Of the number of shows in the “paranormal reenactment” genre that are on television, several of which air on Syfy, Paranormal Witness (on Syfy) is among the most successful, both ratings-wise and, in my opinion, in execution. Sure, there is not too much in its presentation that you haven’t seen in many a horror film (and some shots and setups seem even borrowed from notable fright flicks), but the series is generally effective in creating a tense atmosphere, and in delivering a few shocks. It will continue to attempt to creep you out as Paranormal Witness Season 3 premieres June 5 at 10pm ET/PT on Syfy.
(The following may contain spoilers.)
The premiere episode on June 5 is called “The Long Island Terror.” Like all Paranormal Witness episodes, it is supposedly based on real-life experiences of often horrific and unexplained phenomena, told by those who claim to have experienced it. As with many stories of this sort, it can be hard to tell where truth ends and exaggeration begins (in this era of “mockumentaries” like those infamous Mermaids specials, most things should be taken with a grain of salt), but the witnesses all certainly seem to have experienced something that gave them distress.
“The Long Island Terror” focuses on events that supposedly happened between 2005 and 2011 to a woman and her two daughters. The husband and father of the family, a New York City firefighter, died tragically, and the woman decides to move her family to a new home on Long Island to start anew in a place with no painful memories.
Once the story moves to Long Island, the creepiness picks up, and again, much of it comes across like something out of a scary movie, so it’s hard to tell if it all really happened as stated or not. Firefighter friends of the family help renovate the place, including the spooky basement, where they discover an old pentagram has been drawn on the floor. Also uncovered are some writings from the late 1920s that indicate the place was once used by devil-worshippers. Oops.
After the renovation and these discoveries, all hell does indeed start to break loose for the family, with objects being thrown about, loud knocking heard in the walls, and — most ominously — shadowy figures that seem to mean the family harm. This is where the episode kind of loses its effectiveness. It does build up some nice chills before falling into the classic horror movie trap of trying to show too much, rather than letting the imagination go to work.
The mother sees cloaked, cultist-like figures on her home security camera, which seems unrealistic enough, but things really get cartoonish when the episode tries to present the main demon threatening the household. (To be fair, the episode I screened was a rough cut, so perhaps the demon scenes will be improved/enhanced for final broadcast.) This creature is brought to life in the stereotypical-looking manner in which many of us are accustomed to thinking of devils and demons, complete with horns and cloven hooves, and it comes across as a bit silly, actually. There’s even a “stinger” at the end where the demon’s face is quickly seen in the window before the credits roll, even though the episode tells us that the family, who still lives in the house, has not seen the demon since a blessing of the home. So perhaps there was too hard of an effort to squeeze some sort of monster into the episode for shock value, and hopefully that won’t continue too much and override the chills and suspense that a Paranormal Witness episode can usually otherwise deliver.
The “showing too much” issue doesn’t happen as often in the second episode, on June 12, although there is some of it (again, I saw a rough cut). That episode is called “The Lost Boy,” and focuses on a couple who buys a Victorian mansion in Massachusetts in 2008. The couple has been unsuccessful in having children of their own, and the woman is particularly distraught over this, but she ends up hearing the pitter-patter of little feet in the household anyway, when it appears that the spirit of a lonely little boy is looking for someone to play with in the home.
As I referenced, most Paranormal Witness episodes seem somewhat inspired, both in story and in presentation, by spooky films. Where “The Long Island Terror” episode had a kind of The Amityville Horror meets The Exorcist sort of vibe, “The Lost Boy” episode gave me recollections of 1980’s The Changeling, with even a bit of The Shining thrown in (there’s a neighbor boy who can telepathically communicate with the ghost boy). It does end up being a fairly moving episode when you think of how the woman’s sorrow over not being able to become a mother may have led to the events, either in real-life or through her mind, or some combination. There is even a touching scene where her motherly instincts kick in and she tries to get the ghost boy to touch her hand. Again, there are some “stingers” thrown in throughout the episode for surprise value — usually quick shots of the boy looking out a window, sometimes accompanied by his sobbing ghost mother — but generally this is an effectively emotional episode that captures the sorrow and sense of loss at the heart of many ghost stories.
Syfy says in all there will be 20 episodes of Paranormal Witness Season 3, with stories involving everything from hauntings by Manson Family murder victims in Los Angeles; to werewolves in Maine; to near-death experiences; to the presence of so-called “black angels” in hospitals across the country; and more.
Paranormal Witness Season 3 airs on Syfy Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT beginning June 5.
Paranormal Witness Season 3, The Long Island Terror: © 2013 Syfy Media, LLC. Credit: Christos Kalohoridis