Aaron Goodwin, Destination: Truth, documentaries, documentary, EVP readings, Ghost Adventures, ghost hunters, Gold Hill Hotel, Goldfield Hotel, Goldfield Nevada, haunted hotels, haunted sites, Nick Groff, paranormal investigators, poltergeists, Travel Channel series, TV shows, Virginia City Nevada, Washoe Club, Zak Bagans
I’m a firm believer in the paranormal, the supernatural and cryptozoology, although I also like to think that I’m not a complete idiot: an idiot, yes, but complete? Not a chance. I’ve always been fascinated by these subjects and have had enough personal experiences to feel that my believe isn’t completely unreasonable. After all, you may have never seen a platypus but that doesn’t make them any less real, does it? And don’t even get me started on ghost platypi!
As someone who actually believes in the paranormal, I have a tendency to watch shows like Ghost Hunters and Destination: Truth with a grain of salt: I always hope to see something interesting, although I don’t actually expect to see anything “real,” if that makes sense. The very nature of “ghost hunting” — sitting around in dark, abandoned places with terrible histories — makes it impossibly easy for adventurers to freak themselves out, winding each other up into a giddy frenzy that rivals pre-teen slumber parties. After all, who among us wouldn’t imagine a moving shadow (if not much worse) if they were exploring an old, abandoned mine by flashlight? It’s all relative, especially since most of the these shows follow pretty similar formats: locate a good site; do research; head down after dark; take EVP (electronic voice phenomena) readings, set motion sensor cameras; try to “speak” to the spirits; get freaked out by “something;” head back and examine the footage in the cold light of day. Nine times out of ten, the only thing that I hope to get from shows like this are the opportunity to see some really cool locations and, just maybe, see something that’s difficult to explain away.
As compared to something like Destination: Truth (which I really like, mostly because I think Josh Gates seems like a pretty cool dude), Zak Bagan’s Ghost Adventures (2004) comes up pretty short. Although I’ve never seen the TV show, I did watch the full-length documentary that, apparently, inspired the TV show: if the actual series is anything like the source material, I’m not missing much. Unlike Josh Gates’ more laid-back, sarcastic approach, Zak is all vein-popping intensity – there’s no doubt that he believes it, man, but he believes it so much that my head started to hurt. Coupled with a pair of fairly forgettable associates (Aaron Goodwin and Nick Groff), Zak’s contribution to the paranormal investigation field tends to have all of the weight of bad public-access show. That being said, there were a few things that prevented Ghost Adventures from being a complete waste.
For one thing, the show features some genuinely creepy locations. Although I wasn’t particularly impressed by their visit to the Gold Hill Hotel, in Virginia City, Nevada, I must admit to finding their visit to the supposedly haunted Washoe Club to be quite intriguing. The architecture of the club’s 2nd and 3rd floors (supposedly the location of most sightings) is very strange and somehow “off,” lending the place a genuinely weird vibe. I’m not sure if there are ghosts up there by I wouldn’t be surprised if something weird was going on. The Goldfield Hotel, where Zak and his crew finish up the show, ends up being pretty damn awesome, if I do say so: I’d love to have the opportunity to wander around that property, especially with the kind of access that the Ghost Adventures guys have. Were Ghost Adventures a silent film that only featured the Goldfield, I would probably love it. As it is, having great locations really helps glide over some of the show’s rougher aspects.
The other thing that gave Ghost Adventures some value was that the hosts actually seemed to come across some unexplained phenomena. In one situation, a brick appears to be thrown across the room whereas, in other one, a shadow moves across the frame. Despite their best attempts, there really aren’t obvious answers for either incident (other than outright chicanery) and they’re decidedly unnerving. Although I’m inclined to believe that they were fabricated, I’m not really sure how, which lends them a veneer of credibility (no matter how thin). This is in contrast, by the way, to other incidents where our amped-up ghost hunters positively swear that they’ve experienced something and I resolutely call bullshit: these other incidents seem way too vague and easily misinterpreted, whereas there’s just no way to misinterpret a brick being thrown across a room. The brick-throwing either had to be physically faked or else was genuinely unexplained: despite my cynicism about these guys, I’m inclined to believe that something weird happened. At any rate, this actually gave me a little pause for thought, which is always fun for someone like me.
Ultimately, Ghost Adventures is a pretty weak film The camera-work is, not surprisingly, pretty rough (not much you can do with night-vision footage, after all) but what is surprising is how terrible the camera positioning and angles end up being. I’m not sure what the point is of filming normal objects from the bizarre low-angle that gets used to overuse here but it’s needlessly distracting. As mentioned, Zak is a pretty uncharismatic host, alternating between jumping at every little noise and picking fights with “witnesses” for withholding information. More importantly, he just doesn’t seem to have much authority. When I watch one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, I tend to believe in his knowledge of the subject; when I watch an episode of Destination: Truth, I buy that Gates and gang know what they’re doing. Throughout the (short) entirety of Ghost Adventures, I never really got the impression that Zak, Aaron and Nick were any better at this than any of us would be. When the film opened with a pompous voice-over, by Zak, that reference Ralph Waldo Emerson, the tone was pretty much set.
As someone who dearly loves both ghost stories and creepy, old, abandoned places, I’ll never stop flocking to shows/films like Ghost Adventures. As someone who tends to turn a fairly critical eye on everything I watch, however, I simply can’t give a pass to something just because I enjoy the general subject matter. Suffice to say that I won’t be making any special effort to check out actual episodes of the show. I don’t admitting something, however: the Goldfield Hotel looks like one mean mother of a place and I sure wouldn’t mind poking around there after hours with a flashlight, a camera and a clean pair of underpants.