HELLBOUND is a wondrously hilariously terrible movie. How bad? This bad. It’s now available on netflix streaming. Your weekend plans just made themselves.

You’re welcome.

To purge some of the crap I’ve been reading from the top of my brain, I read Amber Benson’s charming new book, Among the Ghosts.

AMBER BENSON co-wrote and directed the animated web-series, Ghosts of Albion, (with Christopher Golden) for the BBC. The duo then novelized the series in two books for Random House. [edit]
As an actress, Benson spent three seasons as Tara Maclay on the cult show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has also written, produced, and directed three feature films, including her latest, Drones, which she co-directed with Adam Busch and will be released later this year.

I included this bio in case you didn’t know who I meant. I liked this book a lot. If I hung out with any kids, I’d recommend it to them.

Sometimes I lose my mind while watching Scooby Doo and yell things at Husband like, “That’s why you don’t put a dog in charge of operating the outboard motor!” in a way that implies Husband was considering a such an action.

Sometimes Husband has to restrict my television time. Tonight’s one of those nights.

Most self-respecting Universities had quietly eliminated their Parapsychology departments long before I was even born.

Penn State has no self-respect, apparently. They not only had sanctioned student club called the “paranormal research society” in the last decade, but they let these students use the Penn State name in a reality series called Paranormal State. The students clearly identify themselves as “being from Penn State” when contacting people and so the University appears to have condoned a show where their students “investigate” hauntings, get their Jesus on in ways that would make Damien Karras cringe, and document their ghost-busting exploits for the camera.

I described the show to a friend and she said she doubted it would last very long. Then I told her it’s starting it’s FIFTH season. Then we both sat quietly for a few minutes.

Since it’s Ghost Month here at meanlouise.com, I thought I’d watch a whole season of Paranormal State while Husband was out doing his Superstar DJ thing.

I barely got through one episode.

You couldn’t pay me to watch a whole season of this show.

So here’s the thing, I don’t care if a reality show is a fabrication (as long as bystanders aren’t being taken advantage of on the show). I don’t think that the presence or absence of paranormal or ghost-hunting shows have any real impact on whether or not people believe in ghosts. (I do worry about people with The God encouraging parents to punish or in essence torture their children for behavioral or medical issues that they believe are demonic in nature. Whether this show supports that unfortunate worldview or encourages that kind of behavior, I can’t say. I didn’t get past the first episode, but I wanted to mention that troubling aspect to things like this before I move on. For more on that subject I’d suggest a book such as Michael Cuneo’s American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty).

What I do care about right at this particular moment is whether the show is good fun or entertaining or even remotely interesting. This show is none of those things. This show is the antithesis of those things. This show made me want to hit myself on the head with a hammer just because it would feel great when I stopped.

Plus it’s full of people praying the devil out of each other, and I don’t need to waste my valuable television-watching time on this. I can see that anytime I want by just riding public transportation.

Nevertheless, I decided to drive my truck around in the tubes of the interwebs and see what others had to say about the show.

The New York Times review makes this excellent point:

It’s too bad that “Paranormal State,” a new series on A&E, is unlikely to find a mass audience, because the parodies it would inspire on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” if it had the requisite level of public recognition, would be delicious.

Listen, even ghost hunters and devotees of the paranormal think this show sucks. A site called Ghost Theory blogs about the show being called out for allegedly blatantly faking an entire episode – called out by the people who were in the episode.

I found a review at ActionSkeptics that sums the show up very well:

Short Version: A&E’s new show “Paranormal State” is the worst, stupidest, most ridiculous fucking thing I have ever seen in any of the myriad forms of visual media. And I’ve seen Plan 9 From Outer Space and about 15 minutes of a Dane Cook stand-up special.

Long Version: I pray to the FSM [flying spaghetti monster] that this show is, as one comma splicing Wikipedian claimed before a recent revision, that the show is, in fact, a Blair Witch style fiction. Beleving that there are people this fucking stupid out there who not only made it to college but then got a TV show all to themselves makes me just a tad homicidal.

