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January 2010

Ghost Adventures, a Kindly Review

Travel Channel

Fridays at 9pm

Of all the fake ghost hunting shows, Ghost Adventures probably qualifies as the most annoying. 

Hosted by the ever-preening Zak Bagans, a film school graduate with a penchant for horridly overwrought prose like "When darkness falls, we chase the darkness." He must write the stuff himself because he delivers each painful line as though he is reading from scripture. 

2e4et83 Zak is also one of the world's worst actors, which is a shame since he does a lot of acting in each show. He approaches each case with an absurd tough guy act, constantly challenging ghosts: "Bring it on." Zak loves to gesture, pro wrestling-style, putting his hands right into our faces when he is trying to make a worthless point. It all comes across as trying just a little bit too hard. 

Zak often interviews people who have claim some experience on the site. His outrageously leading questions sometimes make even the interviewees squirm. Of course, like all the other shows, the events described as occurring on the sites vastly outstrip what the ghost hunters actually find. We hear of full body apparitions, glowing eyes, spectral faces, etc., etc. But never, never is anything like that ever actually found by Zak or his team. Sometimes the best he can manage is to feel cold spots, or spectral touches. These allow him to really stretch out his acting skills, to great comedic effect. He also often presents the standard lame EVP's, dubious door slams, and unclear images.

Like many of the shows, recreated images and sounds are mixed in with the "real" stuff, making it impossible to determine what is being presented as "evidence". We can see the heavy ham hands of the producers as they try to wring out the maximum oooga booga for their indiscriminate audience.

Ghost Adventures also uses tons of dubious gadgets (see my Bag of Tricks article for some examples). Since none of the little electronic boxes are documented or explained, I view all of them with great suspicion. As I documented, one of their gadgets was just a cheap flashlight.

Some questionable stuff from a recent show, set at an abandoned prison:

• Batteries were drained "instantly" from the wireless mics but NEVER from the cameras (then there would be nothing for the show!). There was some priceless overacting "What? What?...I just put new batteries in 5 minutes ago!"

• The crew claimed then claimed that the audio for the on-board camera mics went out, too. It's hard to prove that they are lying but I would be willing to bet that they simply turned down the input for the drama. It is too convenient that the video never went out. The whole incident had all the earmarks of  prearranged corny dramatic stunt. 

• A supposed mist was shown behind Zak that was obviously just a reflection in the low quality night vision image.

Ghost Adventures is an example of lowest common denominator TV, cheap, dumb and patently false. The silly host makes this one particularly loathsome.

Not A Grade: F

Der Fuehrer's Face

"Hitler's Ghost" 

Ghost Hunters International


January 6, 2010

For the past month, Syfy has advertised the return of GHI and their spectacular search for Hitler's ghost. The promos promised "definitive" and "concrete" evidence. They got me so hyped up that I was halfway expecting them to find Hitler's brain in jar, barking out plans for a new world order.

Did the team deliver? Well, they did deliver something...

The entire show depended upon an idiotic premise. Let me ask you a quick question: If you were searching for Hitler's ghost, on what continent might you start your search?

South America, right?

HitlerYes, not only are the ghost hunting nitwits clueless when it comes to gathering real evidence, their historical knowledge is limited to about a 3rd grade level.

The team decided to accept the incredibly dubious conspiracy theory that Hitler survived WWII and hid out in an Argentinian hotel, a hotel that his ghost stills haunts today. I am surprised they didn't spend any time looking for Kennedy while they were there.

Their contact in Argentina told of a recent photo that purportedly showed Hitler looking out of one of the windows of the hotel. It sounded like a great and compelling bit of evidence. I say it sounded that way since we never got a chance to look at the photo. The GHI apparently never saw it either but, in their typical silly fashion, they accepted it as convincing evidence.

So anyway, even though they may have looked in a dumb place and accepted evidence sight unseen, maybe they still managed to find something paranormal, right?

Not so much.

One of the funniest things about the program was watching the different teams as they called out to Hitler, seemingly at the same time! Perhaps Hitler was trying to materialize one place but kept getting interrupted by a team member in another room: "Hey, Hitler, this is Bob, can you bang on something in here?"

Equally funny was hearing the team members speak with the former German dictator in an paranormal slacker dialect, all in English with the occasional German word (drawn from the full vocabulary of Hogan's Heroes) thrown in. "Ist der Furher hier?"

