Things that go bump in the night


There has been a mildly entertaining  proliferation of ghost stories on TV lately: Ghost Hunters, A Haunting, Ghost Lab, and my personal looking-at-a-car wreck favorite, Celebrity Ghost Stories—because it’s final proof that there is an afterlife for aging celebrities who can’t find meaningful work (unless you count Lifetime Movies).

On Ghost Hunters, there are these guys who spend nights in supposedly haunted old buildings. They come prepared with night vision, tape recorders and various gadgets designed to catch elusive denizens of the afterlife in the act of being themselves. I enjoy the history of these places, but the actual nuts and bolts of ghost hunting is rather boring. They set up cameras here, recorders there. They have long strategy discussions– “Um, it’s kind of cold in here, so maybe we’ll set something up here,” or “The guy said he saw a shadow move here, so, um, we’ll put a camera on this table.”

Then the lights go out, and we get to watch a half an hour or so of greenish tinged people asking each other if they heard something. Invariably, somebody will play back their Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) recorder. They will swear they heard an evil entity tell them to “Get out!” No matter how much I strain my ears, I can’t hear anything that resembles a ghostly admonition. To me, it sounds more like “You guys are a bunch of idiots.” Helpfully, the subtitle that accompanies the EVP play back verifies our intrepid ghost hunter’s translation. Since the guys usually stay the night anyway, I stand by my own inexpert interpretation.

Remember Star Trek? There was always some hapless red shirted guy named Kowalski who was going to die within 5 or 6 frames of landing on a planet. On Ghost Hunters, there is always a guy in frumpy clothes who has to sleep by himself in some basement room where somebody supposedly died violently. This poor schlep doesn’t die, but at the first wheezy EVP, you can count on him running screaming up the stairs, his flash light beam bouncing frantically on the walls.

At some point, a ghost hunter will confront the entity, mano y plasma. There is a big build up to this, with lots of coming-up-next teasers. Man, you can’t wait for the commercials to get over with so you can see this guy show this ghost who’s boss. Then the moment arrives—and we get two minutes of a guy talking to himself. I waited for this? I can get that looking out my front window, without the commercials. Just once I’d like to see one of his buddies pop a balloon behind him while he’s calling out the ghost.

“Show yourself,” the guy says, eyes all big. “Face me! FACE ME, DAMN IT!” And then, POP!

Now that’s entertainment.