REVIEW: Ghost Hunters by Ed Warren, Lorraine Warren, and Robert David Chase

Ghost Hunters is wonderfully strange piece of writing, even by the standards of books on the paranormal.

The book recalls a series of psychical investigations conducted by Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens were a pair of American ghost-hunters who first shot to fame in the 1970s based on their involvement in the infamous Amityville haunting. Their lives and exploits then went on to form the basis for the interlocking Conjuring and Annabel series of horror movies. Ghost Hunters is actually the second in a series of six books, all of which were published in the 80’s and 90’s, after the couple’s star had begun to fall.

The first intriguing thing about this series of books is the weirdness of the format. Books about the paranormal are in and of themselves an interesting edge-case when it comes to categorisation: Are they fiction? Are they non-fiction? Are they memoir? Depending upon the rhetorical style adopted by the author, there’s actually a good deal of variation in how information is presented and, by extension, which literary genre the books most closely resemble.

This book presents as a series of case files from the Warrens’ archives that are basically self-contained short stories. Despite supposedly being co-written by the Warrens, different stories contain either extended quotes attributed to the Warrens or weird little vignettes where someone is asking them questions. Once you move beyond the Warrens’ own words (more on which later), the book is not just well-written but written with a good deal of literary panache. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Ghost Hunters works better as an accessible horror short-fiction collection than it does as a book about paranormal investigation.

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FR: The Witch Farm

For Real is an occasional series about scary, horrific, and unsettling stuff that presents itself as non-fiction. This might include the paranormal as well as true crime and odd occurrences. The rest of the series can be found here.

Early in 2021, the BBC launched a series of podcasts written and presented by someone called Danny Robins. At that point, Robins was already a playwright and he had helmed a series of episodic podcasts called Haunted. Though well-produced and centred on the UK, Haunted was not all that different to any of the hundreds of paranormal podcasts that remain scattered across the internet: You had an attempt at re-creation, you had interviews with people who may or may not be disturbed, and you have the familiar paranormal framing device of pretending the whole thing is some kind of open-minded scientific investigation whereas in fact it’s just an excuse to tell ghost stories. Haunted was not a huge success but Robins’ connections and the series production values were enough to turn some heads at the BBC and so Radio 4 commissioned what would wind up becoming a bit of a break-through hit in so far as lots of the people who listened to The Battersea Poltergeist would not otherwise listen to a podcast with paranormal themes.

 In hindsight, it is pretty obvious why The Battersea Poltergeist became a global success: The production values were superb, the dramatizations included serious acting talent, and Robins himself was an engaging active host who pushed the series relentlessly on social media. However, over and above the formal successes of The Battersea Poltergeist, I think the series real success lays in the way that it reached beyond the merely paranormal to the psychological forces at work within the family. To this day, I frequently think of the way that the girl who was once at the centre of the hauntings seemed to just ‘grow out’ of ghosts and went on to live a normal life while the professional ghost-hunter spent years returning and returning to the house in the hope of re-establishing contact with what was manifestly nothing more than a pre-teen girl’s need for attention. I actually wrote something about The Battersea Poltergeist last year and my feelings about the series have only grown warmer with the passage of time.

Robins launched another podcast named Uncanny for Halloween 2021. It returned to the episodic structure of Haunted and failed to re-capture that broader audience. To be honest, I listened to the first few episodes and rapidly lost interest as the format of dramatic re-creation, interviews, discussion, and frequent online calls to action seemed to overwhelm the content and served to compress each story down to the point where everything felt really insubstantial and rushed. I also found the constant musical stings and Robins’ attempts to drive audience engagement quite irritating.

For Halloween 2022, Robins has ditched the stand-alone episode format of Haunted and Uncanny in favour of the more sustained examination of a single case that worked so well on The Battersea Poltergeist. However, despite again boasting some real acting talent and showing signs of evolving the formula, I don’t think that Robins’ The Witch Farm is anywhere near as fun or as thought-provoking as The Battersea Poltergeist. It all feels a bit too… well… glib for my liking.

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FR: My Experiences Ghost-Hunting

For Real is an occasional series about scary, horrific, and unsettling stuff that presents itself as non-fiction. This might include the paranormal as well as true crime and odd occurrences. The rest of the series can be found here.

Do I believe that, when our body dies, it is survived by some form of immaterial essence? No. Do I believe that the spirits of the dead persist on Earth in such a way that they periodically reveal themselves to the living? No.

And yet I believe in ghosts.

To my mind, ghosts are psychological phenomena born of intense emotion. In some cases, a ghost is a manifestation of emotional trauma. In other cases, a ghost is a passing re-connection with either a memory or an earlier emotional state. I believe that there are places that are haunted by the sheer weight of history and I believe that some of us are followed around by the fragments of trauma, longing, and loss. Ghosts can be summoned and spoken to. Ghosts can be so persistent that they require some form of exorcism to remove them from people’s lives. Ghosts can be seen when we baffle our perceptions with enough ambiguity that our minds step in to fill the blanks.

I have been going on ghost-hunts for about a decade now. I started out going on ghost-walks before paying to go on organised hunts and I now go on one every couple of years, usually when I can convince someone to go with me. I do this because I find ghost-hunts to be these endlessly fascinating collections of psychological phenomena that reveal a lot about not only the ambiguities of human perception but also about group-dynamics, and the eccentricities of post-religious spiritual experience. Oh… and if you’ll let it… ghost-hunting will also tell you a lot about how to run an RPG.

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FR: Fascinating Horror

For Real is an occasional series about scary, horrific, and unsettling stuff that presents itself as non-fiction. This might include the paranormal as well as true crime and odd occurrences. The rest of the series can be found here.

The British stand-up comedian Stewart Lee once did a routine about British attitudes towards political correctness. While the term ‘politically correct’ has been partially replaced by ‘woke’, there’s a similar degree of confusion as to what this concept actually means. In Britain, political correctness started out as an attempt to confront overt racism by claiming that the use of racist, sexist, or homophobic language falls outside of the boundaries of polite discourse. Regardless of whether or not it’s morally wrong to hurl slurs at your co-workers, it’s kind of rude. Over the years, as boundaries of politeness started to shift, people began using the term ‘political correctness’ to refer to any kind of bureaucratic meddling in existing processes. Thus, according to Lee, was born a generation of people who seem to confuse political correctness with health and safety legislation.

The reason for this slippage is that most people only encounter health and safety legislation in the context of being told that they aren’t allowed to do something they want to do. Thus, the fictional bureaucrat informing you that you’re not allowed to black up for the Christmas party has merged with the fictional bureaucrat informing you that you’re not allowed to do tequila slammers while operating a chainsaw.

But what would the world look like if we didn’t have health and safety legislation? Let Fascinating Horror entertain and inform you…

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FR: The Battersea Poltergeist

For Real is an occasional series about scary or horrific culture that presents itself as non-fiction. This might include the paranormal as well as true crime and odd occurrences. The rest of the series can be found here.

Ghosts are real, regardless of whether or not they exist.

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FR: Strange Familiars

For Real is an occasional series about scary, horrific, and unsettling stuff that presents itself as non-fiction. This might include the paranormal as well as true crime and odd occurrences. The rest of the series can be found here.

Back when I started this blog, I made a decision to avoid silos. I wanted to write about RPGs without becoming an RPG blog. I wanted to write about horror films without becoming a horror blog. I wanted to write about the paranormal without becoming a paranormal blog. My job as a blogger is to seek inspiration and report on my findings. Turns out that some journey take me further afield than others.

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