This show featured a new gadget, a remote controlled toy tank equipped with cameras and other sensors. They sent the tank into a crawl space where it promptly got stuck. Later, during the analysis of "evidence," one of the team thought they heard something unusual from the tank. Fortunately no one else on the team was so dumb that they thought a whining sound coming from a toy tank that is loaded with servos and motors was likely paranormal.

Ghost Brain A classic case of ghost brain, occured when two team members  heard something in the room above them. They rushed up and threw open a door, only to have several birds fly out past them in flurry of wings admidst screams from the team members. Then, believe it or not, the scientific investigators went into the room and proclaimed that there was nothing there that could have made the sound. I thought I even heard the birds laughing at that one!

It had already become clear that nothing concrete or definitive was going to be revealed by the time the crew showed their main piece of evidence: a grainy image with lots of lights reflecting into the camera which they said showed a ghost sitting at the edge of a bed. When they helpfully circled the figure (since it was completely indiscernible without assistance), it looked sort of like the shape of the film character, E.T., but was obviously just shadows and light reflections. It was sad.

As the crew packed up their equipment, I noticed not one iota of embarrassment, not a hint that any of them realized how silly they looked. It must take a thick skin to be a pretend ghost hunter on TV. That, or an astounding lack of intelligence.

The Bag of Tricks

Ghost hucksters use a variety techniques and technologies to produce their dubious results. You can't be a fake ghost hunter on TV unless you know how to thoroughly misuse these tools:

Night-Vision Video

For some reason, all of the ghost shows insist on turning off the lights during their "investigations". Perhaps the spirits prefer darkness or more likely the producers know that they need something to Night vision walking.JPGincrease the drama of what is basically a bunch of folks sitting in a room while nothing happens. The green-hued night-vision cameras make everything look a little creepy, especially the investigators. 

As we will see, what is mainly needed in the ghost selling business is uncertainty. It's the same principle as when a child sees the shape of a dragon in the clouds. Crisp, clear images won't work for ghost hunting, you need grainy, dark video so that the slightest shadow, reflection or speck of dust can be claimed as paranormal. 

And even though all of the ghost teams seem to have a huge number of cameras recording their activity, it is depressingly common for one of the team members to point out some paranormal event that is just out range of their lenses. Indeed, most of the time the cameras seem to be trained on the team members themselves as they sit around crudely demanding that the ghosts do this or do that as though they are speaking to trained monkeys instead of the dearly departed.


Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP is really the workhorse of ghost hunters. All of the shows use this one tool to provide the bulk of what they present as paranormal evidence. In plain language, EVP is just an audio recording that seems to contain spoken words or other interesting sounds. The EVP sounds are often unheard at the time of the recording.

The trick is that the recordings always contain a lot of white noise: the natural presence of a room or building (often called "room tone" in the film business) as well as the inevitable sounds of the ghost hunting team tramping around. It is in this noise (which is often turned up very loud to reveal more "detail" and thus more noise) that the hucksters find the uncertainty they need to ply their trade.

ImagesAnother contributing factor is that the shows often use the lowest quality of digital recording equipment. In this day and age, there are very high quality portable recording devices. I own a little recorder called the Edirol R-09 that produces amazing quality audio. A quick look at some of the handheld recorders that the hucksters use indicates that the cheapest brands are employed, devices that undoubtedly produce a compressed and noise-filled signal. And I suspect that this is exactly what is desired.

Considering the uncontrolled nature of the investigations, the actual sounds could be anything: a voice from outside the building or from one of the other team members (infuriatingly, most of the teams split up and we are never quite sure where the other guys might be). On a recent Ghost Adventures show, the investigators made a big deal about a hissing sound they heard in a recording but the accompanying video clearly showed that the sound came from another crew member as he inhaled. Needless to say, this evidence went unnoticed by anyone on the crack team.

In most cases, the EVPs are quite unintelligible, just vague sounds with nothing distinctive, so the hucksters helpfully display text on the screen as the sound is played back over and over, a psychological technique, designed to make the audience believe that they are hearing what the producers want them to hear.

On a recent episode of Ghost Lab, the folly of this technique was hilariously revealed when the team found a snippet of audio that they all agreed said something like "I am John Wilkes Booth." The meaty hosts were high-fiving each other over their paranormal prowess. This was a slam dunk! They sent the audio to an "expert" who confirmed that he heard something in the snippet.  But when they breathlessly asked him to confirm the "Booth" statement, the expert admitted he couldn't really hear anything intelligible. I would bet that this kind of embarrassing mistake won't be made again on that show!

