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Thursday, May 20, 2010


I get scared walking down the dark hallway to my bathroom at night...especially after I've been watching something scary on TV.  So, needless to say, I only watched SyFy's GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON ONE: PART 1 in the daytime.  At first, anyway.  Eventually I got to where I was watching it later and later at night.  Not that it isn't spooky, because it is, but it isn't freak-me-out spooky.

This show is a spin-off of SyFy's "Ghost Hunters", and, according to some fan comments I've read, the new team is comprised largely of rejects from that and other shows.  I can only go by what I've seen here but in some cases I wouldn't doubt it.  (More on this later.)  Unlike the USA-bound "Ghost Hunters", the international version takes us to some truly fascinating locations around the world, where the supposed hauntings can date back several centuries.  This set focuses largely on the UK, in addition to scenic places such as Romania, Germany, and New Zealand, where the team gets to nose around in an awe-inspiring assortment of gloomy castles, citadels, and other medieval haunts.

After establishing the ghostly history of a location and setting up their equipment in the most likely spots, it's "lights out."  Imagine going to some of the scariest places on earth and creeping around in the dark all night, actually trying to wake the dead--I kept thinking, "What the hell's wrong with these people?  Are they nuts or what?"  There's a definite vicarious thrill to watching such a thing, imagining how it would feel to be chasing ghosts in Frankenstein's castle or hearing the growl of a devil dog in some pitch-black subterranean dungeon. 

Team leader Robb seems capable and level-headed enough, though a little humor-challenged and stiff.  Second lead investigator Andy refers to himself as the main debunker for the group, and due to his small size is often called upon to climb around precarious places or shinny through creepy crawlspaces with an admirable willingness.  In addition to coordinating the missions, these two meet with the caretakers of each location they explore and present them with the "evidence", or lack thereof, that they gather along with their pronouncement of whether or not a convincing case has been made for an actual paranormal presence.  (Those with a financial interest in the location's tourist-appeal are often visibly disappointed by a negative finding.)

The fact that Robb and Andy are as intent on discerning logical explanations for various anomalies as they are in declaring them "paranormal" adds to the show's credibility.  In one episode, the mysterious recurring aromas of cigar smoke and port wine are discovered by a hair-dryer-wielding Andy to be emanating from the furniture itself whenever it's warmed by the sun.  Strange noises, lights, and other unexplained events are often determined to be caused by any number of mundane things.  Entire segments of GHI, in fact, can consist more of debunking ghosts than encountering them, which some viewers may find boring despite the show's efforts to squeeze dramatic moments out of every creak, bump, shadow, chilly draft, tingly feeling, etc. 

Science guy Barry, an outgoing Irishman with a really bad soul patch, heads up the evidence evaluations.  He also tends to display the classic "feets don't fail me now" reaction to sudden ghostly activity.  Bantam rooster Brian is the "tech guy" in charge of the equipment, but his most notable trait is his confrontational style when dealing with spirits.  During their investigation of an opera house in New Zealand in which the architect is said to have committed suicide, Brian struts around like a twitchy street punk while shouting things like "Your theater sucks!"  I'm thinking that this may be one of the reasons Brian disappears from the show somewhere around episode nine.  His gangly, spikey-haired replacement, Dustin, known for wearing his visor cap upside-down and backwards, tends toward the dorky side but is less abrasive.

Case manager and local-history researcher Donna takes the opposite approach, settling in and spending forever gently and patiently asking questions such as "Do you like to knit or crochet?" to potential entities.  In one episode, this drives the jumpier and less-patient team member Shannon to fake Donna out by reaching around and banging on the wall behind her, leading to the show's first really classic "reality TV-drama" moment--Donna complains to Robb about Shannon's frivolous lack of devotion to their solemn mission and bad blood forms between the two which won't be resolved.  After a couple more episodes in which she clearly appears uncomfortable to be there, Shannon disappears from the show, leaving a triumphant Donna as Queen Bee until an unfortunate reoccurrence of Crohn's disease forces her to drop out.

While the team gathers reams of footage from both video and heat-sensitive cameras, we see little or nothing of the shadowy forms that often have them bug-eyed and breathless.  Most of the evidence comes from their ultra-sensitive sound recorders, which sometimes pick up what could be interpreted as human speech in response to their repetitive questions.  Occasionally a digital photo will reveal something that resembles a face if you use your imagination (which the team tends to do).  Needless to say, watching actual paranormal investigators methodically going about their jobs ain't quite the same as it is in POLTERGEIST.

Little in the way of conclusive evidence is ever found, although it's fun to watch the ghost hunters' reactions to what they call "personal experiences" such as being touched or hearing disembodied footsteps.  (The night-vision camera, which makes them all look like goggle-eyed albinos, gives everything an added element of eerieness as well.)  And the historic locations themselves, including the actual castle in which much of the silent horror classic NOSFERATU was filmed, are fascinating to explore under such ominous conditions.

The 3-disc DVD set from Image Entertainment has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital stereo.  Discs one and two contain four episodes apiece, while disc three has the remaining three episodes and over an hour's worth of deleted and extended scenes.  The packaging is a tad inconvenient, as the discs are stacked on one hub and secured in place by a removable screw.  There are no subtitles or closed-captioning.

Hardier souls who laugh at the thought of ghosts and go traipsing around in dark, spooky places as though it were nothing will probably regard all of this with a derisive chuckle while simply enjoying the scenery.  But if the very idea of real-life hauntings chills your blood as it does mine, then GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL SEASON ONE: PART 1 should give you a pretty hefty case of the creeps. 

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