overly inflate the "what the Hell was that" factor. As long as it sells, right? Don't come to the recent rash of paranormal TV investigations looking for "truth". For a show like Ghost Adventures, the power of suggestion is far more profitable.