Tuesday, December 14, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Bayou Beast - River Ghost

Syfy - Original Air Date: 12/9/10

The finale of their first season takes the FF crew further down the road of serious science and skepticism.  The cases they do not look at in depth are: Christmas Ghost, which seems to show a ghostly image at a Christmas party.  But Chi-Lan correctly points out that it's just lens flare.  Ice Vortex shows a very strange circular vortex, which was observed for 12 hours, in the middle of an icy river.  But it's merely the result of a methane gas uprising and the Coriolis effect; strange but not paranormal.  Ghost Girl seems to show a ghostly girl in a deserted house.  But it turns out this was a fake, a publicity put up to promote an internet site.  Good job on exposing those, guys.  Which leaves the 2 cases for investigation.  Honey Island Swamp Monster seems to show a bigfoot-like creature skulking through the swamp near New Orleans.  Ghost Light shows a mysterious light flying near a bridge on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

Heading to Louisiana, Ben, Chi-Lan, and Larry trek into the swamp, check out the area seen in the super-8 film, and interview witnesses. Then they go to see if the thing in the film could be a Louisiana Black Bear.  The bears are very large, and can stand on their hind legs, but they don't walk very well, unlike the thing on film.  Next test: a hunter (Ben) in a camouflage ghillie suit and stalking make-up.  (Shades of the Michigan Dogman!)  The resulting footage looks just like the original film.  Of course, that doesn't mean it couldn't be bigfoot, so they set some nighttime traps for the monster, just in case.  While they don't catch a monster, they do catch some strange and disturbing howls on their equipment.  Conclusion: The film shows a man in camo, and the howls are identified by an expert as wild boar fighting.  Also, the film is a short roll--indicating some of it's footage is missing, perhaps deliberately.  While this film was "fake," there could still be a monster out there somewhere.

On to Oregon, where Bill, Austin, and Jael talk to the people who shot the flying light film; they seem sincere.  At night, the team goes to the bridge and conducts some experiments.  First, they throw Frisbees bedecked with lights off the bridge; they don't stay aloft long enough to replicate the flight pattern.  Next, they pull a lighted balloon from a speedboat to try and replicate the object.  This looks closer, but the flight pattern isn't smooth and regular when the boat turns.  Finally, they outfit an RC plane with LED lights; though the object was described as "silent," it's impossible to hear the plane over local traffic.  The plane is a dead-on match.  Conclusion: The object is an RC plane, though the witnesses didn't know that; they were just fluke observers to a nighttime RC plane flight.  It was merely a case of mistaken identity. Fake.

Over the past few weeks, this show has gone from a flabby "We want to believe" show to a harder-hitting "What's the most reasonable explanation" show.  As they've improved, they've gained me as a loyal viewer and supporter, and I suspect many other fans as well.  Since they've deservedly been renewed for next season, I hope they'll be able to cast off the EVP sessions and other remnants of pseudo science and stick solely to the facts in the season to come. They seem well on their way to becoming SyFy's equivalent of Mythbusters. I look forward to next season.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Lunar Landing Hoax - Tropical Intruder

SyFy - Original Air Date: 12/2/10

The show starts with the usual rundown of videos that might be worth investigating. Lancaster PA Mothman is filmed through a window and shows a creature taking off near a clothesline at night.  It looks like a bird (owl) to me, but the video quality is low, and the team passes.  Texas Explosions fill the sky with blue light, but it looks like weather to me (and Chi-Lan, too).  Which leaves us with the two cases to be investigated this week.  Apparently, one-quarter of the world's population doesn't believe the Moon Landings actually happened.  (For those of us alive then, this theory is really insulting/annoying.)  They show the hammer falling at the same rate as a feather; the moon jump salute to the flag, and an astronaut "assisted" to his feet - supposedly done on a Hollywood set.  Gulf Breeze UFO shows one of the classic glowing UFO shapes (with apparent portholes) gliding through the trees; it vanishes suddenly.  "Too good to be true," springs to my mind, but let's see what the team thinks.

Aron Ranen started as a documentary filmmaker, and now believes that NASA is hiding something.  He has a good story, but is any of what he says true?  He hedges though, and says, "There is a possibility that man's first landing on the moon might have been a hoax."  So, the team (Ben, Austin, Chi-Lan) builds their moon landing set, and Austin gears up.  Then they do the falling bodies test with a hammer & a weighted feather; video looks very similar.  Chi-Lan then suits up, and Austin uses spring boots to make the salute jump; this looks terrible - and I can't imagine how the spring boots would have been used with 1960s tech (no CGI)  to remove those boots.  They try again with theatrical fly wire (which is what the conspiracy buffs claim the moon suit's radio antenna is); it looks better, after a few takes, so they continue with the wire.  (Note that the physics of the jump is still wrong; the suit drifts with the wire.  Note also that the early moon landings were broadcast live.  Want to get that right in one continuous take?)  They then try the assisted stand, which looks pretty good with the wire, too.  But a pressurized suit would have a natural spring-back motion, explaining what's seen in he original footage anyway.

Conclusion: Yes, the "stunts" can be replicated, but no one in the cast believes they were faked.  (They don't mention it, but watch the physics of the moon dust in the original footage.)  Ben points out that because these tests were done on earth, it doesn't mean that similar results wouldn't happen on the moon without SFX, and 400,000 NASA workers are a lot of people -- too many, to involve in such a conspiracy.  If you are interested in this conspiracy, you should see the excellent Mythbusters show on moon conspiracies, as well as Conspiracy Moon Landing from Nat Geo.  Sorry, conspiracy buffs, the moon landings did happen (in the age before the politics of personal destruction), and it's insulting to all mankind to think they didn't.  Good recreations, though.

On to Gulf Breeze, on the coast of Florida near Alabama, home of an Air Force base.  They talk to Mike Hawkins, the witness responsible for the video, and he claims he wasn't involved in a hoax.  He says the UFO was hovering over the bay, and he and the other witness moved through the trees to get better pictures before the UFO disappeared.  The team (Bill, Jael, Larry) makes a mock UFO with foam sheets, a beach ball-type thing, lights, and tape ($20 of materials), and then attach it to a zip line outfitted with pullies.  A remote turns the light on and off, to simulate "disappearance."  It looks amazingly similar, aside from light cast on a tree and lack of vertical motion -- which I think they could have solved with a different rig further back in the trees.  They then try attaching a UFO to an RC helicopter and repeat the test; again very similar, but the UFO is flat, and when it swings in the wind that hurts the effect.  So they doubt that's the solution. Next they use a GOBO (Go Before Optics lighting) setup rear projected onto a screen, like the Bat Signal.  Again, it's amazingly similar, and a camera move makes the craft disappear.  Looks like a hoax, so they subject their interview to voice analysis.  Initially, the tape shows Hawkins is telling the truth about seeing the thing, but, later on, he's being deceptive about not knowing what it was.  (I remain dubious of this technique, but...)  Conclusion: he may not have been in on the hoax initially, but he likely did know what it was later.

Again, this episode presents two tough looks at famous videos and shows how they could have been faked (though the moon landing was not).  I wish they'd done some more proof about the good evidence for the moon landing (scientific mirrors left by the astronauts, etc), but that's a small quibble for a show that is more and more bringing hoaxes into the light.  Good job, gang!

Friday, November 19, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Mystery Mermaid; Ghostly Guardian

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/18/10

As usual, we start with videos of cases that won't be researched this week.  Dash Cam Ghost looks like a misty figure walking across the road, supposedly caught on a police dash cam.  They want to authenticate it, but it looks like a reflection from a side window to me.  Hawaiian UFO shows 3 lights moving through a Hawaii sunset. Bill says the film was created by Blake Cousins, who has done a number of paranormal videos, and this is just another of his CGI jobs. The Lake Erie Lights were filmed in March 2010 by Eugene Erlich (sp?); they move very strangely in the sky, but the group decides to wait until there are more confirmed sightings.  Which leaves the two cases they are investigating this week: Ghost Guardian features a set of pictures where, over a course of many years, strange blurs appear in pictures of a girl as she grows up.  She's 16 now, and the family thinks the blur is her spirit guardian.  They've supposedly ruled out camera straps.  The Mermaid was filmed off the Great Barrier reef by a photographer who didn't realize what it looked like until he got the film home, and, boy, it does look like a mermaid tail swimming away -- and not like any sea animal I'm familiar with.  (And I'm a sea creature buff.)  So, it's either a fake, or... an excuse to film Jael in a mermaid costume.

I might ask a local fish expert first, but the group quickly flies to Australia, dons their wet suits, and Jael and Ben -- both certified divers -- get wet while Austin mans the sonar.  Quickly, they spot something on sonar, but it's just a shark, and not a match for the video.  Could it be a sea cow (dugong)?  I've seen manatees in the wild from a distance of a few feet, so I know even before the team does that this is not what's on the video - though the dugong does have a mermaid-like fluke.  Next up, Jael in a mermaid suit (thank you, producers), and she looks pretty good -- as a mermaid, I mean -- and maybe with a better costume....  So, they find a professional mermaid named Hannah down under with a better costume and years of experience -- and she's a nearly exact match.  They declare the video a hoax, and Ben even has a CGI recreation of what a real mermaid might look like.  She's a blubbery, hairless creature, that looks nothing like the mythical beauty, or even my own Umira.  Pretty funny finish to this fish story.