The premise (hopefully fictional) is this: Penn State University has the country’s “only collegiate paranormal research society,” a claim I find completely dubious. Some douchebag (referred to hereafter as “Douchebag,” because I can’t be bothered to look up his name), the founder of said organization, only wants to help people who are haunted as he was haunted as a child. He is “searching for answers,” which, as usual in the “Unknown and unsolved” crowd, means he’s already found them.

Let me be completely candid: Douchebag and his buddies make Mario and Luigi from “Ghost Hunters” look like Neils Bohr and Alan Turing. Douchebag is an uber-serious, self-obsessed narcissist, their “methodologies” are more laughable than rods and orbs put together, and, to add insult to injury, they pray and spread around holy symbols like a fucking DnD cleric.

I think he actually makes it sound better than it is.

Variety points out that Paranormal State is brought to us by the same production team responsible for Laguna Beach. That’s quality.

Given that Penn State’s football team has been decidedly mediocre in recent years, students are to be forgiven for finding alternatives to pass the time, and let’s face it, scaring classmates witless is a tried-and-true method for attempting to get laid.

The same excuse hardly applies to A&E, which continues to drift further toward TV’s dark side in its endeavors to entice younger viewers. Even with a regular pre-episode disclaimer, the channel lends credence to paranormal poppycock that consistently generates just enough of an audience to prompt every demo-chasing basic cabler to weigh in with its own straight-faced reality variation on the theme.

“We are students. We are seekers. And sometimes, we are warriors,” Buell says earnestly in the opening credits.

That’s right: The ghost-busting Penn State Nittany nitwits. Hear them roar.

Far more interesting than the show itself is the website Paranormal State Illustrated which turns a critical eye on every episode of the show. This may sound like a ridiculous endeavor, but when you see how clearly disturbed some of the “clients” are and consider the emotional, psychological, financial or even physical harm that psychic scams can do to people, you realize that sites like Paranormal State Illustrated serve an important purpose.

Paranormal State Illustrated has this note on the front page:

THE PRS “TRANSFORMED”
According to the Paranormal Research Society’s Web site, the PRS is no longer a student-run Penn State University club. They say that in 2008 it “transformed itself as a professional organization.” What they don’t tell you is that most of the PRS members had already earned their college degree by the time Paranormal State first aired in December of 2007. Also, there is no mention that the PRS club failed to turn in a form listing club officers for the year 2008. Without officers, there could be no members. Without enough officers or members to keep the PRS club active, it became “inactive.” So, it was due to a lack of interest in the Penn State Paranormal Research Society (PRS) club that caused the club to cease. To be clear, there currently is no Penn State Paranormal Research Society college club at Penn State’s, University Park campus in State College, Pennsylvania.

I can’t find an official comment from Penn State about the show, but I did find this guardedly positive (in my opinion), news release from when the show’s star spoke on campus in 2009. Since this was a news release, presumably for wider distribution, and because things like this sometimes get archived in a way that makes deep-linking impossible, I’m going to take the liberty of pasting the whole thing so you can judge the tone for yourself.

Founder brings ‘Paranormal State’ to campus

October 15, 2009

The founder of the student Paranormal Research Society at Penn State University Park and now a producer and cast member of “Paranormal State” on the A&E Network, Ryan Buell recently brought his spirit-hunting message to Penn State Harrisburg.

Buell’s quest to examine and explain paranormal activity began when he was a child in his Sumter, S.C. home one night when he was in bed. He saw something standing in his doorway. “Its face was wide and it had a huge grin,” he recalls. His screams brought his mother to his room, but she saw nothing and went back to bed. Minutes later, “the thing rose up from the foot of my bed,” he said. All he got was a spanking from his mother.

That fear fostered a longtime fascination with things he can’t explain. During his sophomore year at Penn State, he started the Paranormal Research Society, a group of Penn State students and alumni who now travel the nation to investigate claims of paranormal activity.

That led to “Paranormal State” which premiered in December 2007 and now draws an estimated 3 million viewers. He explained that each episode features a different client – bar owner whose wine glasses won’t stay shelved; a young woman whose barn houses black mists; and a couple whose religious relics are burned without explanation.

“There are no official qualifications for being a paranormal investigator,” Buell said. “I’ve spent the last ten years training myself, working with highly regarded professionals in both the paranormal community and in other professions, [including] Catholic exorcists, law enforcement [and] psychologists, to become a well-rounded individual.”

