Wednesday, September 30, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghosts of Chernobyl & Sal'awa

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/30/09

Josh and crew go to Ukraine to investigate the famous nuclear meltdown site at Chernobyl. Is it haunted by the ghost of its victims?  The team passes through the 3 security zones intended to keep people out of the still-highly-radioactive area, taking radiation gear and detectors with them.  Despite the radioactivity, locals -- including a patrol officer -- are seeing strange things in the ruins: ghosts and spirits.  The DT equipment gets a little goofy (radiation?) as our heroes move through the area, and the Fleer (thermal) camera seems to show a human shape darting across a window.  One of the team suggests a reflection, and notes they will have to check it out later.  They see another shape, before the radiation makes them move from the area.  They then search the city and see other odd things and start hearing things, too.  When they've reached their radiation limits, they head back to the US to consult the Ghost Hunters.  Some of the "hits" are probably animals, others reflections.  But one figure the GH declare "good evidence" -- but evidence of what?

Switching locations to Egypt, the team looks for the Sal'awa, a wolf-like creature that supposedly haunts the sugarcane fields.  Some locals convince Josh to kiss a live cobra, before heading south to find the monster.  After the usual scary rumors and eyewitness encounters, the team sets up base camp, cameras, and trap cameras.  They begin poking around at night (naturally) and soon find some signs, including fresh dog-like tracks, which they take casts of.  Things get freaky as Jael hears growling and the team starts running through the cane fields.  They spot eye shine and hear howling and other noises, and try to chase the creature out into the open.  This seems a dangerous thing to do with a wild animal, and the crew quickly backs off and tries to flank it when something emits a deep growl.  They emerge without a sighting, and hope that their cameras caught something.  Back home, an expert listens to their tapes, and suggests a canine or -- perhaps a wolf or dog or some local domestic animal.  They do capture an Egyptian fox on camera, and Josh concludes the Sal'awa may be a combination of local canines and the fox (which looks like the DT CGI model) exaggerated to monstrous proportions.

Another fun entry in this series, which even includes a likely suspect for the monster. It seems to me that if there were less superstition and fear in the world, there would be less "monsters."  (And, perhaps sadly, less need for fun shows like Destination Truth.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - King Tut & Swamp Ape

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/23/09

The team ventures into Egypt to check King Tut's curse and then
returns home to Florida to look for the Swamp Ape. Josh and company
get permission to stay the night in Tut's tomb and investigate the
paranormal (a world first) -- after kicking around Cairo a bit first,
of course. From there they go to Luxor (Thebes) to visit the Valley
of the Kings, where filming at night has never been done before. They
talk to valley guards who have seen ghost-like apparitions, and fear
to travel alone at night. They get to the valley and begin poking
around, following sounds Jael thinks she hears, and Josh thinks he an
odd shadow (possible reflection) on the Fleer. As they start their
investigation into the curse, a sand storm blows through. Then they
get mysterious EMF readings and hear a voice in the tomb. One of
their number goes down with stomach cramps, but they continue their
vigil. Josh hears strange noises from the tunnel, but there's nobody
there, and another team member hears moaning and has a panic/asthma
attack. But were these personal experiences supernatural? Several
sounds show up on tape, but what they are remains open to
interpretation. And why would a Pharaoh speak English? There's also
one mysterious photo, taken by a camera trap, which shows a strange
cloth-like shape. In the end, they bring back no incontrovertible
evidence, but it was a cool investigation.

From there, they head to Florida to look for the famous Swamp
Ape/Skunk Ape, and the segment-opening montage shows a some photos,
many of which have been debunked. (But, hey, they look cool.) After
indulging in the local food (as usual): gator & frogs' legs, they head
into Big Cyprus Swamp to look for the bigfoot of the SE. They see a
lot of gators and a possible creature walking upright -- unfortunately
not caught on camera. They then hike in further and set up camp and
cameras. The swamp is alive with gators, snakes, and other creatures
-- including something that knocks over one of their cameras. After a
long and scary night, they head home to check their evidence. The
Fleer caught an upright shape that might have been a bear, and one of
their set cameras, they spot what is probably a rare Florida panther.
But, Josh notes, there is no evidence of contemporary great apes in
North America, and perhaps witnesses are merely seeing bear. Until
there is more solid proof, who can say?