In Hawaii, the team talks to the grandmother who takes the mysterious pictures.  The woman claims her granddaughter has seen this "guardian angel," and the girl says she has a sense of being watched at night.  She gives Chi-Lan permission to interview her (with identity hidden) and take pictures.  They set up a film processing lab on site and develop their pictures.  They see nothing remarkable in their first shots, so they decide to try and replicate the effects they see on the ghost pictures.  They set up a dummy as a model and try shooting with a camera strap dangling in front of the lens; it looks fairly close, but doesn't have the right texture.  (Maybe the wrong strap?)  Next, they test climate effects on film, but it doesn't look anything like the "spirit."  So, they try a more elaborate hoax using reflections (which, for some reason, they call holograms), but that seems too elaborate for these people.  Again, an interesting result, but not quite right.  Sadly, this kind of investigation would not be complete without some "ghost hunting," so the lights go out and all the usual pseud-science poking around happens. Larry hears a strange noise on the walkie-talkie, but it sounds like interference to me (and Chi-Lan).  So, they do the expected EVP session, which gives us another strange electronic noise -- which sounds a little, once they point it out, like "I'm watching you right now."  Despite this, the group agrees that the "spirit" on the film is likely a camera strap or other lens interference.  (Which is my conclusion as well.)  Unfortunately, we get an end-of-show sop to the believers that what they've found doesn't rule out some other paranormal activity in the home.

So, again, the team gives us two good explanations -- a trend I'm liking in this series -- despite the nod to what may be the series main audience (true believers) in the closing moment.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghost of Menegai; Kalanoro

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/14/10

Josh & Crew head to Africa to prowl a haunted volcano and to Madagascar to look for a small, savage creature.  The Menangai crater is in Masai country in Kenya.  It is reportedly haunted by the spirits of those killed in a battle on its rim.  The forest-filled crater is 6 miles wide, so there's a lot of ground to cover.  After touring Nairobi and hobnobbing with the locals, they hop a train and then head by boat and foot into the wilderness.  After a stop at a Masai village for advice (and to obtain an offering for a blessing), the team climbs into the crater.  There, they set up the usual cameras and equipment and go prowling in the dark for ghosts.  Shortly after they make their ritual sacrifice, they start seeing strange shapes in the darkness and hearing strange cackling noises.  (Wildlife?)  In a cave, they see an unexplained light and hear whispering/singing voices.  Back in LA, they see something blurry on a camera, plus the strange light, and hear the "singing" on their recordings.  They have no good explanations.

In Madagascar they go hunting for the Kalanoro, a mischievous tiny, hairy humanoid with razor-sharp claws; it also has backward feet.  After the usual fooling around with the locals, they get some lessons on local fauna and talk to an American biologist who claims to have seen the thing.  Then they head out into the jungle, set up the usual cameras, and stomp around in the dark looking for the creature.  They find some tracks that look like tiny human feet, but the ground is bad for casts, so they take pictures.  They also catch something on the FLIR heat-sensing camera.  Based on the size of the eyes and the thermal image, they determine they were probably photographing nocturnal lemurs; the "footprint" was too undefined to identify.  It seems likely that the Kalonoro is merely an amalgam of local animals, but since Madagascar is still home to a wilderness uncorrputed by man, the show concludes that it's possible something is still out there.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Sasquatch Sprint - Alien Attacker

SyFy - Original Air Date: 11/11/10

Videos passed on this week include Mothman flying at a car windshield at night (probable animation), and the "Guardian" UFO footage of a "ship" allegedly hovering over a park, but with no witness they decide to put that one off and maybe look into it more.  Which leaves the videos they're investigating: a Sprinting Sasquatch (the famous Memorial Day film of bigfoot running across a field) and the Alien Attacker (famous black triangle ship with dead alien) where the alien supposedly killed a dog before being brained and photographed by a human.  This second looks obviously fake to me, and the body was supposedly later stolen by a mysterious van, but the group decides to look into it anyway.

After talking to the bigfoot witnesses, they try to duplicate the running speed of the "creature" in the film.  This has been attempted successfully before, in Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, but this show -- like all others -- makes no mention of previous successful debunking.  (I guess if they did, they wouldn't have a show.)  Team member Austin runs the course in 9.6 seconds, faster than the creature at 10.6 seconds.  They then attempt it again using a 10 pound bigfoot suit, and after taking a big fall, he completes it again, but in around 12 seconds.  Trying again, and taking off his mask at the end, the result looks similar to "growth" in the original creature footage (which some tried to say was the bigfoot carrying a baby on its shoulders).  Then they do some night investigation with IR cameras and sand traps for prints; they also fly over with an IR camera.  They get a hit on the overhead camera and chase it, but can't catch up.  They also find a print.  Conclusion: The footage could be faked, and probably was.  Same conclusion as other shows.  The print is inconclusive, but too small for bigfoot. Which doesn't mean there is no bigfoot, just not here.

On to the alien, checking out the story of "Doctor" Johnathan Reed in Snowalmie Pass, WA.  He claims this creature seized his dog's jaws and ripped the animal in half.  The dog dropped to the ground and turned to ash, whereupon Reed hit the alien in a head with a stick, fatally wounding it.  Nearby, he saw a triangular-shaped craft - 9 1/2 feet long, 2 1/2 feet thick, and 3 feet wide -- hovering three feet off the ground.  Seeing this, he videoed what he saw and then took the alien body, in black jump suit, back to his house.  I'm unimpressed.  It all looks like amateur theater to me, and I'm pretty sure I could recreate it using a bit of hardware with the help of my kids.  Ben, the former FBI guy, points out that though Reed tells the story well, he's been doing it for over 15 years -- a lot of time to rehearse.  They build a triangle craft (obelisk) out of plywood and paint it black; team member Larry has also brought an alien he built.  His alien looks better than the one in the film.  They suspend the craft using a pole wrapped in greenery, a standard magician/SFX trick.  They then plant the alien and use a shaky-cam technique to duplicate the video.  (I'm convinced.)  Finally, they take the alien inside and use servos to recreate its blinking eyes and "autopsy."  (Though the original eyes look like they might have just been flashing lights to me.)  Jael points out this took some skill to recreate, but Rob notes the financial gain for pulling off such a hoax is great.  They then re-interview Reed, and apply "layered voice analysis" to the interview.  Reed claims a life-threatening conspiracy trying to cover up his evidence; he sticks to his story.  The voice analysis says he's lying.  "Johnathan Reed is not who he says he is, and this did not happen to him," Ben concludes

Reed, it turns out, is also known as con-man John Bradley Rutter, and this case has been debunked previously -- a fact turned up by a quick online search.  But, as I said with the bigfoot case, if they told us that in advance, they wouldn't have a show.  On the other hand, this show the team did debunk two stories held dear by "believer" communities, and, in doing so, and bringing the truth to a wider audience, Fact or Faked has done a public service.  Thanks, guys.  Good job.

Friday, November 5, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Guam Zombies; Fangaloblo

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/28/10

Josh & team go back to Madagascar to look for the monster bat fangaloblo, a 5' bat rumored to carry off the unwary.  The DTers fly to the African isle, hobnob with the locals, talk to witnesses, and witness a street fight.  They then take motorbikes into the wilderness to find the monster.  (Josh needs to learn to wear a helmet.)  Rickety canoes take them into some caves, and dump them into crocodile infested waters.  Fortunately, they survive, and, later bike even further into the wilds to find even bigger caves, and set up base camp.  Then they hike through dangerous caves and cliffs and over a rope bridge.  They find many bats in the caves, though no obvious giants, but they do get a big thermal hit they can't explain.  They do find a "claw" that puzzles their expert back home, too; he thinks the people of Madagacar are seeing something real, possibly a very large bat.

Next, the DT team goes to Guam to look for ghostly zombies, the Taotaomona that haunt the jungles and remote caves of the island (which is an American territory).  As always, the crew  hangs with the locals and gets some background on the zombies, which erected (according to legend) the island's many standing stones.  Later, the DT folk listen to a purported taotaomona moan (EVP) and perform a ceremony to communicate with native ancestors.  A camera man accidentally steps on a sacred stone, possibly incurring the taotaomona's wrath, and later badly cuts his knee.  Shortly thereafter, their tech manager badly scrapes herself up on a cliff climb, after tying a rope to a sacred banyan tree.  Oops.  After setting up the usual base camp, the crew tromps around in the dark looking for zombies.  They hear moans and get strange reactions from their electrical sensors.  When doing an EVP session, one team member is "pushed" in the back - leaving a mark visible on the thermal camera.  They also catch a mysterious shadow on camera, and can find no explanation for it.  While Josh declares their investigation eventful, he is unwilling to say the events are paranormal.

Thus ends another "season" (half season) of Destination Truth on SyFy.  It's been another fun romp with Josh & crew, if not full of earth-shaking discoveries.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Haunted Island Ruins; Moroccan

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/21/10

Josh and crew head to Nan Madol in Pohnpei, Micronesia, to check out the haunted jungle city, a.k.a. the "Venice of the Pacific."  They clown with the locals, as usual, and then get the blessing of a tribal chief to visit the city.  Of course, they set up cameras and then tramp around in the dark across the city's island and canals.  They spot an "orb" in the trees, and Josh gets violently ill conducting an EVP session.  (Eerily similar to an earlier explorer who died after removing artifacts.)  An IV drip gets him well enough to return home.  Josh wonders if the orb is an insect, or perhaps mechanical.  EVP sessions turn up the usual fuzzy "voices."  Josh's illness might be connected to a cold snap they experienced within one of the buildings/tombs.  Conclusion?  Something powerful, confirming many legends, is lurking in the ruins.

