Celebrity Paranormal Project, "In Sanatorium"

Celebrity Paranormal Project, "In Sanatorium"

Hulu coughed up an interesting bit of entertainment for me over the weekend.  After watching an episode of Ghost Hunters, I noticed that a show called "Celebrity Paranormal Project" was shown at the bottom of the page on the list of "If you liked this show, you might like…" suggestions.

Oh, I might like it alright.

Celebrity Paranormal Project aired on VH1 for one season, 2006-2007.  Clearly it was capitalizing on and riding on the coattails of Ghost Hunters, which first aired on the Syfy Channel in 2004.  In fact, the Ghost Hunters themselves were just at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in an episode which aired in March, 2006 - a mere seven months before this oddball collection of celebrities stumbled onto the grounds of one of America's most haunted locations.

If you like the scientific mindset, the focus on documenting paranormal occurrences, and the overall trust and reputability of Ghost Hunters, then this is not the show for you.  But if you enjoy watching random celebrities freak the **** out in a scary place in the middle of the night, then I recommend it highly.

In fact, this show could more accurately have been titled "Celebrity Panic Attack Project."  This first episode brings together five reality show stars: Gary Busey (!!), Hal Sparks, Donna D'Errico, Toccara Jones, and Jenna Morasca.  They are sent in without any crew, just a collection of video recorders both hand-held and strap-on.  They are given Charlie's Angels-style directions for exploring the building, and sent off on various missions.

The down side of this show quickly becomes apparent.  The locations have embedded cameras, from which we watch the celebrities in the third person, so to speak.  Special effects have been added to the footage, depicting shadow people and funny little "zzzzip" warps that I guess are supposed to be ghosts.  Crew members are clearly afoot, pulling pranks like moving a child's ball around the premises.  

Going into it, you have to assume that everything that happens was staged by the unseen crew in order to frighten the celebrities.  This is problematic because so many of what you encounter in a place like Waverly Hills Sanatorium could so easily be faked - distant footsteps, faint echoing screams, random shadows, and slamming doors are all trivial to create.  

It's a damned shame to send people into a place like Waverly Hills, and then fake a bunch of footsteps and doors slamming.  It struck me as being like going to the ocean, and setting up a fake wave machine.  Why bother?  All you have to do is camera up some inexperienced people and send them in after dark and let their imaginations (and the sanatorium's contingent of actual ghosts) do the work for you.

Hal Sparks has the best line of the episode, "I stand by my statement that Gary is the scariest thing in this place."  Watching Gary Busey investigate a haunted sanatorium is definitely a sight to behold.  His Busey-isms included "this is the place where science fiction meets nostalgia" and asserting that he heard "sounds that were like a mechanical tiger."  

An accurate investigation into paranormal phenomena it isn't.  But it excels as a great evening of popcorn entertainment.