DESTINATION TRUTH - Island of the Dolls & Lusca

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/16/09

Josh & team go to Mexico City to check out an island "haunted" by
possessed dolls. Originally put up to ward off the vengeful spirit of
a dead girl, the dolls are supposed to now be inhabited by spirits
themselves. Could the spirit or the dolls be responsible for the
caretaker's recent death? The team brings offerings (dolls and candy)
to lure out the island's spirits. Soon, the crew is being freaked out
by the dolls - including one that seems to open an eye in response to
something Josh says. (Or was it just entropy?) The group has
numerous other eerie experiences before heading back to check their
tapes and EVP stuff. They think they hear the word "leave," but why a
dead Mexican girl would speak English, they don't speculate. So, they
take their evidence to the Ghost Hunters, who give the standard
supernatural explanations. But as they review the tape, I notice that
the antenna of Josh's radio comes awfully close to the doll whose eye
opens. Perhaps it disturbed the doll or a cobweb connected to the
doll? The GH conclude there are supernatural goings on, between the
orbs on the Fleer, the EVPs, and various other sounds. I however,
remain unconvinced, and note that Mexico is a very superstitious
place. Remove the dolls, which are undeniably creepy, and I doubt
people would worry about this place.

Next, the team goes to the Bahamas to hunt for the Lusca, a giant
octopus that supposedly lives in the "blue holes," caverns that
connect to underwater tunnels beneath Andros Island -- one of the
least explored islands in the area. They pick up some spiffy Bahamian
Destination Truth shirts (I want one!), and head out to look for the
monster. They talk to a man who's encountered the creature, which he
describes as 40-50 feet, and Josh has trouble locating a captain brave
enough to take the team to hunt the beast. So Josh rents a boat and
captains himself. Then he and Jael go diving toward one of the blue
holes in an area teaming with sharks, which quickly chase them from
the water. When the sharks leave, Josh dives into the hole. He spots
something huge, in the cave but has to return to the surface to avoid
getting the bends. Josh decides to try and find the creature from the
landward end of the blue hole cavern. Josh now dives to 170 feet,
deeper than he has ever gone before (and in the dark to boot). Again,
he sees something huge, again confirmed by sonar, and strange
disturbances on the surface. Gamely, Jael goes into the water when
Josh finally surfaces, and they get some Fleer hits, before returning
home. But they have no clear pictures and, sadly, an expert cannot
say what they saw based on the evidence -- though they did get a big
splash at one point (hard to tell if it was Jael). So a monster?

I'm not too thrilled with the ghostly stuff featured in the last two
episodes, but the monster hunting is a hoot, as always, making for
another fun episode of my favorite paranormal show.

MYSTERYQUEST: Devil's Triangle

History Channel - 9/23/09

This show looks into several aspects of and possible explanation for
The Bermuda Triangle: they will look to ID a downed plane and connect
it with the triangle, test the "electronic fog" theory, a UFO
disappearance case, and look at rogue waves. They talk to Bruce
Gernon who claims to have flown through a mysterious "cloud tunnel"
where he traveled through time -- moving him a half hour into the
future. He invented the term "electronic fog" to explain the
phenomenon. A physics professor named David Pares looks at the
electronic fog idea. He believes that solar outbursts can combine
with thunderstorms to create the mysterious fog -- and plans to fly
into a storm looking for it. Meanwhile, "explorer" Greg Little
believes that there are natural explanations that down planes in the
area. He wants to find a plane that is supposed to have vanished in
the triangle and prove it's merely on the ocean floor. They have more
than 50 possible sites to check, and start poking around looking for
tail ID numbers.

The show posits that the UFO reports near AUTEC (see a previous UFO
Hunters review) may have something to do with some of the Triangle
mysteries. The show plays a Mayday call from a plane that went down
after reporting a strange object nearby. One researcher claims that
Emergency Locator signals (ELT) mysteriously fail to work in the area.
The Navy denies anything supernatural is at work. Meanwhile, Gernon
and Pares are trying to recreate Gernon's famous flight, using Pares'
solar-thunderstorm theory. And while they do that and Little looks
for ID numbers, Dr. Hans Graber believes that science can explain most
of the disappearances; he is a world expert on wave dynamics, and uses
a wave tank to demonstrate "rogue waves," titanic waves that can swamp
and sink a boat in seconds and then vanish. The show suggests that
his theory doesn't explain the lack of wreckage. (I suggest the ocean
is a very big place, and note how long it took the best scientists in
the world to find Titanic -- a very big target.)