They next go to Morocco to look for Aisha Kandisha, a succubus who lures men to their deaths in the wilderness.  Recent reports and disappearances lure the crew out to the desert to check out some abandoned casabas.  After setting up base camp, they tromp around in the ruins in the dark to look for a "topless woman with goat legs."  They're spooked by bats and nearly crushed by a falling wall.  They hear sounds, but sounds travel in the desert, and they wonder if people hearing such things (from neighboring villages) have helped inspire this legend.  Teeth fragments they find turn out to be from a cow, and a leg bone brought back with them belongs to a cow, too.  They find nothing to substantiate the legend.

FACT OR FAKED: Symphonic Spirits - Hovering Humanoid

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/4/10

It seems the team is down to examining 4 videos per week, which is too bad, as I liked both the screening and the debunking of popular vids.  The two discards this show are a poltergeist of many hands in an LA apartment (CGI work) and the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights in NC (probably natural, and too similar to a recent case).  So, they cases they go after are a walking "ghost" caught on a security cam in the the Valentown Museum, Victor NY, and a flying humanoid (witch or bruja) in Texas near Mexico.

Staring at the museum, they talk to the caretaker/curator about the place's history; she firmly believes there are paranormal events happening there.  They also talk to the original videographer, who says they only noticed the "ghost" later.  To me, it looks like a quirky in-lens reflection, but the team starts by trying to see if it's a real person, just out of focus: nope.  They do a reflection test, to see if it was accomplished by a common magician's trick: very close, but not an exact match.  Next, they make a video of someone walking and project that into a wire mesh screen: not as good as the reflection.  At this point, their experiments are interrupted by ghostly piano and then guitar music. Chu Lan, though skeptical, is stumped, so they go into Ghost Hunter mode.  Poking around, they find some odd reflections and hear things, too.  They catch a "scream" on EVP, but, sadly, never go back to their previous investigation.  And I still think the ghost is a lens reflection.  Again, they've stopped investigating too soon.

In Texas, the other team talks to a witness, who says the flying humanoid was not a hoax by her UFO group -- it's an unidentified flying object.  (Nice coincidence that the thing showed up at a UFO meeting.)  The FF team starts by checking out a flying man jet pack.  (I love these.)  There are jet pack enthusiasts around the world, and a several enthusiasts in Monterey Mexico may have access to one. So, they have a pilot fly one and try to replicate the video.  It's close, but could not carry enough fuel to do what's seen in the video (the pack has a 30 second flight limit).  Plus, the flying humanoid was silent, whereas the pack is noisy like a jet.  Next, they try a zip line, but though it looks good, the man on the line is also more human-looking than the original.  (Balloons?  Cutouts?)  Next, they test out debris carried along by the wind: balloons or garbage bags.  They put some balloons in (witch-shaped) garbage bags and fly them like a kite, but the balloons wobble too much.  Ben suggests an elaborate hoax to fool the UFO club - using helicopter remote controls to fly the balloon.  So they set that up and . . . bingo.  It's an exact match and a case well solved.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

FACT OR FAKED - Haunted Mansion Mist; Starlight Intruder

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/28/10

Possible cases this week include: strange sand circles in El Paso's Rio Grand basin (turns out to be an art project); the Beast of Gum Hill, which seems to show a bigfoot crossing upriver from an ATV group (but on closer inspection looks like a human, and appears staged, too), and the two cases they investigate.  The McPike Mansion is supposedly haunted and some ghost hunters videotaped a "strange" mist in the cellar.  Also, a Delta UFO in Fremont, California, was captured on a night vision camera on December 5, 2008.  They start with the mansion in Alton, IL, and try to replicate the mist in the video, which swirled and seemed to follow people.  They use a blower to put dust made from Fuller's earth in the air, and it looks very similar to the video.  They also experiment with an insect swarm, but the bugs keep landing on the experimenters, and it doesn't look right.  They use an air conditioner and a humidifier to create their own fog, but that, too, doesn't look right.  Their issue is that the mist and dust linger, rather than dissipating quickly.  So they do their Ghost Hunter bit, and get some EVPs - ghost tapping - and what looks like bug feelers on the camera.  Some of the team conclude the "mist" was really dust, though others think the mansion may be haunted.

In Freemont, CA, the second team hunts for the triangular UFO, talks to the witness, etc.  Then they test a kite with lights (too unstable), a wicked cool RC jet (too noisy & doesn't remain triangle shaped as it moves), and finally a hang glider with lights on it.  And, bingo!  The glider is a perfect match, and it turns out that there are hang gliders that do night flying with anti-collison lights on.  Great explanation. This show came closer to any they've yet done to having 2 rational explanations.  In fact, until they went ghost hunting at the mansion, it seemed pretty clear that they'd found a reasonable explanation for the mist (combination of dust and moisture).  Too bad the show seems to want to pander to "believers," even when they don't have to.  Still, a much more thorough set of investigations this time around. Good job!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review of Still Not Quite What You Expected posted

I've posted my review of Still Not Quite What You Expected, Theater Undreground's new play, on my main website.



Sunday, October 17, 2010


SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/14/10

The BL team looks into the Navajo legend of the monster bird, which could allegedly pick up humans and dash them onto high cliffs.  They investigate the beast's supposed habitat and hear the legends.  They check out both eagles and condors (including a hang glider who was attacked by one), and talk to a pterosaur expert.  They end up with a cross between condor, eagle, & pterosaur (claw hands on the wings), and create their usual beast film, in which the monster carries of a human to drop on the rocks. It's pretty cool, though at one point, the creature they come up with reminded me of The Giant Claw.  Awk!

I'm a bit concerned that, after much initial hoopla, this show seems to have been relegated to a late-night only timeslot -- the hour it had occupied being occupied by re-runs of other shows.  Is Beast Legends about to slip into legend itself?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

BEAST LEGENDS: Wildman of Vietnam

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/7/10

The team goes to Vietnam to scout out local legends of a bigfoot-like creature.  They talk with a US soldier witness, and are shown mysterious tracks that one expert says might be from a Sun Bear.  Remember, though, this team isn't really hunting bigfoot, they're just trying to recreate this legend for a computer simulation.  They trudge through jungles, swim in caves, examine orangutan bones, and input all of their ideas into their computers.  Then they make a movie where a wildman stalks a human through the forest. and the human releases a baby wildman from a trap.  The "story" even has a surprise ending, but it's no surprise that the team doesn't actually find a real wildman.

Solving History with Olly Steeds - Lost City of Gold

Planet Green - Original Air Date: Unknown

The search for El Dorado goes back to the conquest of the Americas by Europeans.  This show looks at the histories, checks out legends and stories -- including one that the Vatican is covering up the lost city's location -- and trudges through the mountains looking for clues and Incan treasure.  In the rarefied air of the Andes, host Olly starts wondering if perhaps, when you come this far and worked this hard, your brain starts wanting the legend to be true, and you start seeing connections where there may be none. Indeed, this seems a plausible explanation, though the team is still finding ancient Incan roads -- leading to who knows where -- when the expedition runs out of time and supplies.  Olly concludes that it's possible that somewhere in this unknown region a lost city still exists.  I, for one, hope people keep looking.  This program serves as a good primer on the legend of El Dorado and is entertaining throughout.

Solving History with Olly Steeds - Nazca Lines

Planet Green - Original Air Date: Unknown

I stumbled across this program one Sunday morning.  It's a science/exploration series with a genial British host -- think a less frenetic Bear Grylls.  This episode investigates and discards many of the well-known theories about the Nazca Lines.  Theories dismissed include astronomical mapping and alien construction.  The host, Olly Steeds, talks to investigators, archeologists, and grave robbers.  He is given hallucinogens by a shaman and visits a Nazca graveyard.  Finally, he settles on a scientifically supported theory, that the lines were sacred pathways walked by pilgrims to the site.  Both studious and entertaining, this series seems a good one to watch in the future.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Siberian Snowman

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/8/10

In a rare, single-story show, Josh and crew go to Russia to look for the Siberian Snowman, a.k.a. bigfoot -- which Josh notes is their most popular subject.  (Gee, I never would have guessed from the number of times Monster Quest has done bigfoot -- by my estimation, about a third of their shows.)  Naturally, the DT team plays with the locals before taking the Trans-Siberian Railway and hiking into the snow-bound wilds.  They set up the usual camera trap stuff and then trudge into the darkness, hoping to find bigfoot and avoid hungry bears and wolves.  They find what looks like a big nest, but Josh notes it might just be debris washed down by the stream.  Some crew members get spooked by a noise coming downhill in the dark, and while they're running away, they find a strange fur sample.  Meanwhile, Josh finds a long line of huge footprints (though it's hard to tell how big they might have been originally, as they look melted out).  More tracks lead to wolves, which pursue Josh's team.  (I want to know if the teams are packing heat. I would in these wilderness areas.)

Next day, they head to another Russian bigfoot hotspot.  More poking around at night commences.  In this location, something breaks their perimeter sensors, but they don't find anything, though another team turns up more "bipedal" tracks.  Many sets of tracks, including what looks like an area where a big animal bedded down.  Digging in the bed, they find no hair, but do find a urine sample.  Later, they get a thermal hit, but can't locate what caused it.  (This happens a lot in these shows.)  Nor can they find its tracks.  From there, it's back to LA for analysis.  But the thermal hits are too distant for any ID. Their expert says whatever made the prints was heavy, and appears to be walking bipedal.  The mysterious fur is from an ibex, though that doesn't account for the tracks.  They don't talk about the urine sample. So, a mystery? Maybe.  Though they never rule out bear.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/30/10

The show sets out to recreate the legendary griffon. They start with the body of a cave lion, then add in the face and hunting tactics of a Mongolian golden eagle.  Then they add the eagle's talons to the front legs and give it wings with a 25' span (so it can lift Mongolian horses). They give it swept-back ears, too.  Then they make a to-scale nest, out in Mongolia, for their beast to roost in.  (The end result looks a whole lot like Bill the Griffon from my series The Twilight Empire -- returning to the web soon.)  Finally, of course, they create a movie of the creature swooping over a city and generally terrorizing people.  It doesn't carry off any horses, but it does take a motorcycle -- and some other techno gear -- to its nest.