During his presentation, Buell profiled the different types of spirits – ghosts, spirits, and poltergeists while listing for those in the audience typical signs of a haunting which include a sense of being watched, hearing voices, seeing things out of the corner of your eye, witnessing objects levitate and/or move, and even unusual odors.

He pointed out that formal paranormal investigation dates to 1882 in London with the creation of a society of research and spiritualism began in New York in 1848 with a pair of sisters.

He concluded with a series of reasons “spirits return” – unfinished business, to deliver information, to punish living enemies, to protect loved ones, and even the result of a painful or tragic death. And the comment that ghost hunting is “all in a day’s work for him and his cast members.”

I thought about calling Penn State for a comment, but then I realized I no longer cared enough to pick up the phone.

When I was in school we’d get calls from individuals wanting their hauntings documented – sometimes these calls ended up with us in the Physics Department. Confidentiality, and basic human decency, prevents me from blogging the conversations I had when I caught one of these calls, but I can tell you those were interesting days.

I watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining again. I’ve seen this movie a fair number of times but this is the first time I’ve seen a really good HD transfer of it. The richness of the colors was astonishing and the sound in 5.1? Way, way creepier than the terrible mixes I’ve heard in the past. I’ve always found the cinematography and the sound design impressive, but the vibrancy of the movie is stunning and you really should watch it on Blu-ray.

While I was watching the movie in my dimly-lit living room, I thought I saw something move in my peripheral vision. This is when I discovered that our television is now at exactly the right angle to reflect off of the glass doors of the bookcases that line the wall behind the couch. This discovery took several years off my life.

I backed up the movie and managed to get a fairly accurate photo of what I saw when i looked across the room. The demarcation of the television screen wasn’t as sharp in reality as it is in the picture so the effect was much creepier. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

In a word? Yes.

The 1990 mega-hit Ghost starred Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze’s chest, Tony Goldwyn and Whoopi Goldberg. It was so awesome that it’s been reworked and is currently in previews before heading to London’s otherwise theatrically respectable West End as a musical. Of course it is.

I would like points for having the self-restraint not to suggest that “Patrick Swayze’s Nipples” would make a fantastic band name.

You’re welcome.

Ghost is ham-fisted, but it’s not incompetent. Director Jerry Zucker, part of the genius team that created the Airplane movies, knows what he’s doing. That said, I suspect that no one quite knew what to do with this movie. To be fair, it’s not the worst movie ever, it’s just a muddle of too many genres, each given a shallow treatment. It starts out with a spooky title sequence then transitions abruptly to that staple of the late 80s: New York City Real Estate Porn. Goldwyn and Swayze use sledghammers to knock out a huge wall to make the gigantic amazing loft that characters Sam and Molly just moved into super-gigantic. Barechested, natch. Then it’s a lovestory. Then it’s a mystery. Then it’s a wacky slapstick comedy. Then it’s a ghost story. Then it’s Sam running around barechested again. Can someone please give that man a shirt?

Whoopi Goldberg as medium Oda Mae Brown and Vincent Schiavelli as the ghost-mentor who saves Sam’s bacon turn in great performances. It also has Stephen Root in a small role as a cop. Root has been in pretty much everything you’ve ever seen but is probably most famous for playing Milton in Office Space. Root and I were born in the same hospital. I’m running out of things to say about this movie.

Patrick Swayze & his chest (Sam) and Demi Moore (Molly) apparently have no family or friends other than Carl Bruner (Goldwyn). Despite the fact that they work in a huge bank, Sam and Carl seem to only work together. Sam gets killed and the mystery to be solved is: which one of his one colleague is ripping him off? I can overlook the primitive CGI, Demi Moore rocking a serious Moe, and the uneven Acting. But I can’t overlook that the mystery at the core of the movie isn’t mysterious. At all. And that’s just annoying.

I’ve already identified my mistake. This isn’t a morning-coffee sort of movie unless you routinely put kahlua in your coffee. I wanted to start the day with Beetlejuice but netflix streaming wasn’t cooperating so I thought this would be an okay film to jump ahead to.