Flying into a likely storm, Pares picks up some very strange
electromagnetic readings. But they don't time travel. And the parts
salvaged from a wreck don't connect to a known disappearance. So,
while boasting a promising set of premises, we really have little more
evidence at the end of the show than we had at the beginning -- and
there's still a whole lot of conjecture floating around.

This show doesn't start on sound scientific ground, either, as it
claims a large number of planes and boats disappeared from the
Triangle in perfect weather, which may be true, but only if they've
culled their lists -- and, if they've done that, they don't mention
it. Nor do they mention what numbers they started with before culling.
Without that comparison, one cannot judge whether to take their
"perfect weather" claim on face value -- as we know most
disappearances on (or over) the ocean take place in bad weather.

Mostly, the stories seem like the usual Triangle tales: Flight 19, the
Cyclops, Columbus' and Lindbergh's stories, etc. These things have
been discussed endlessly, and -- without investigation -- they are
only stories, stories now told so many times that they have become

Saturday, September 26, 2009

MYSTERYQUEST: Hitler's Escape

History Channel - Original Air Date: 9/16/09

From the producers of MonsterQuest comes this new, less-monster
focused show. The premier episode (so far as I know), focuses on
whether Hitler actually died as the history books say. The MQ team
pokes around Germany (and Russia) for evidence, takes some samples of
Hitler's supposed bones and blood, and concludes that the usually
accepted account cannot be correct. For one thing, the story of the
remaining eyewitness is inconsistent, both with the facts, and with
earlier versions he gave. For another, the supposed skull of Hitler
actually belonged (according to DNA tests) to a woman. So, questions
asked, but -- like MonsterQuest -- no actual answers provided. But
perhaps a starting point for another episode.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DESTINATION TRUTH - Haunted Forest & Alux

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 9/9/09

Josh and crew start the new season looking for a haunted woods in Rumania. On their way, they encounter strange locals (as usual) and unreliable machinery -- including an airplane that loses its roof in mid-air! I'm not too impressed with the photo "proof" the team is showed by local experts, but once they get to the woods, things really start hopping. They set up trap cameras, and stake out the place in teams. The woods are supposed to be filled with strange lights, voices, and people getting sick for no reason. Almost immediately, they begin seeing lights from the trees -- but quickly rule out the lights being from their own group. They can't track the lights down, but do find the mysterious "haunted" bare circle in the woods, where nothing grows, and take soil samples. They soon spot a light moving through the treetops but, again, can't track it down. So, they poke around, sit in the circle, and do EVP sessions. But when Evan does a session, he's suddenly "yanked" out of the circle, seeming to fly into the darkness and landing several feet away. Not only that, but his body has fresh scratch marks under his clothes. Then Rex suddenly gets sick. Even when reviewed later, the events of the night seem strange, perhaps even uncanny. The soil sample doesn't turn up any reason why things shouldn't grow there. Then Josh visits Jason & Grant from Ghost Hunters, and asks their opinion of some EVP anomalies -- moaning, giggling, etc. Because of the outdoor setting, Jason & Grant say there could be explanations -- the camera traps caught only dust, but the strange light in the forest seems unusual. The footage of Evan looks like he's been yanked out of his seat, and the GH guys say that scratches happen "a lot" in paranormal investigations. Josh remains skeptical of the lights and noises, but the Evan encounter remains unexplained.

Next, the team heads for Mexico to look for the Alux -- a small aggressive humanoid with dark fur. A Yucatan professor says that 95% of the locals believe in the creature, a fact testified to by the shrines built (even under highway underpasses) to the monster, and the fact that one couple blames the monster for their child's disappearance. After a brief detour to indulge in Carnivale, the team moves into the back country in search of the Alux. Cave diving, they find some bones, but no monster. Finally, they reach a shaman, who claims the Alux are in the area tonight. Blessed by the shaman, they set up base camp, ring it with cameras, and sweep the area. They find snakes, spiders, scorpions, a scary cave, and more bones, but no Alux. They collect the bones (non-human this time) and head back to the US for analysis. Turns out to be goat (or cow) and chicken bones, and Josh concludes that the Alux is likely an enduring myth.

