10 October 2015


Robert E. Bartholomew and Joe Nickell. American Hauntings: The True Stories Behind Hollywood’s Scariest Movies - from The Exorcist to The Conjuring, ABC/CLIO, 2015.

Feature films about ghostly hauntings and UFO encounters always benefit if they are based on a true story or events. In this volume Bartholomew and Nickell put to the test the ‘true’ elements of five popular ghost movies, namely The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, An American Haunting, The Conjuring, and The Haunting in Connecticut.
Not surprisingly, they find that when you go back to the original sources or witnesses, the evidence proves to be problematic or even nonexistent. Some are no more than stories that have come to be believed to be true and have been elaborated over time.

Once these stories get to the big screen artistic license, the need to create a cohesive narrative and the ability to use special effects and editing to scare and shock the audience take priority. In this manner the ‘facts’ of such cases are ignored or railroaded to create stories that serve our need for entertainment, rather than to chronicle ‘real’ events or educate us.

The ‘fiction’ becomes the truth to the audiences who blindly consume these films, and to be frank most people don’t really want to know the true facts anyway. As the authors point out the makers of TV documentaries on the paranormal have a similar disregard for the facts, and simply serve to reinforce the ideas presented by these films and the audience’s desire to believe.

Bartholomew and Nickell by revealing the facts of these cases, show that the need to entertain and play with the expectations of the audience is paramount to filmmakers. The same seems to apply to a new generation of ufologists and ghost hunters who also pander to what we want to believe wrapped in scientific jargon and objectives - just look at how the once mighty MUFON has lost its soul to the Hangar 1 TV series.

The authors do a good service to take us back to reality. -- Nigel Watson.

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