We review two documentaries that take viewers inside the world of paranormal investigators: Night Stalkers: Paranormal Investigators and Hotel Camarillo
October is almost upon us, which means that cable networks such as A&E, The Travel Channel, National Geographic, Chiller, SyFy, and The History Channel (among others) will begin rolling out their yearly onslaught of Halloween specials. Some of these specials will cover the top ten most haunted places in the world, some will present the origin of Halloween, and some will document the day-to-day activities of special effects studios that specialize in designing extreme haunt attractions.
But, more than any other type of show, marathon ghost hunting documentaries will burst out of the woodwork, all cat-eyed, green-glowing, and night vision filtered. I call them the “Whatwasthatdidyouhearthat?!” shows. You know the ones I’m talking about.
Even though I may sound cynical regarding these shows, I nonetheless glue myself in front of the television and watch every show I can. My absolute favorite type of shows are the “true-story-about-my-haunted-house” documentaries. Why? Because I love stories about everyday normal people who are forcibly thrust into paranormal situations. I love hearing their anecdotes, especially if they tell them themselves. And some of the re-enactments are scarier than most horror movies.
The two documentaries I will be reviewing here, both directed by Wayne Poe and distributed by Reel Nightmare Films, are meant to inform, as well as entertain. But they would not be of much interest to non-believers, so I’m going to briefly discuss them from the perspective of a believer, because I am!
NIGHT STALKERS: PARANORMAL INVESTIGATORS
Night Stalkers: Paranormal Investigators covers a variety of well-known Southern California paranormal hot spots, including the Linda Vista Hospital, the Anaheim White House, Suicide Bridge, and the fascinating, legendary Queen Mary. We accompany various groups of investigators, all with their own individual work ethics and approaches: 3AM Paranormal, A.P.R.A., Peaches Veatch (C.P.P.I.), Planet Paranormal, and the Porterville Ghost Society.
The main interviewee is Joe Mendoza, of 3AM Paranormal, and his main philosophy is that ghost hunting must incorporate both scientific skepticism and belief in the paranormal. Cases in which both schools of thought encounter the same evidence are the ones that require the most meticulous attention and analysis.
This is a pretty damn special documentary, because it showcases different personalities and ghost hunting methods.
There are some very endearing and spiritual people in the field, and it’s a real treat getting to “meet” them and see them in action. I would say that the main point of this documentary is not necessarily to show investigation footage, but to introduce us to some of these very brave and unique people. Not television stars, mind you, but unknown, salt-of-the-earth everyday men and women. And the stories behind the locations they investigate give me goosebumps of cold steel.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t any fascinating evidence featured, because there is. If you are intrigued by EVP (electronic voice phenomena) and ITC (instrumental transcommunication) evidence, then this will be a very exciting thing for you to watch. There are some bone-chilling EVP recordings. I am not completely sold on ITC and the process it involves (making contact with ghosts through the white noise in AM radio signals), however, but my mind is definitely open to it.
The main attraction and centerpiece of the film are the investigations and the huge ghost hunter’s convention aboard the Queen Mary. I always doubted the significance of the Queen Mary as far as haunted locations go, but not anymore.
I’m making a point to not reveal what any of the evidence actually IS, because that would take away the excitement of discovery, which is part of what makes documentaries like this so much fun. But trust me, this film delivers in a way the television shows rarely do.
We also meet a somewhat hostile and arrogant skeptic, mentalist Mark Edward, who refers to ghost hunting as a “scam.” Members of the 3AM group talk about how Mark and a group of cynics and skeptics infiltrated the ghost hunter’s convention just to stir up arguments and trouble, and basically rain on what seemed to be a very positive and shiny parade.
There is a plethora of interviews with different investigators (of all ages), and the stories behind the hauntings are fascinating. Those are the main things that make this a very enjoyable and highly recommended documentary.
And now we move on to the next (and much more disturbing and creepy) ghost hunting documentary, Hotel Camarillo. One can look at Night Stalkers: Paranormal Investigators as a detailed prologue, and Hotel Camarillo as the first chapter.
Joe Mendoza, from 3AM Paranormal, explains that for the longest time in his career, the Hotel Camarillo was treated like an urban legend among ghost hunters. He elaborates by saying he heard about the location through whispers and myths, almost as if investigators were afraid to talk about it. This location is very special to him.
The Hotel Camarillo, located in Southern California, is rumored to be the topic of the song “Hotel California” by The Eagles. But my Google research also indicated that it’s about Satanism and Anton LaVey, and the actual band deny both claims, so who knows?
The Camarillo was a hospital for the mentally ill and criminally insane (of course) in the 1930s. There were hushed rumors of abuse, electroshock torment, and neglect, which were all mostly inflicted upon children (again, of course). As the documentary tells the tragic story, we are presented with tons of actual archival footage and photos. Any fan of paranormal documentaries knows that this can sometimes be the source of the most disturbing moments. That is the case here, as well.
Whether intentional or not, the archival portion of the film is narrated in a way that makes it very similar to a creepypasta (“The Russian Sleep Experiment” comes to mind). Once we get down to the actual investigating, several very subtle but shocking things begin happening. The investigators are inundated with tapping and knocks, almost sounding like raindrops. At one point they even play “Shave and a Haircut” with one of the ghosts.
Cynics may roll their eyes at this kind of thing, and frankly it does seem silly, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Pure nightmare fuel, those echoing knocks.
As with Night Stalkers, most of the evidence is from EVP recordings. Especially blood-curdling is a sound that has been nicknamed “the Thorazine shuffle.” The re-enactments are very scary. I’m leaving out a lot of details, again, simply because discovering these occurrences “with” the investigators is half the fun. I wish these movies were longer. I could watch this stuff all night.
I highly recommend both documentaries, but Hotel Camarillo is essential for fans of this genre!