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghost Fleet; Japanese River Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/30/10

The crew goes to the Micronesia check out Japanese WWII ghost wrecks and then to Japan itself to look for Kappa.  Truk Lagoon is a graveyard of WWII ships, patrolled by tiger sharks, and reputed to be haunted.  The team will conduct the "first ever" underwater paranormal investigation.  (Quotes because I have no way of verifying this claim.)  As always, they chat up the locals and hear spooky stories; supposedly, sunken vehicles can be heard running in the deep, 130 feet down.  Into the drink they go, turning up human remains and unexploded bombs, just for fun. They also hear mysterious noises that sound like trucks running.  At night, they check out haunts on one of the local islands and do some night diving, too.  More shadows and sounds, both above & below, ending in the now-standard consult with Grant & Jason from Ghost Hunters.  The spooky underwater sounds prove inconclusive; sounds carry a long way underwater.  A Flir (infrared) hit they determine to be merely a local villager walking by.  The underwatrer engine sounds, though, do sound like an engine, but is it paranormal?  Josh considers their trip a successful expansion of paranormal research.

Kappa, once feared throughout Japan, have become pop-culture icons. But recently, reptilian creatures have been sighted in Japanese rivers. Could the turtle-like Kappa be back?  The DT team samples the local kappa souvenirs and sees what purports to be the bones of a kappa foot.  Then they stay in a micro hotel, with rooms like a double-wide coffin before heading to Tono to check out the rivers.  They spot a giant koi fish, and Josh swims a frigid river to carry across a line to ferry equipment.  Then they set up the usual perimeter and camera traps, 'cause apparently monsters only come out at night, so that's when they always look.  (Point: Any night-hunting creature is gonna see -- and hear -- these guys, and avoid them, long before they can see it.)  They feel something moving in the river, catch something on an IR camera, and frighten some bats in a cave.  In analysis, the video is possibly a rare river otter, and the moving thing Josh felt an eel.  The foot bones are likely from a canine. Thus, the show concludes, the Kappa remains a colorful myth, fueled possibly, by misidentification of known creatures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghost of Haboro; Mngwa

SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/23/10

The DT crew goes to Japan to investigate a ghost and Africa to see about a mythical beast.  Haboro, Japan, was a mining town with a horrible safety record, and it's now purported to be huanted by ghosts. Locals note that it's not only dangerous because of ghosts, but because bears also live there.  The team goes down the officially-closed road to town and sets up camp in the spooky buildings and apartment complexes.  They spot some strange images on the Fleer (infrared) and encounter unexpected danger in rotted floors.  They also see strange lights and hear strange noises.  In the supposedly haunted 4th floor apartment, where they saw the Fleer hit, there's a makeshift shrine. Creepy.  They return to the US with plenty of EVPs and the strange Fleer image.  But could it be some kind of reflection?  Josh and company think the place is haunted.

In Tanzania, the crew is looking for the gray-furred, catlike man-eater, Mngwa.  They head for the Serengeti and talk to local witnesses. (I am impressed that some local hunters believe this creature to be real.)  At night, they do some stalking in a jeep, and more on foot, and see quite a few native animals.  (Kids, don't try this.)  They see a lot of eyes in the dark and take some print casts. But video shows nothing conclusive, and the print proves to be that of a large, very dangerous lion. The crew concludes that the mngwa most likely no longer exists, though its legend remains.


SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/23/10

The BL teams goes from the Caribbean to the South Pacific to recreate the shark god Dakuwanga.  They research types of sharks, from bulls to reefs to the ancient megalodon.  They swim with sharks and build a scale model on the beach from sand.  They dive into the deep to find Dakuwanga's lair, and run into sea snakes on land.  (The god can be either man, shark, or snake.)  Then they create a CGI movie of Dakuwanga attacking a submarine.  Just another day at the Beast Legends lab.

SyFy seems to have timed this episode to coincide with the release of Sharktopus (Saturday, 9/25/10), and that's fine with me, as (coincidentally) I'm flogging a shark story right now, too: "Monster Shark," which just became available on Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other ebook formats.  I have special 99 cent pricing on the story until 10/2/10, so be sure to take advantage of it while you can.  On Smashwords, you have to use the discount code: AY48G. Yeah, I usually don't plug my own stuff in reviews, but with this kind of timing, how could I resist?  Enjoy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Spirits of Angkor Wat & Canadian Lake Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/16/10

Josh and Crew go to Cambodia to look for ghosts in Angkor Wat, then head to Lake Okanagan, Canada, to find the Ogopogo.  Angkor Wat, the famous forty-square-mile temple complex, is up first, and the crew has the usual adventures with the locals, and interviews the usual witnesses, on their way.  Then they set up the standard perimeter cameras and start poking around in the dark.  Anyone who has seen the Tomb Raider series or numerous other video games will be familiar with the look of Angkor's amazing architecture, and it's just as creepy and amazing in real life.  Fairly quickly, Josh captures a shadowy, humanlike form on the Fleer (infrared) camera.  Just as quickly, they start seeing shapes moving through the darkness, though they don't fine anything, either human or animal.  They climb to the top of the complex, light some candles and make an offering; oddly, the candles blow out and they see a light darting through the building, though no one else is there.  Back in the states for analysis, they get the usual "voices" in their EVP work, but the figure on the thermal is the strangest bit of evidence.  Again, I wonder about in-lens reflections, but the team concludes that Angkor Wat has a paranormal presence.

On to Lake Okanagan to hunt the Ogopogo, Canada's Loch Ness Monster, reportedly a serpent-like creature 30-60' long.  After talking to the standard local eyewitnesses, they take a plane up and scout the lake.  They see a strange long shape in the water, but can't track it down, even though they go diving and check out a local underwater cave by hand and with an ROV (remotely operated vehicle).  Though Josh does see a large shape swim below him, he can't catch it; silty water limits the ROV's use.  They camp on Rattlesnake Island and set up the usual equipment.  They get a hit on their fish finder, but eventually dismiss it as possible debris.  They spot a shadow on the water on the night vision, but again can't track anything solid down, though the ROV gets caught on something, probably weeds.  A marine expert later suggests that many "Ogopogo" sightings are wakes or bubbles or other natural phenomena.  He also suggests a sturgeon may explain some sightings, though no sturgeon have been caught in Lake Okanagan.  Josh remains convinced, because of his close calls, that something strange may still lurk in the huge, deep lake.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/16/10

The team looks into dragon legends, starting with the legend of Smok, a dragon supposedly killed in Poland. They find the bones of the beast in a church, and one clever team member determines they are: the skull of a rhino, the thigh of a mammoth (or elephant), and the jawbone of a whale (masquerading as a rib).  Similarly, dragon tracks turn out to belong to a dinosaur.  So they play with a gator to see how it swallows its prey whole, and then add the fangs of a puff adder, some gator skin, the belly of a gar fish, and bat wings (naturally - though they discard those in favor of a gliding membrane).  They also mess with a flamethrower setup. And that's our monster mash-up for this week, suitable for terrorizing woodland creatures or city dwellers. Look for it in a SyFy movie coming soon.  Maybe.

FACT OR FAKED: The Caretaker; Cutter

SyFy - Original Air Date: 8/19/10

Cases the group doesn't take this week include a UFO supposedly abducting aircraft, which they dismiss as likely CGI, as no planes have been reported mysteriously missing in Southern CA.  "Creepers" lurking about in a deserted hospital see a shadowy figure, but it looks like a planted dummy to me and the FF crew.  Skunk ape, the Florida version of Bigfoot, looks like a guy in a suit.  ("Look, everyone! Patterson film!" says one team leader, aping the onscreen actions.)  They finally settle on Colorado Cattle Mutilations (Cutter, I guess), and a Cemetery Phantom (Caretaker) caught on film in IN.  The "ghost" on the film was not seen by the people at the time, and locals say it was a "ghost train" passing through.

They go to Indiana first and talk to the witnesses, all believers of course, and no one seems at all suspicious that the image was not seen at the cemetery, only when reviewing the film later.  They set up at the site and try some possible explanations: ATV (too solid, too noisy), a dust devil (recreated by fan, but not convincing), and a man running in mist (similar, but...) Science having "failed," they turn to EVP sessions and catch the usual strange sounds: proof of nothing, in my estimation.  So they call this one "paranormal," and never even consider the idea that a camera malfunction or reflection (which seem mostly likely to me) could have caused this image.  One more case unsolved due to lack of effort and/or skepticism.

In Colorado, the team talks to witnesses, procures a dead cow, and does some experiments -- including a doctor cutting with an electric cauterizer and a laser to try to recreate the mutilations.  (Carcass donated later to a wolf sanctuary, so nothing goes to waste.)  Those techniques either don't work or take too long or both, so they leave the carcass out over night to check for predators. And, as they do that, they look for UFOs, too.  No UFOs show up, but they do find a bird feeding on the carcass, so they decide to try to replicate natural bloating.  They put an inflatable bladder inside cowhide and pump it up.  When they do, they discover that, under pressure, the cowhide rips in curving, surgical-looking lines.  Their conclusion: natural causes.  Score one for science!  (Though I have to point out that this conclusion has been reported and supported scientifically before -- including on IS IT REAL? Chupacabras.)  Maybe it's new to their audience, though.  Case closed.