If memory serves, I saw this movie at The Avalon with EvilAgent not long after we started working together in 1990. The theatre was packed and we couldn’t stop giggling every time one of the bad guys died and the “dark spirits” came for them. Those weren’t supposed to be the funny parts, or so I’ve been told.

And now, just for you: Puppies Parody The Famous Ghost Pottery Scene:

Today I’m enjoying the nice weather and finishing a very entertaining book, Mary Roach’s Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. If Roach’s name is familiar, it might be because she’s back on bestseller lists with her latest, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void.

The chapter (in Spook) on EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) was one of my favorites, for audio-technology-geekery reasons, and also because I was recently reading up on new archeological research regarding the Donner party. I don’t think you can do a graduate degree in audio technology without being asked 10 million times about EVP. I know I couldn’t.

There’s a nice excerpt from this chapter on Roach’s website, so I’m very happy to be able to share it with you:

From the chapter “Can you Hear Me Now?: Telecommunicating with the Dead”

“The National Forest Service has a fine and terribly dark sense of humor, or possibly they have none at all. For somebody, perhaps an entire committee, saw fit to erect a large wooden sign near the site where fourteen emigrants bound for California were eaten by other emigrants bound for California when they became trapped by the savage snows of 1846 and starved. The sign reads: DONNER CAMP PICNIC GROUND. I got here on a tour bus chartered by Dave Oester and Sharon Gill, founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society. IGHS, one of the world’s largest (14,000 members in 78 countries) amateur paranormal investigation groups, sponsors ghost-hunting trips to famously and not-so-famously haunted sites. By and large, we look like any other tour group: The shorts, the flappy-sleeved tees, the marshmallow sneakers. We have cameras, we have camcorders. Unlike most visitors here today, we also have tape recorders. I am facing a pine tree, several feet from a raised wooden walkway that guides visitors through the site. I hold my tape recorder out in front of me, as though perhaps the tree were about to say something quotable. The other members of my group are scattered pell-mell in the fields and thickets, all holding out tape recorders. It’s like a tornado touched down in the middle of a press conference.

A couple and their dogs approach on the walkway. “Are you taping bird calls?” I answer yes, for two reasons. First, because, well, literally, we are. And because I feel silly saying, “We are wanting to tape the spirit voices of the Donner Party.”

Thousands of Americans and Europeans believe that tape recorders can capture the voices of people whose vocal cords long ago decomposed. They refer to these utterances as EVP: electronic voice phenomena. You can’t hear the voices while you’re recording; they show up mysteriously when the tape is replayed. If you do a web search on the initials EVP, you’ll find dozens of sites with hundreds of audio files of these recordings. Though some sound like clearly articulated words or whispers, many are garbled and echoey and mechanical-sounding. It is hard to imagine them coming from dead souls without significantly altering one’s image of the hereafter. Heaven is supposed to have clouds and bolts of white cloth and other excellent sound-absorbing materials. The heaven of these voices sounds like an airship hanger. They’re very odd.”

Good stuff.

I couldn’t find video of her talking about this book, so here’s her delightful recent appearance on the Daily Show, where she and Jon Stewart gab about pooping in space and other weighty (weightless?) issues.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mary Roach
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity


Happy haunting!

Because we’re super-cool, we’re often way ahead the culture curve and see hip new things long before mere mortals do. Other times, not so much.

Thus it was that Husband and I didn’t watch Paranormal Activity until over a year after it was released. It grossed almost $200 million at the box office, so I’m sure some of you got to it before we did.

It’s not that we hadn’t heard of it, it just kept slipping down the priority list. This being ghost movie/book/tv show/comic book/breakfast cereal month, I decided it was high time I bumped it to the top of the Netflix.

The summary: Katie and Micah live in a house. Katie and Micah keep hearing things go bump in the night. Katie knows not to screw around with whatever it is. Micah is a dick and does it anyway, putting video cameras in strategic locations in their home to try to capture evidence of the ghost or demon. What part of “put the ouija board down,” did you not understand, Micah?

I wasn’t sure how to describe the movie without spoilers, but this so-so trailer shows some of the things I was going to point out, so maybe they aren’t exactly spoilers anyway:

It’s a fairly creepy little movie that gives you a few good jumps. Something creepy happens, we see it, the story moves on. The lack of lingering is really what’s so effective to me – the scenes just pile up as these people are being inexorably marched to their doom. Or at least Micah is, we hope, because Micah, as I may have mentioned, is a dick.

