Did you just hear something?
“Europe is such an older place, but how are the spirits different?”
“They’re a lot more out in the open. They’ll come out and just say ‘Hi’ to you.”
After Ghost Hunters became an official hit with a few seasons under its belt, it was time for a spinoff. The first episode of Ghost Hunters International has the GH stars Jason and Grant looking over numerous requests from European locations. In this obviously-scripted sequence, they say they don’t have the resources to head overseas, and decide to organize a second gang of ghost hunters to do so. The new crew is led by head investigator Robb Demarest and case manager Donna La Croix, and joined by investigators Andy Andrews, Barry Fitzgerald, and Shannon Sylvia, among others. The new team explores allegedly haunted historic sites mostly in Great Britain, with occasional trips to locales in Italy, Germany and Romania, with an additional visit to New Zealand.
All 11 episodes on this three-disc set are essentially the same. The crew visits a historic site and is told some ghost stories about it by the colorful locals. They then shut off all the lights and spend the night in the building. Using sound recorders, thermal cameras, and other high-tech toys, the group wanders about, hoping to stir up spirits. The next day, they review their findings, and then share them with the local owners. Not surprisingly, the results are generally inconclusive. A lot of the supernatural phenomena has a rational explanation, such as sounds caused by outside wind, while others remain unexplained, such as disembodied voices saying clear words.
I’m of two minds about this show. The actual ghost hunting, which is supposed to be the big draw, is dull. The crew stumbles around in the dark, seen to us thanks to night-vision cameras, listening to the silence around them and looking for movement in the shadows. Every time someone asks, “Do you hear that?” I listen for what they might have heard, but I miss it because the creators keep adding phony Silent Hill-style atmospheric sounds. Every time, there’s a lot of build-up as the producers and editors draw in viewers with the possibility that something truly supernatural will happen. Usually, the best we get are some freaky sounding EVPs (“electronic voice phenomena,” the disembodied voices I mentioned above), and little else. Basically, they’re setting us up for scares, and then not delivering.
Like a lot of reality shows, I wonder about the validity of what I’m watching, and what’s here that I’m not seeing. This takes me out of the show far too often. Like, if they’re trying to record faint sounds, why are they stomping around the room and talking the whole time? If they’re looking for movement or unidentified shadows in the darkness, why are they constantly taking photos with flashes all night? They say they have to do this in order to provoke the spirits into responding. I know they’re the experts and I’m the guy sitting in front of a TV, but I still wonder if they’re corrupting their own data. Also, why only spend one night at each location? Wouldn’t they want to try a couple of nights to see if their results repeat over time? Yeah, yeah, the show’s budget and schedule probably doesn’t make that possible, but still.
Conversely, the non-suspenseful parts of the show were the parts that drew me in. The sites these guys visit are fascinating, representing a wealth of bizarre history and architectural oddities. In one episode, a ghost hunter finds a tunnel hidden inside a crawlspace, and discovers it filled with bones. Another features the bedroom of a child who died during the bubonic plague, which is filled with toys left behind by superstitious but well-meaning tourists. A castle in Germany is of interest, as it allegedly played a role in inspiring Frankenstein. Also, some of the folks they interview are real quirky characters, and I wish they’d get more screen time. I especially like the quaint British bed-and-breakfast with the waitress who has a giant nose piercing and white-girl dreadlocks. She probably scares more customers than any ghosts ever could.
The other non-ghostly part of the show I enjoyed is the debunking. Robb has a Holmesian knack for walking into a room and immediately deducing the rational scientific explanation for alleged supernatural spookiness. Other episodes have the team recreating circumstances of previous spook sightings, revealing how they might have been crafted by the living, and not the dead. I wanted to see them go for broke and debunk everything, but the fans just have to have their ghosts, I guess.
That brings me to my biggest criticism about the show, and what really kept me from digging it as much as I would have liked. There’s no sense of personality. Look at hits like American Chopper, Dog the Bounty Hunter, or Pawn Stars. These shows aren’t so much about motorcycles, bounty hunting, or pawn shops as much as they are about the people behind them. These are funny, eccentric, and larger-than-life personalities, and they’re the ones who draw viewers back week after week, rather than their jobs. On Ghost Hunters International, we rarely get to know our intrepid ghoul seekers. There’s some attempt at slight interpersonal drama, usually during car rides from place to place, but after eleven episodes, I don’t really know these folks like I do with the other “people with weird jobs” reality shows.
The DVD presentation is adequate, with a full frame picture and middle-of-the-road 2.0 audio. The daytime footage looks nice, with bright colors, but the night vision footage is uneven. At times, it’s rough and grainy, and at others times, it’s crisp and clear, as if you merely shut off the color on your TV. I would hope that this is a tech issue, based on whatever natural light was or wasn’t present at the time of filming, because they would never recreate scenes after the fact, right? Right?!? Disc three offers a handful of deleted scenes, and that’s it for extras.
Ghost Hunters International has some interesting history and geography lessons, but those are overshadowed by fake-out ghostly scares and bland personalities. If you’re dying to check the show out, make it a rental. For anyone else, skip it.