SyFy - Original Air Date: 9/9/10

The ads led me to believe that this was going to be some kind of serious investigation of mythical/legendary beasts, and I guess, in some ways, it is. I thought, though, that it would be a "Wow can these beasts be real?" show, or "What is the reality behind the myth?"  In that, I was completely mistaken.  This show, if the premier episode is any indication, rather, takes the reported mythical properties of such beasts, compares them to reality, and then uses those "statistics" to create a CGI version of the beast.  Yeah, it's recreating the monsters in CG, not investigating where the myths came from.  So, at the end we get a pretty cool monster, but no real "meat" whatsoever. And the Kraken they came up with this week was pretty cool.  And they stuff they did to recreate it, seeing real squids, climbing ship's masts, were pretty cool, too.  But, in the end, it seems to me that this show may be mostly of a "tryout" show for future SyFy CGI monster movies.  (And if they need writers for those movies, sign me up.)  It is not a paranormal investigation show.  If you like CGI monsters and just a tad of history/science, tune in.  But if you were expecting SyFy's answer to MonsterQuest, give it a pass.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Truth Behind UFOs Over Phoenix

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown (Viewed 9/2010)

While this show claims to be the "truth" about this well-known UFO incident, the vast amount of the show is taken up with eyewitness accounts and speculation about what it would take to create and fly a craft like the one reported by those witnesses. Normal propulsion and craft and pilots are ruled out, and there's plenty of talk about what it could "not" be.  "The fact is, no earthly explanations can account for the sightings," the show concludes about halfway through.  They do mention the military flares being dropped that night, but they quickly rule them out as an explanation for any of the sightings.  Clearly, none of these people have seen the first-class debunking in UFOs Over Phoenix, nor would they probably care if they had.  All of the "scientist/experts" in this show are actually UFO researchers; they all have a horse in this race.  There is very little, if any time, given to the possibility that the witnesses are merely wrong -- mistaken or unwittingly exaggerating what they've seen.  Thus does science die the death of a thousand cuts at the hands of "believers."  And make no mistake, despite its title, this show is for believers, not skeptics.  I expect better from National Geographic; sadly, this time, I did not get it.  I cannot tell if this is another in the "The Truth Behind..." series I've reported on before.  If it is, it falls considerably short of the standards of the others.  If you're looking for the truth for the Phoenix sightings, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Blazing Horizon; Rollover

SyFy - Original Air Date: 8/12/10

As always, the show starts with a session checking out a few videos.  Rancho Cucamonga Triangle is supposedly a UFO, but the group thinks it's more likely a plane.  The Webcam Ghost looks like cheap CG SFX. The Drone UFO is another in the continuing series of jellyfish-like drone hoaxes: more CG.  The Wiltshire Crop Circle seems complex, but Bill notes humans can make very complex circles; a second video seems to show a globe of light in the circle (though it looks like a bug or fluff to me).  The two cases they decide to focus on are the Paulding Light in MI (supposedly a ghost light warning trains) and the Ghost Track of San Antonio, TX, where cars supposedly move uphill on their own (pushed by ghosts killed in a bus accident).  As always, the team splits into two groups to investigate.  These "phenomena" seem to have easy, non-supernatural explanations to me; we'll see how the teams do.

The Paulding light has souvenir shops set up nearby, propagating the ghost lantern story.  The proprietors take the team out to the vantage point, which looks like view down a power line right-of-way.  Some witnesses think it could be reflections or lights from small planes in a nearby airport.  The team sets up cameras, as the light is reported pretty much every night; they also plan to drive down the lines to try and find it.  Sure enough, the light soon appears, and they give chase, but can't find it. So they run some scans. but find no unusual natural phenomena. The light doesn't even turn up on their infrared camera.  Next day, they head to the airport to do a fly over with a bright light, but they can't fly low enough to replicate the light. Next, they try car headlights.  They shut down the highway so they're the only car on the suspect roadway, but their observer doesn't see their lights - though he sees the bright white Paulding Light, even when they turn their lights out.  Since their actual scientific experiments have "failed," they go to EVP to try to record ghost voices.  (At this point, they have veered from science to fantasy.)  Naturally, the EVPs don't turn up anything.  Why they didn't try to track the light down on foot, keeping it in sight as they went, I don't know; that would seem an obvious course - especially over the course of several nights.  Or maybe they should bring in an expert on optics and reflection (as that show, the name of which escapes me, with Amanda Tapping once did).  While they get points for doing a multi-day investigation, they clearly didn't keep at it long enough.  Thus, the Paulding Light remains mysterious.

I'm betting that the ghost track phenomena will end up being an optical illusion, where you're actually rolling downhill when it appears you're rolling up.  (Anyone who's been to any of the Mystery Spots scattered throughout America will be familiar with this illusion.)  We'll see what they figure out, though. They meet the witness and borrow his car to replicate the video; they clean the car to try and remove any "ghost" prints.  Then, they put the car in neutral, take out the keys, and release the clutch and brake.  Sure enough, the car starts to roll and quickly picks up speed -- and they almost get hit by a train.  They try it again, and it happens again, this time rolling them directly up the little hill near the tracks and across those tracks before stopping.  At this point, I'd try it with a basketball or something similar, but they decide to dust for ghost prints - and, not surprisingly, find nothing. (Suggesting the "ghost" prints the witness saw were on his car before the original incident.)  Then they test with a school bus, which rolls over the tracks, too.  Again, they test for prints, but again find nothing; hauling a water level out on the terrain might be a better idea.  Instead, they test for magnetism & electric fields, and find nothing there, too.  Finally, they pull out a surveyor's level and do some real, scientific measuring.  Which means they figure out exactly what I supposed right at the start: optical illusion.  They also discover that the legend of the school bus accident didn't even happen in Texas.  So, while it took them a while, and they left the Paulding Light as a mystery, at least they got one right.  I'm beginning to think we'll never get a show with two "fakes," though; this seemed like a strong candidate.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Predator; Red Sky at Night

SyFy - Original Air Date: 8/5/10

The show starts, as usual, reviewing videos and determining what cases to follow.  Stairway ghost turns out to have cuts, shadows behind ghosts, and 2 people pretending to be one on different floors.  Campfire creature they figure is just a person crawling at the edge of the firelight.  Russian Pyramid shows a pyramid-shaped UFO over Moscow's Red Square, but seems an obvious hoax, due to lack of witnesses in this very public space.  The cases they investigate are the Beast of Dartmoor, some kind of mysterious bounding animal that looks like a black lion, and El Cajon Triangle, a Feb. 2008 UFO sighting of red lights in a triangular formation.  Half the group goes to England while the other goes to CA.

The Dartmoor beast has a legend that sounds like The Hound of the Baskervilles - your basic hellhound haunting the moors.  (It looks like a gussied up hound to me.)  They locate the spot where the film was taken, then go to a local animal farm to film a pony, a Labrador-like dog, and a lion against a green screen to compare to the film.  Pony & dog don't look good on film; the lion looks similar, but not enough. A wild boar or a large black (zoo) cat, perhaps?  So they go looking with a local game expert and find a ram carcass scattered over a hillside.  They set up cameras and search in the dark (naturally).  They hear a deep growl, spot horses in the dark, and find another carcass.  Returning home, they create a composite cat-boar simulation in their computer.  (Why?)  England is home to no native big cats, yet people are seeing something.  They don't think the video was hoaxed (though I wouldn't rule it out), so there's "something" in Dartmoor. But what?

The El Cajon team interviews Paul, the video eyewitness. (I sense a voice analysis coming.)  The witness says the lights just hung out and then slowly went out; he wonders if it was a helicopter. The team goes to the Mojave to check out some theories.  Sky lanterns have trouble in the Mojave winds, but the team doesn't think it's the lights anyway.  Lights on a helicopter look right, but the helicopter is clearly audible. But what about a balloon with safety flares on a triangular rig - a simple hoax? Turns out, that's a perfect match, and the show declares the lights over El Cajon a hoax.  It's nice to see them come to this conclusion, as they'd "gone easy" (in my opinion) on many recent investigations.  And I'm still not convinced about that beast.  But how much can you do in a 1-hour show?  Thankfully, there is no bogus voice analysis this week, probably because they already ruled the "UFO" a hoax.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Off the Deep End; Houseguest

SyFy - Original Air Date: 7/29/10

The group assembles, as usual, to try to find cases worth investigating.  Sacramento lights pulsing in the sky could just be a flare hoax.  Kitchen poltergeist ends up looking like fishing line, and there are explanation videos for the hoax online.  North Carolina alien crossing looks like a composite digital effect.  Good calls on those, so let's get on to the cases actually investigated.

Raystown Bay, PA: In a man-made lake is something that looks like the Loch Ness monster, "Raystown Ray."  There's only a single photo, but the case has eyewitnesses, which is enough to send the team to check it out.  They decide that the sightings could be rotting logs (a well-known lake monster theory), so they head out and almost immediately find a floating log, made to order, and tow it around.  Some of the photos look good, but not as good as the photo they're working from.  Next they try some black PVC pipe, with a keel and a board monster head and humps. Looks good again, but Jael doubts a local could have pulled off such a hoax unobserved.  So they go sonar sweeping and diving -- at night, naturally (stupidly) -- and get some sonar hits (though I'd be more impressed if they had a pro fisherman interpreting the data).  Nothing turns up, so they go fishing for monsters, but they only snag the line on the bottom.  They decide that maybe there's something down there, though it's still unexplained.  (Still looks Photoshopped to me.)