Despite the lack of Alux, DT is of to another fine start, with the usual mix of engaging and adventurous characters. I'll be looking forward to new episodes every week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: Terror from the Sky

History Channel - Original Air Date: 7/29/09

Is something strange soaring the North American skies?  Witness describe strange, flying humanlike creatures -- Unidentified Flying Humanoids.  Are they natural, manmade, or something more mysterious.  A Monterrey (Mexico) police officer reports a strange, haglike floating woman, and claims to have been knocked unconscious by the creature.  Later another officer found him and woke him up.  (This sounds like some strange dream encounter to me -- but MQ seems to seek out no corroborating evidence.)  MQ claims a video backs up his claim, but the video isn't from his police car, it's from other locations.  And some experts, including Joe Nickell doubt the videos are real -- either SFX or perhaps a balloon or balloon cluster.  (It reminds me of the recent UFOs Over Earth show set in Mexico.)  Though the show claims US sightings, most of the reports seem to come from Mexico (which has a long history of UFO sightings and belief in magic, too).  One "researcher" suggests the creatures may be from another dimension, though obviously there is no evidence for such conjecture.  Or, as also conjectured, that local legends could be interpretations of extra-terrestrial creatures, though, again, there is no evidence for this.  (It's an amusing tale, though.)

The MQ search team goes to Mexico and starts poking around in caves, suggesting the sightings could be some unknown animal - bat, pterosaur, etc.  The cavers turn up nothing though, save for more speculation.  Jamie Maussan (renowned and credulous Mexican UFO expert) claims to have the body of a strange creature caught on a ranch.  Photos show the creature when it was supposedly alive, and witnesses say it was like a cross between a rat and a monkey -- though no one mentions if it could fly, so I'm not sure of the connection to the theme of the show.  They take some samples from the tiny corpse for DNA testing.  (I'm betting it turns out to be a hairless monkey, which is what the pictures look like.)  I'm not impressed with the supposed experts analyzing it; they seem to be looking for strange rather than rational explanations.  The team concludes that the corpse has distinct differences from any known species, and the DNA test fails as well.  (I wonder what other labs -- out of Maussan's considerable sphere of influence -- might have found.)  Computer analysis of footage proves inconclusive, though the expert suggests a suspended object (like a gondola) for one and a cluster of balloons for another.  Joke Nickell suggests that Mexican celebrations often release clusters of balloons, and that these could be misidentified.  He conducts several experiments (again, like UFOs Over Earth) -- including one with a cluster of balloons in a plastic bag.  As he tightens his clusters, the figures look more and more humanoid -- especially in freeze frames.

But these flying things (I've seen these referred to as flying witches on the net), like many subjects of MQ, seem to have more to do with myth than with science.  (I think I'll preview the new season of Destination Truth to go to bed with a better "taste" in my mouth.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

MONSTERQUEST - The Real Moby Dick

History Channel - Original Air Date: 8/26/09

Are there really killer white sperm whales prowling the world's oceans?  As always on MQ, there are plenty of tales and eyewitness reports, but -- this time -- will the show's researchers find any actual evidence?  As with the shows about squid, octopi, and other well-known animals, the chances of finding a large version of a known predator seems more likely than a quest for a more-mythical beast.  One photographer has wildlife footage of a young albino while, but it's not very threatening.  The MQ team goes to the Azores to begin their search.  (We recognize some of these experts from previous shows -- they're becoming similar to the familiar crew on Destination Truth.)  The show recounts a historical (1800s) sinking of a whaling ship by an enraged whale, which rammed the ship, as well as more recent frightening encounters. The dive team runs afoul of stinging jellyfish, and chases around after whales.  But the whales are clever, and dive away when the boats approach.  In the end, our hunters come up empty handed.  Despite this, the show contains interesting whale facts and stories, and if you haven't heard them before, it's probably worth your time (if you can stand the usual MQ sensationalism).