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Searching through some online audio clips recently, which is nowhere near as much fun as it probably sounds, Looking For Ghosts discovered an interesting debate on an American radio show from a few years ago. It featured Most Haunted’s Yvette Fielding, who had agreed to take part in a phone interview with the guys from US TV programme Ghost Hunters.

Fielding was, presumably, entering into what she thought would be an amicable discussion about the paranormal, a mutual interest of both parties. However, despite the two shows having an almost identical format, what followed was an astonishing attack on Fielding and the credibility of her beloved Most Haunted. You can hear it in all its punishing glory here.

Who finds the best ghosts?

Not wishing to take sides, or start an Anglo-American slanging match (after all, both shows are ostensibly bullshit), we couldn’t help but find this exchange a little unfair. As Fielding herself was keen to point out, when she wasn’t busy trying to defend herself from a verbal mauling, both shows share the same problem: they both address a subject matter that most people don’t take seriously. Transatlantic rivals they may be, but rather than squabbling, she reasoned, they should show some solidarity and work together to bring ghost hunting to “the masses”.

Despite making some salient points, Fielding didn’t come out of the debate very well. Clearly frustrated by the hostility shown towards her, she eventually lost her cool and resorted to personal attacks, hilariously retaliating that some of the Ghost Hunters team used to be plumbers. They gave her enough rope and, by rising to the bait, she duly hung herself.

Granted, she was outnumbered by two to one and she evidently came unprepared for such an argument (perhaps highlighting her own naivety), but the result was clear.  In the end, she was a broken woman being mercilessly picked apart by her American counterparts.

But who is the real winner? And, more importantly, is there any value whatsoever in ghost hunting shows like these?

Disrepute

Most Haunted has more than its fair share of critics, with people seemingly queuing up to bring it into disrepute. This won’t have been helped by numerous tabloid reports that some aspects of the show are faked, including revelations by one of the show’s former stars, Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe, that viewers are being misled by “showmanship and dramatics.” He also makes the epoch-shattering claim that the show’s resident medium, Derek Acorah, can’t really talk to dead people. Hold the front page!

Derek Acorah is easily the least convincing medium on the planet. His thick Liverpudlian accent makes any spirits he’s supposed to be “channelling” sound like a deranged Ringo Starr, so he was never fooling anyone anyway. His only real purpose was to act as a comic interlude to break up the monotony of the rest of the show, which consists of some people standing in dark rooms listening very hard. He might as well have dressed up as a hotdog for all of the integrity he added to proceedings.

Derek Acorah, seen here talking to the ghost of his career.

But all of this is irrelevant. No one watches Most Haunted because they believe what they are being shown is real, unless they are criminally stupid. You would have to have had several lobotomies to give any credence at all to the notion that any of the knocks or bangs captured on tape are caused by anything more than shuffling cameramen or warping floorboards.

What Most Haunted is, primarily, is entertainment. The “showmanship and dramatics” that O’Keefe is so eager to lament is actually what draws viewers in. And it obviously works: you don’t get to series number 14 without doing something right.

No Clean Hands

The tabloid negativity that Most Haunted has faced is evidently what fuelled the Ghost Hunters team when launching their assault on Fielding, but they too have been accused of exactly the same thing. Search for “Ghost Hunters fake” on YouTube and you will be shown hours of footage highlighting details of their own embellishments. There are no clean hands here.

They claim to approach the paranormal from a “scientific” angle, even though a ghost hunt is about as far away from a scientific experiment as it’s possible to get without actually living in a different galaxy from one altogether. Watching their team pratting about with scarcely-believable electrical gizmos is almost painfully embarrassing at times and only serves to make them look far too worthy and righteous for their own good. At least Most Haunted doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Ghost Hunters apply one of their many "scientific" techniques to push a wall on a ghost.

But Ghost Hunters also pulls in a big audience, so who cares? The common ground Fielding was alluding to is that both shows are in the business of making good television; whether you choose to use pseudo-science or theatrics in order to achieve this is surely immaterial.

By laying into Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters look like they’ve missed the point entirely. The point being that they are both peddlers of absolute garbage and they should just sit back and enjoy the spoils.

What do you think? Whether you agree or disagree, or even want to leave us some abuse we can masturbate to, we encourage you to leave your comments.

In fact we insist.

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Sometimes Looking For Ghosts have to search far and wide to get our paranormal thrills, whilst other times they seem to fall straight into our lap. I Believe In Ghosts: Joe Swash is one such example.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Joe Swash’s work, he’s an ex-soap star and recent winner of reality TV jungle shitfest, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Inexplicably, he’s become a household name in the UK, but carries the international gravitas of a parsnip.

With the greatest of respects to Mr Swash, we’re sure he’d be the first to admit that he isn’t exactly an authority on the paranormal. In fact, it’s doubtful that he’s really an authority on anything except gelling his hair into laughably abominable shapes, or wearing an expression that always looks like he’s concentrating hard not to swallow his own tongue.