The Ghost Writer, writes answers to questions on Polaroid pictures, as they develop -- supposedly on cameras brought by anyone.  Though (journalist) Chu-Lan isn't convinced, and it looks like a cheap magic trick to me, they decide to check it out.  Unfortunately, Bill - who had the "believer" cases last 2 weeks -- is leading this team, and if the first hadn't turned out "real," I'd be laying odds that this one turns out to be "real, too. The photos still look like a trick to me,  and it's odd that the spirit's messages get clearer and easier to read as time goes on: almost like a hoaxer learning to improve his craft.  After some witness interviews and vortex mumbo-jumbo, they start taking pictures: nada.  So, they're thinking maybe something man-made.  They make some acetates and double expose the Polaroid film in a dark room, then re-insert the film in the cartridge, but the test proves inconclusive; most of the shots mysteriously don't turn out.  (Reload problem, maybe/)  Next they try words on Plexiglas, in front of the photographer, but they see reflections on the plexi.  So, thinking it's maybe supernatural, they use ground penetrating radar to look for bodies buried beneath the house.  They find some bones, but they're cow and chicken bones, so, nada there, too.  Voice analysis again finds "truth" in the witnesses -- though again, I doubt the validity of this test.  Again, they call this one real/unexplained.

When the first case turned up "real," I had high hopes for Bill's case being "fake," thereby preserving the balance of the show and giving Bill some credibility in my mind.  (Frankly, he seems like a "true believer.")  Sadly, instead, we got 2 "unexplained/real" conclusions on cases that seem, to me, to not have been investigated enough.  The Ghost Writer, particularly, I think is some kind of magician's trick; Polaroids respond to pressure or something (if I remember), like a magic slate.  But, again, no professional magicians are consulted, and even photo expert Chu-Lan is stumped (but hasn't pushed hard enough).

I'm hoping that this show will now have a "two hoax" episode, though since this type of program caters to believers, I'm worried that will never happen. Again, I'd urge them to go more the way of Mythbusters than Ghost Hunters or UFO Hunters. Try harder; keep at it; call in better experts.  Don't play your audience for chumps.

(I have no idea why this episode was listed as "Caretaker: Cutter" - "Raystown; Ghost Writer" would have seemed more appropriate.)

Revision Note 8/2/10: Apparently, per a viewer comment, the show was mis-titled when broadcast, and is actually called "Off the Deep End; Houseguest."  I have re-titled the post, but kept the original post intact.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Unwanted Visitors; Strange Sightings

SyFy - Original Air Date: 7/22/10

The second week of this new show kicks of with videos of two UFOs crashing together (possible Israeli missile strike), an "angel" at a crash scene (possible lens/film problem), and a Gettysburg ghost in the woods (possible optical trickery) .  They settle on the Fresno "Night Crawler" video, a stick-like figure walking by a surveillance camera, (looks like a marionettes to me, and no original tape exists; fuzzy tapes hide a multitude of fakes.) and a Lake Havasu flying saucer (looks like the Balloon Boy balloon to me).

They interview the witness in Fresno, check out the scene, and try to recreate the video using a kid in a costume and a mechanical puppet on a pulley, once showing the armature and the second time covered by a sheet.  Then they try it by walking the puppet across using a pole and removing the operator with special effects.  They then investigate some local woods -- at night of course -- wondering if the "crawler" could be something living.  They experience the same battery problems endemic to paranormal investigation shows - and naturally speculate about this being caused by "creatures."  Their thermal camera picks up some mysterious movement (probably animals). Their voice analysis of the witness suggests truth telling (though I'm not sure I buy their use of this technology, nor their conclusion, as nervous shaking often indicates lying, not truth telling).  I have to say, I'm not impressed with either the skepticism or the investigative technique in this segment.  For one thing, this is the same team that declared the lights in last week's show "real."  For another, to me the crawler footage looks similar to the "walking gnome" video that made the internet rounds last year - and was proved to be a puppet (as I recall).  Finally, I believe that I could create a very similar "creature" using a "flying ghost" that I had in our yard several years ago.  A good mechanic, or stage magician could make it even more convincing.

The second team goes to Lake Havasu and interviews the witnesses.  Here, we get a bit more context for the footage, though still -- annoyingly -- not the complete clip.  They start by trying a "reflection in glass" trick, similar to one they did last week, but this time with a model UFO rather than lasers; no dice.  They then decide to launch a huge silver UFO balloon (found on the internet) from the state park, run it up to 1000 feet and see how it compares.  In the words of the team, "It looks just like the video."  If untethered and left to float, it seems sure to have the same flight characteristics as the object in the video.  They then go looking for people who have seen the UFO at the time reported, and also saw it as a balloon.  Sure enough, they turn up a park ranger who actually saw the balloon shortly after the launch.  It might have been associated with a movie being shot in the area.  Great flying saucer footage, but declared "fake."  Case closed; well investigated.

So, again, one "real" and one fake.  As I said in the previous review, I fear this may be a trend.  And the "real" investigation really stopped short once they got close to an explanation.  In future, I suggest that the show may want to add a professional magician to the team and adopt an "If I really wanted to do this, how would I achieve that effect?" attitude with each video.  They should also add a professional hunter/tracker, so animals on a thermal camera at night don't become mysterious "creatures."  And while they're making personnel changes, dumping a few "believers" from the production/marketing staff might help this show become truly useful for paranormal investigation, rather than useful about half the time.

FACT OR FAKED - Burning Rubber; Hyperjump (Series Premier)

SyFy - Original Air Date: 7/15/10

"Former FBI Agent" Ben Hanson leads a team of investigators (including Jael from Destination Truth) and experts as they evaluate footage sent to them and try to determined whether its Fact or Faked. The show starts with the group gathered together looking at weird footage: shadow figures in the woods and a bedroom, an alien in someone's bedroom, and figuring out which bears more investigation. In this part of the show, the group shows some good critical thinking skills, dismissing some as manipulated, others as possible puppets, and finally zeroing in on two cases: one where a car seems to drive right through a fence to escape a pursuing cop in Georgia, and another of mysterious lights over Arizona.  The group splits into two teams and goes to investigate.  The "ghost car" team checks with witnesses, finds the scene of the chase, and then recreates it -- at each step, ruling out paranormal happenings (such as the car moving amazingly fast).  Finally, they set up some scenarios for driving "through" the fence.  They do manage to jump a car over the fence, but not without damage.  Then they hit on the idea of loosening some of the fence fasteners -- which the officer reported during the case.  Doing that allows a speeding car to drive right through; the fence flexes and then swings back down, perfectly intact -- just in time to foil the pursuing cop.  One very lucky perp.

The second segment deals with lights appearing at dusk over an Arizona mountain range.  While these lights look to me like the Phoenix Lights, which UFOs Over Phoenix conclusively proved to be military flares, the crew dismisses the flare theory.  They play some flare footage which does not look comparable (though it's the wrong angle and distance), and the witness says the Air Force said they weren't dropping flares on the night in question. Sadly, the team does not seem to call the military to double check that (and we know that the military sometimes makes mistakes in such cases, or denies "secret" flights).  They then try to recreate the lights using lasers reflected off of glass and lights attached to balloons.  Their results, while interesting, do not match the video.  They then set up night cameras and poke around in the dark for a while (seemingly required for any investigation show - though conducting ground searches at night seems like a foolish idea to me).  And they do catch some "strange lights" in the sky on video.  Though one looks like an atmospheric phenomenon to me, several others are genuinely odd.  Unfortunately, the program doesn't show enough of the footage surrounding the sightings to get a proper context.  Mysterious, yes, but certainly not the lights they were investigating.  Calling in an aviation or space expert would seem to be in order, but they don't do it.  They claim the footage supports the idea of new UFO sightings over Phoenix.  (Note that UFOs are merely unidentified, not "aliens.")

To me, though, the original footage -- which the program never seems to show enough of to gain proper context -- looks like a "string" of flares being dropped, lighting up, and then going out one by one in the order they were dropped.  If not the military, it could have even been fireworks dropped by a private plane as a prank.  I have no evidence for this, but my scenarios (military or private) seem a far more reasonable explanation than the "hyperjump" being claimed for the mystery lights.

My fear with this show -- and other shows in the paranormal investigation genre -- is that we'll get results that are skewed away from science and toward retaining viewers every week. (I've seen similar problems in MonsterQuest, Ghost Hunters, and other programs.)  Viewers want to believe, and they may get bored with "we found nothing unusual" week after week.  Thus, I am concerned that each week on this program we may get one debunked case, and one "real" case -- and on the "real" case, the team will just stop looking/investigating/probing before they should.  It would be nice if this show were the Mythbusters of the paranormal.  Instead, it's likely to be more like Destination Truth without the interesting personalities.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Inside Secret Government Warehouses

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date: 7/11/10

This show sets out to explore secret storehouses (in conjunction with the SyFy series Warehouse 13).  They go to an abandoned military base in Montauk, NY, into the skies above area 51 in Nevada, and to the secret archives of the Vatican.  The host, CNN's Lester Holt, lends the show an air of credibility, and seems to get the program access that may similar programs lack -- the Vatican, Area 51, and Montauk trips, for instance, as well as interviews with top scientists and government figures.  They also have a good range of believers (including friend of the blog, Don Schmitt), skeptics, experts, and witnesses -- some of whom are more credible than others.  Holt and his crew press officials hard, and go further than most programs of this type.  Indeed, Holt has a history of such investigations, and seems to have a personal interest in digging out the truth.  As usual in such shows, there are intriguing glimpses and tantalizing suggestions.  But also, as usual, there is very little solid evidence presented in the end, and no groundbreaking revelations are brought to light.  There are the witness stories, there is a cast of an "alien" jaw that may or may not be real, and there are certainly some secret installations and hidden information.  But, sadly, there are no real conclusions drawn save things that are already commonly believed, such as: Area 51 tests secret aircraft and is probably an environmental disaster area (due to lack of EPA oversight because the place does not officially exist).  At the start of the 2 hours, the program poses this series of questions: What are they hiding? Where are they hiding it? And why is it hidden? Sadly, few of those questions are answered by the end of the show.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Truth Behind the Ark

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown (6/5/10)

The show goes looking for the truth behind the Noah's Ark legend.  Many believe the remains of Noah's Ark lie on Mt. Ararat or Dura Pinar in Turkey.  Others say the boat-like Dura Pinar structure is merely natural geology -- science and faith remain divided.  History shows that the ark story is common to many cultures, with many names for the heroic boat builder.  The bible says the boat should be 450' long, and the commonly considered site is longer, though this is perhaps because of using Egyptian cubits rather than standard ones for measurements.  (Believers have "good" reasons for all the many inconsistencies.)  Supporters of the Dura Pinar site claim to have found petrified animal bones and rivets, but geologists remain sure that this evidence are merely a geological features.  Astronaut Jim Irwin was a believer in the ark; he didn't find it.  Believers claim that in extraordinary conditions, wood can be petrified in decades, rather than over centuries; scientists aren't buying it; the believers' petrified wood is merely plain old rock.