Electromagnetic Field Detector

It's hard to say what the hucksters are trying to sell us with EMF detectors. They walk around with the units and get excited whenever the readings change. The truth is that a building filled with electrical wires and devices is going to have EMFs (especially considering all the cheap, consumer-grade gear that the hucksters drag into the location). By moving around, the ghost hunters are actually insuring that the readings will change. To the hunter, this means something. To someone who is not tragically gullible, it means little.

Thermographic and Infrared Video

Again, we have a technology that has been hijacked by the hucksters to prove something. What they are trying to prove is pretty hazy. Thermographic cameras pick up the heat value of the objects they record. But it is tricky to get to the bottom of just what might have caused any heat in a given location. The ghost hunters try to pretend that their locations are scientifically controlled. But video available on YouTube clearly shows that crew members wander around all over the place (and, comically, sometimes directly into an ongoing investigation scene). There can also be other ways to contaminate a scene with heat: animals can be on the site, electrical devices can be warm from use, or perhaps the furnace is blowing on one area more than another. Regardless of the source, calling a heat signature "paranormal" has no scientific validity.

Crazy Made-Up Devices

LED_Work_Light_1 Hilariously, the show, Ghost Adventures, has introduced the world to some crazy investigatory devices, previously unknown to science. These devices are unlikely to ever be used by anyone except fake ghost hunters. Who knows where these gadgets really come from but they all depend upon the same uncertainty and randomness principles that are the huckster's stock in trade. In one episode, the host held a box which he said contained a word database that ghosts could manipulate so that words would appear on some silly looking sunglasses he wore. No further explanation is given but sure enough words came out of the device that were sold as paranormal. Another device used on Ghost Adventures is claimed to be something called a Dark Light. An absurd explanation is given about the light penetrating the veil between the living world and the afterlife and attracting ghosts like moths to a flame. After considerable investigation of my own, I can now confirm the mysterious Dark Light is a cheap $17 LED work light from Husky. Check out their own picture (it's the third photo in the slide show) at the Ghost Adventures site and compare it to the one at the right. It does appear that the Ghost Adventures team has placed a handmade label on the light that helpfully reads "Dark Light". Very mysterious!

Psychics and other Experts

When an investigation is running a bit dry on drama, count on the ghost teams to call in a psychic or paranormal expert. These individuals can be counted on to find cold spots or feel presences and to theatrically announce them. The psychic will often have an imaginary conversation with the spirits when they are too darn shy to show up for the cameras. This provides "evidence" when the hucksters can't manage to produce any acceptable stuff (even using their low standards of acceptance). And it is all very exciting!


When all else fails, you can always jump up in fright, make a high-pitched scream or just run like hell. Never mind that the video shows nothing at all. Somewhere there is someone at home who is eating it all up. Such is the refuge of fake TV ghost hunter.

Enough is Enough?

Although Television has always been thought of as a cesspool of mediocrity, it seems hard to deny that today's trend of cheap "reality" programs has lowered the bar to previously unimagined depths. On most any cable channel you can find a parade of self-absorbed, cruel, stupid, and despicable people, willing to do anything to be on the air:

• Husbands taking their wives to TV court to shamelessly publicize every detail of their private lives.

• Women taking several men at once to Maury Povich to ascertain which is the father of one or more of their babies.

• Clueless kids with clown-like orange tans on the Jersey coast, unaware that they have been chosen as reality subjects solely because they are so freakishly unpleasant.

 • Rich but worthless housewives grasping for some meaning in their vapid lives by pretending to be creative or smart or attractive despite all the contrary evidence being right out in the open.

Ghost TVSo in such low company, I don't suppose that the ghost hunting programs are any worse than the rest. Indeed, one can see a great deal of humor in the antics of completely unqualified buffoons spouting out wholly unscientific ideas to support their silly theories.

It is amazing to note that there are no less than 8 ghost hunting shows on the air right now! Each one has its own charms but all of them struggle with the same problem: they never produce any results. Ever.

It is with bemusement that we wonder just who watches these endless hours of night-vision banality, all of it looking exactly the same, tarted up with sound effects and editing tricks but never showing anything.

Here at What the Hell Was That? we watch for amusement but we also watch with the unspoken fear that someone somewhere believes this crap.

It is because of that fear that this site exists. We hope to point out the most outrageous mistakes, the most misguided explanations, and the silliest statements that these ghost hucksters present for their undiscriminating audience.

And if you happen to be one of the believers, we pity you but we also hope that we can change your mind. Stay Tuned.