Still, he’s likeable enough and his affable, cheeky shtick was enough to win the hearts of the Great British Public who voted him King of the Jungle so who are we to argue? Good luck to him, we say.

However, when we heard he had made a documentary about ghosts, naturally we rubbed our hands with malevolent glee. Regular readers of the blog will know that we take glib delight in mocking other people’s efforts, so surely poor Joe Swash would be like a sitting duck as we prepare for a brutal character assassination, right?

Wrong.

Annoyingly, I Believe In Ghosts is actually rather good. Not enough to convince hardened cynics like ourselves admittedly, but pretty insightful nonetheless.

Far from being the credulous simpleton he’s often portrayed as, Swash actually keeps a level head throughout the whole process and refuses to jump to any radical conclusions despite having “evidence” thrust in front of him from various dubious sources. He seems to have a genuine desire to uncover some sort of truth and asks all the right questions along the way, albeit in a voice which is so high it makes him sound like his balls are being perpetually gripped in a vice and every so often struck with a hammer. All of this makes giving him a famous Looking For Ghosts kicking pretty difficult.

Plus, he spends the night alone in some fairly horrific places without too much hysteria, which is more than we can say for the entire cast and crew of Most Haunted (UK) or Ghost Hunters (USA).

He meets some physics, mediums and general believers on his epic quest and does well to prevent himself from laughing aloud at their farcical conclusions, opting instead to sit and nod politely as his mind, presumably, begins to wander. He even watches The Exorcist in the name of research and the image of him clearly straining to understand the plot is endearing. Perhaps he was under the impression it was a documentary.

The highlight, however, comes when he’s asked to spend the night in Edinburgh’s South Bridge vaults, reportedly one of the most active places in the UK for ghostly activity. There is a touching moment when, after a guide shows him around the vaults prior to him bedding down for the night, he lets his guard slip and risks tarnishing his “nice guy” image. Clearly on edge (and understandably so) he almost explodes with angst as he cries: “you’re fucking kidding me, I’m not walking around down here” before he turns to the crew and, with his comical voice cracking with nerves, asks: “I can’t seriously sleep down here on my own…can I?”

He bloody does, though.

It is during this tour that he becomes the unlikely voice of reason, asking his guide why there is a sledgehammer stored in a room which is supposedly swarming with poltergeists. “They’re not that strong,” she offers feebly, “although they have been known to throw rocks.”  Suitably reassured, Joe climbs into a sleeping bag and bids the crew goodnight, fully expecting to wake up with his head caved in and bits of his brain plastered all over the walls.

The documentary ends with a sound engineer analysing the footage of his night underground and concluding, rather soberly, that there is a voice on the tape that he can’t explain. Amazingly, the voice in question doesn’t belong to Joe Swash.

Preconceptions aside, Swash gives a very good account of himself and I Believe In Ghosts is an entertaining watch for fair-weather fans of the paranormal, or die-hard fans of Joe Swash. Your minds may not be blown, but your hearts will probably be won.

Annoyingly, our paranormal quests often lead us into one of London’s many haunted pubs. Sometimes, if there are two or three haunted boozers in one area, the whole investigation can take on the form of a spectral pub-crawl; hour upon hour spent getting rat-arsed on flagons of ale and leering at attractive barmaids. The things we do for ghosts…

Newgate Prison cells: plush!

Returning to the City we settled in to the Viaduct Tavern in St Pauls, one of the last remaining examples of a Victorian London Gin Palace. Opposite the Old Bailey court house, the pub’s cellars still contain prison cells from the now demolished Newgate Prison. It is also supposedly home to some pretty frightening poltergeist activity.

Many staff members over the years have been disturbed by a particularly malevolent ghost, including the landlord in 1996 who, when stocking up on supplies, was locked in the cellar after the door slammed shut. Hearing his panicked shouts, his wife came down to let him out and found that the door, impossible to budge from the inside, could be easily opened from the outside. “Ha! Men…” She might have chuckled as her useless husband struggled upstairs with the Bacardi Breezers.

Ghost Hunters are welcome at the Viaduct Tavern

Add to that numerous tales of moving objects and terrified workmen and the Viaduct Tavern has built quite a reputation as one of London’s prime haunted sites.

To find out more Looking For Ghosts accosted a barman, who we figured would be thrilled to have his busy Friday night interrupted by a couple of half-cut ghost hunters.

As he led us down into the cells we were casually informed, with a mixture of sympathy and disdain, that tours of the cells are regularly requested by paranormal enthusiasts. With our social status diminished to the level usually reserved for those with leprosy, our doting guide ushered us inside. But had he ever experienced anything strange down here himself?

“No.”

Oh.

Easily the most unsettling place we’ve been so far, these cold, musty cells remain completely unused by anything other than cobwebs and damp. The eerie atmosphere is a huge contrast from the bustling City pub upstairs and provided us with a macabre insight into London’s grim Judiciary system.

Staggering outside after last orders we felt satisfied that our search for ghosts had taken us one step closer. But then again we always get emotional after a couple of Bombay Sapphires…

Looking For Ghosts

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