Believers claim that pre-flood trees grew to twice their current size, 5-600' long for a single-piece keel. There is no archeological evidence for this, and the largest prehistoric boat found in Europe from the same time is merely 100' x 15'.  The outside surface of the Biblical ark would be 150,000 square feet of timber.  Using period tools, researcher Goodburn takes 10 hours to make and join 2 small planks, and they're not very waterproof.  Supporters say Noah had more advanced technology.  (Again, there is no actual evidence of this -- and the Turkish government isn't allowing believers to dig in Dura Pinar.)  But the believers' supposed iron brackets are merely volcanic iron rocks, and the Iron Age came more than 2000 years later.  The show explains how iron, over time, infiltrates such a site; "It's a perfectly natural structure," a geologist says.  Water tank tests with a Biblically sized ark quickly flood and capsize the model.  Of course, believers have an explanation for this, too - claiming a set of standing stones nearby in Turkey acted as counter weights.  But the stones they cite as anchors are local, not from Mesopotamia (where Noah came from).

Additionally, there is no archeological evidence for a worldwide flood 2400 years before Christ, nor for meteor strikes or sub-surface aquifers that could flood the surface.  There is evidence, though, that the Black Sea was once a lake that was flooded by the sea 9400 years ago, during the thaw from the last ice age, which raised water levels planet wide.  Ancient Mesopotamian flood accounts tell of the hero building a round ship, like those used to transport animals in Iraq even today.  Most scholars believe that the ark story was always a myth, and science proves that a boat on that scale cold not have been built in ancient times.  But for believers, belief is enough, because they want everything in the bible to be literally true, and will explain away evidence to the contrary.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Truth Behind the Bermuda Triangle

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown (6/6/10)

This show dives into the deep and unleashes science and logic to uncover the truth behind the Bermuda Triangle - or so the opening claims. They go over the usual Triangle mythology, and present the usual raft of believers racking up big numbers for mysterious triangle disappearances.  Believers claim that no wreckage exists, and the disappearance may be caused by everything from UFOs to Atlantean death rays.  Joe Nickel believes that though there are mysteries, they have rational explanations.  The show examines the disappearance of Flight 19.  One expert blames electrically charged fog, and Bruce Gernon claims to have encountered it and experienced strange phenomena.  He believes that he saw the fabric of time itself.  He and meteorologist David Pares examine the account, and believe the fog may be caused by solar wind ionizing air and generating a charged cloud, which interferes with airplane instruments.  Pares thinks this same "fog" may have disrupted Flight 19, but skeptics point out there is no actual proof of the theory.  Gernon's flight to check out the theory experiences an electronic malfunction, which he writes off as a mechanical problem.

Other people believe that the missing ships and planes are merely lying on the bottom of the ocean.  They continue checking the many wrecks, looking for some of the famous ones.  Others believe that escaping methane may cause ships to sink by decreasing water density.  Model tests have shown that the Cyclops, a famous lost ship, could have been sunk by an event like this - and tests suggest perhaps methane could affect low-flying airplanes as well.  But such events would be as likely as being hit by a meteor.  The depths and currents in the area make it difficult to find any sunken vessel.  One of the original search team believes that Flight 19 simply got lost, went down, and broke up.  Many say that bad weather can explain many disappearances; others say rogue waves could be the cause.  But even when wrecks are found, it's hard to pin down exactly what they are, and thus the mysteries will likely continue for a long time.

This show is interesting for its experiments and use of models to check out various Triangle theories, including the ones mentioned in this review.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Truth Behind Crop Circles

National Geographic Channel - Original Broadcast Date: Unknown

Nat Geo's supernatural shows are generally more skeptical than other similar shows, and this one is no exception. After a bit of background - including the Doug & Dave story -- Skeptics and believers line up on either side of the crop circle phenomenon, and present their arguments. The "Julia Set" circle supposedly appeared near Stonehenge in broad daylight.  Professor Christopher French (at the University of London), who specializes in the psychology of the paranormal, believes that a desire to believe distorts the perceptions of believers.  He points out that the stories about the discovery of the circle are inconsistent, and tests show that task fixation - inattentional blindness -- can make people miss seemingly obvious objects or events.  They show an attention-testing video where people who are asked to concentrate on counting bouncing balls miss a pilot walking through the scene.  Other believers claim that the complex crop patterns cannot be made by humans.  (And clearly they've never seen a Wisconsin corn maze in the shape of the US, either.)  To see if this is true, a mathematician draws a complex pattern and challenges human circle makers led by John Lundberg to duplicate it.  The group does, and they do it on a night with only 4 hours of darkness.  (Lundberg, an artist, sees the crop cricle "researchers" as publicity agents for his art.)

Believers cite appearances of supernatural balls of light, orbs, that accompany circles.  The show recaps the 1996 John Wade orb circle creation hoax, which some still believe - and even claim it would be hard to replicate.  But the show recreates the fake video with software comparable to what hoaxer Wade used in just a couple of hours.  Next, the show tackles the claim that nitrate and radiation levels in crop circles are higher than in other places.  Testing the man-made circle vs. a supposed real one, a scientist finds no difference in either area.  He also mentions that trace radiation from natural and man-made sources is common, and fertilizers contain nitrates.  He concludes that all crop circles are likely made by people.  So, what about the "personal experiences" of the supernatural and sacred that people have in the circles?  One man describes the circles as "temporary temples." An experiment with crystals that subjects are told may cause strange sensations, 80+% report the expected experiences -- though the "crystals" are merely cut glass.  The power of suggestibility is strong, and people will often find what they are looking for. Certainly, with crop circles, this seems to be the case.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Paranatural - Chupacabra

National Geographic - Original Air Date:

NatGeo's new series looks at whether the blood-sucking chupacabra is myth, a real animal, or supernatural.  Texas ranchers and others are seeing a hairless doglike creature with a long snout and believe the thing is killing their small livestock.  The creature has been caught on film, and there are even a few carcasses to examine -- though this is not the monkey-like creature first reported to be the Chupacabra in Puerto Rico.  The show compares some good evidence, and even has a track comparison with the animal, dogs, and wolves.  It also has witness interviews, some seemingly more reliable than others.  Friend of Uncanny Radio Nick Redfern gives some background, and mentions a possible UFO connection - though he also posits it could be some form of large vampire bat, at least in the Puerto Rican cases.  He also suggests that escaped monkeys could have started the original "monster" -- and, indeed, the monkeys might fit the classic description.  Clearly the things in Texas are not monkeys, but Puerto Rico is also home to many wild dogs.

Forensic examination of a carcass rules out dogs and wolves, and a team sets out to catch a live specimen for examination.  The hunters come up short, but another carcass turns up and a piece is sent for DNA analysis.  The body is also taken for XRays.  DNA suggests that the animal is a hybrid of coyote and wolf, but the scientist is not sure why it lacks hair.  The scientist suggests that, in the case of this and other alleged monsters, people see what they want to see.  In reality, this animal is just a hybrid.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

American Paranormal - Haunted Prison

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 1/24/10

A group of researchers composed of scientists investigates Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the "most haunted" prisons in America.  Along the way, the show explains that most ghost hunting expeditions don't have the equipment to actually detect ghosts -- as no one knows what ghosts are made of; they are far more likely (with EMF detectors) to detect their own equipment.  The team also posits that ghosts, which are said to pass through walls, cannot be made of normal atoms, though they could be made of neutrinos, which can pass through normal matter.  Unfortunately, ghost hunters cannot detect neutrinos.  They then show, through experimentation, that people who believe in ghosts are more likely to report strange happenings in the prison; one group is told that the prison is haunted, the other that sightings seldom happen there.  The believers report far more strange feelings and experiences than the skeptics.

Another group of scientists posits that sound -- infrasound -- may contribute to people feeling that a place is haunted.  A 3D scan of the prison reveals that it seems ideal for magnifying low-frequency sounds.  Such sounds can contribute to eerie feelings people get.  Once again, they experiment on two groups, one in an area with infrasound, one without.  The people subjected to infrasound report far more uneasiness -- and even the scientist running the experiment reports feeling strange.  Infrasound works by vibrating body parts, including the eye and inner ear (which controls balance) though it cannot be heard -- it can even cause flashes of light and distorted vision.  The scientists are impressed with how strong the reactions are from both believers and skeptics in the infrasound area.  They conclude that sound can lead to sightings, especially in a place, like the prison, that will amplify them.  They note that though they now have some scientific theories about why ghosts are encountered, they have not disproved the existence of ghosts.