The most effective scares: the bedroom door slamming, the footprints in the flour, and that swinging chandelier. I don’t think knowing they’re in the movie makes them less creepy or ruins the fun, either. Two of the creepiest scenes, to me, involve Katie merely getting out of bed in the middle of the night and standing by the bed for prolonged periods of time. She’s not doing anything, she’s just staring at Micah while he sleeps. It’s unnerving. This movie might not be the best use of 86 minutes, but it’s not the worst either.

Here’s the trailer for the sequel. They provided the embed code, so I shall embed. Plus, while I was capturing the code I accidentally let the trailer play a second time and I found that stopping it or moving it forward or back at a few points reveals creepy images you don’t see at regular speed. It was unnerving to find it accidentally. The end of the trailer is actually an amusingly clever use of Flash.

I haven’t read anything about the second one, but babies are inherently creepy, so there you go.

Happy haunting!

…but that’s what has happened. Yes, even when I’m wiped out with a nasty case of bronchial-wahatsits, loopy on high doses of steroids and antibiotics, and just generally drooling on myself I can find a way to get myself neckdeep in…something. Or, at the very least, spur others to action. There’s a blogpost brewing about all of this, but it’s too important to be dashed off in a hurry so it probably won’t appear until Monday.

Plus, today is a major holiday, and I think I deserve the day off from thinking Deep Strategic Political Thoughts, don’t you?

Plus, tomorrow is the start of National Novel Writing Month and I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write. I don’t even have any extra character names floating around the top of my head. This may be the year I write about homicidal artists…

Plus, I have to pace myself. I might actually have two outings today. I bought bloodred/black dahlias at the farmer’s market this morning and I’m going to meander over to fiberspace to work on my malabrigo scarf for a little while (and then it’s naptime). I lead a life of great excitement and danger.

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Plus, tonight we have to give out candy to the small, cute trick-or-treaters. Once they finish (or we run out of candy) we’ll shut off the lights and hide. It’s a strategy that works well for us.

On an unrelated, yet adorable, note, our fence has made us rockstars with the little kids in the neighborhood. They’re in awe, it’s only 4 feet high but that’s gigantic to them. Little girls blow me kisses now as they toddle by with their parents. I’m so used to my very presence making them cry that I just don’t know what to do!

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Back to Halloween. Halloween is serious business in my neighborhood. A few streets away the neighbors got a permit to close the street to accommodate their Halloween festivities. I don’t know how they’re going to top last year’s mock executions, but they’ve promised to give it a try.

On an unrelated note, last night Dr. Birdcage and The Amazing Phil stayed over after the opening of Phil’s new show at Irvine Contemporary. Phil’s new work is very cool and I’m hoping to own one of these captivating images.

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The awesomest part about hosting Dr. Birdcage is that she always leaves the guestroom neater than she found it. Next time she’s here I’m going to see if I can’t get her to stay in the laundry room. That place is a wreck.

So, Halloween is right around the corner and I need to get to work deciding what, if any, the theme of this year’s Halloween movie marathon will be. Last year it was Frankenstein’s Monster (mostly). Of course other movies worked their way into the mix, thanks to our Tivo, Overlord.

I’m leaning towards werewolves. Or possibly haunted houses. No zombie or vampires – been there, done that.

Maybe I’ll do a movie-a-day for the entire month of October and allow for multiple themes. I’ll be at a conference for a few days, but it’s about the state of the music industry, radio, and telecom & internet policy so it will be rather like watching horror movies every day. Also have a daytrip to DisneyWorld for mom’s birthday. Some would argue that in itself is pretty horrific, but I’m looking forward to it. Plus, I do so love the Haunted Mansion. We went to Disney a lot when I was growing up (got to do something with the parade of visiting relatives) so I pretty much have a photographic mental map of the ride, and yet I still love it. I suppose this would be a good occasion to finally watch The Haunted Mansion, I’ve never gotten around to it.

Well, what do you think? Werewolves? Ghosts? I was going to post an actual poll but everyone one I installed had a glitch of one kind or another and time was slipping away. You can vote in the comments.