In the final part of the show, the team monitors the prison with a battery of scientific equipment, "a virtual ambush of cutting edge technology," including audio and video and heat sensors.  The next day, they return to see what the equipment found.  They find a strange sound at 3:15 am, and the thermal camera reveals a spectral blue glow on the ceiling: cold/moisture on a skylight -- rain on the roof, causing infrasound.  The researchers suggest that the physical environment of the prison is conducive to people seeing and hearing things, and even picking things up on camera and recorders.  Is this a "final" explanation for ghosts?  Maybe not, but it does confirm that people, and equipment, can be fooled by natural phenomena.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Spirits of Easter Island & the Moa

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/21/10

Are the giant heads of Easter Island haunted?  Is a supposedly extinct giant bird lurking in the New Zealand hinterlands?  (Moi and Moa, get it?)  Josh and crew head into the Pacific to check out these rumors.  Apparently, if you are not accepted by the Easter Island spirits, you can be in deep trouble; so Josh has to drink a potion concocted by a local shaman.  He & Ryder go on a quest to find the plant to brew the tea (looking like a day trip to Shutter Island) and hope it will help them find the spirits.  As usual, they'll be poking around at night and setting up the usual camp & perimeter cameras and stuff.  They spot a "crazy glow" and race off into the rain and darkness to find it, but encounter only a fallen Moi.  While there, a team member suddenly feels like he's being touched by a hand, and quickly strips off his clothes to reveal... nothing.  Another team member imagines someone calling his name.  Then, while looking for EVPs in a cave, they hear a strange, roaring "voice."  More moans follow, and other team members think they see bare legs running through the landscape.  Later, they review the mysterious evidence, but find no explanation for lights or moans (which seemed to set off their EMF meter, too).  Guess that tea worked.

From giant stone heads to giant birds, the team heads to New Zealand's south island where, lately, people claim to have seen the Moa - which has been extinct for 400 years.  Could a giant (12' tall) dino-bird be lurking in the deep forests and glacial fields?  Josh looks at the bones of the bird in a museum, and the curator describes the birds as using their feet to attack and gouge people hunting them.  They talk to a witness with a fuzzy photo and head into the fiordlands.  Yeah. It looks like the Lord of the Rings.  Poking around on the glaciers, Josh takes a bad slide downhill, but is fortunately saved by his companion and a lifeline.  No Moa, though.  Eventually, at lower altitudes, they do the usual camp and look around in the dark thing.  Josh confesses he would be Aragorn if this were LOTR, and Ryder claims Legolas.  Spotting something on the FLIR, Josh runs through the forest to try and catch it, which results in another scary tumble.  They then hear strange bird sounds and find some small animal bones and feathers and large footprints.  With all that, they head back to the US to analyze.  The bird call is rare, but not from the Moa; nor are the feathers.  The bones are from small mammals, and the footprints are unlikely Moa, though clearly from a large bird.  Josh speculates that it's possible that some tiny population of smaller Moa (not the 12-foot kind) may survive in remote regions.

It's been another fun "season" (whatever that means on SyFy; about 8 episodes, I think), but despite the fun of the chase, few monsters to be had.  As to Truth... Well, I guess not finding anything is truth, too, though maybe not the truth most viewers are hoping for.  How long can they not find monsters before they run out of monster to not find?  Tune in next season to find out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghosts of Petra: The Lizard Man

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/14/10

Josh & team go into the Mideast and deep south in search of this week's subjects.  First up, Petra (from Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade) - an ancient and amazing city in Jordan, rumored to be haunted by Djinn (which, in this show, seem more akin to ghosts than to genii). After hitting the city of Aman, they head into the desert to talk to the Bedouin about the Djinn, who tell them of the ghostly spirits.  They poke around in the dark (Notice no spooks come out in the daylight?), set up the usual surveillance equipment, and start to hear strange sounds.  In later analysis with the Ghost Hunters, the sounds remain mysterious, and one of the sounds seems clearly to be a voice answering "Yes" to the question "Is there anybody here?"  (Though it might be the tail end of an echo.)  Djinn or no, I am envious of this exploration; day or night, Petra looks amazing.

In Bishopville, South Carolina, people are sighting a lizard man in reports dating back to 1988 near Scape Ore Swamp.  Whatever the thing is, it's been seen recently by multiple people, and it seems to like to damage cars.  Josh goes up in a small, experimental plane to canvas the swampland, which is remote and thickly forested.  Josh calls a town meeting to talk to the locals, and gets lots of of descriptions and advice.  In the swamp, the team sets up base with the usual cameras and detectors.  They get a hit on the thermal, and something sets off their perimeter alarm, so they do some chasing through the woods.  When they see a dark shape and attempt to follow it, they get a low growl (like a cougar or boar).  Heading home, the whole set up in Bishopville seems a bit suspicious to Josh.  The car damage is not made by any lizard like teeth, an expert says.  The growl is believed to be a dog or coyote, and the footprints are declared fakes (they're identical - just stamped out).  Josh believes the whole thing to be a hoax to attract tourists.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Haunted Mining Town & The Taniwha

Syfy Channel - Original Air Date: 4/7/10

First, Josh and crew head to Chile, to check out two rumored ghost towns - La Noria and Humberstone.  (Again, we have a guest helper, a new trend with the show - but not of interest to anyone but fans of the guests.)  Locals believe the mining towns are haunted because of the rotten way they treated their workers.  The towns are tough to find, but they do some aerial reconnaissance using para-gliders and locate them.   They then set up camp with cameras and motion detectors, etc.  They find the very grizzly local cemetery, stake it out, and start to see things.  Yet, they speed off to investigate the other city, which is in better repair.  They poke around, get scared by random sounds and shadows, take photos, and do some EVP sessions.  But all they get is a shoulder through a window - that looks to me like it might be a reflection - and the usual fuzzy EVPs (which strangely seem to be in English, as usual).

From there, it's on to New Zealand to look for a fearsome Maori water serpent, the taniwha.  After some whitewater searching, they head to a traditional Maori village to seek experts in the monster -- whom the Maori see as a guardian spirit.  They follow a lead to a local lake with a sighting within the week.  Naturally, they set up night-vision, IR, and underwater cameras.  Almost immediately, they start seeing things in the water, including something very large on the thermal.  They also go wading in a cave where the monster supposedly lives, and something unseen brushes past their legs.  Finding nothing more, they return to the US and analyze the footage. The US expert thinks the sightings may be the long-fin eel, a local oddity.  Josh concludes that the taniwha is most likely the local eels combined with legend and ancient spirituality.

DESTINATION TRUTH - Jersey Devil & Yeren

SyFy Channel - Original Air Date 3/31/10

Josh & crew go to New Jersey to look for the legendary Jersey Devil.  After goofing around in the woods, they set up the usual camp and surveillance equipment and look for the beast.  They hear strange and frightening sounds (coyotes, it turns out), and spot something warm using the Flir during a helicopter trip -- but they can't pin it down.  Their night vision cameras even spot something flying through the treetops -- but for all the detail, it could be a UFO as easily as a monster.  In the end, they conclude that some "sightings" are certainly caused by local animals, like the coyote wails and the fleet-footed deer that dashes out in front of their car.  But whether there's a real monster...?  Again, this seems like an investigation where more time might yield more conclusive results.

Then they head out to China to look for the local bigfoot, the Yeren (spelled differently in other shows, I believe).  The Chinese government has set aside some habitat for this crypto beast, and Josh and company want to see if there's anything behind it.  One local expert believes he has actual yeren hair; sadly, they don't get to test the samples on their own.  'Nobody's better at almost finding monsters than us," observes one of the team as they head into the wilds.  Granted permission to explore an area normally forbidden to foreigners, they set up their usual high-tech surveillance and camera traps, then go looking for yeren.  They chase shadows in the woods and sounds in a cave, but find nothing.  Later, they chase more shadows through the woods, get some footage, and find some scat, which they take for analysis.  But the sample is too degraged to yield results, and their bit of Flir footage is too distant to yield any identification.  As the crew member said, "Nobody's better at almost finding monsters than us."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

MONSTERQUEST - American Werewolf 2

History Channel - Original Air Date: 3/24/10

Taking a break from bigfoot, MQ tackles the werewolf again. You remember that last time they looked at Bray Road and environs, talking to my friend (& radio co-host) Linda Godfrey.  This time, they start by talking to Steve Kreuger about his Holy Hill encounter, and he tells his bear-wolf story (as in his Uncanny Radio interview).  Peggy Calahan works with wolves and believes that strange creature sightings are misidentifications.  The MQ team goes to Michigan to check out the dog-man story and look for evidence, setting the usual camera traps.  Local hunters have seen large wolves in the area, but the investigators immediately start talking about supernatural possibilities - especially the Native American team member.  Linda shows up to talk about werewolf history, including the Grenier killings.  Then the show investigates Steve Cook and his 2006 dog-man video, allegedly bought in an estate sale -- the famous Gable Film.  The film shows a shaggy creature charging the cameraman, and an expert at first lends it some credibility.

The show then talks to some more witnesses, including some who have heard howls, and others that have sighted strange wolfmen.  One even has some casts of strange prints.  Call blasting of wolf cries ensues, and -- for once -- they get some wolf-like howls back.  Back at the video, Ms. Callahan says the beast does not look like wolf - but rather gorilla-like.  The video expert suggests the famous "jaws" shot at the end of the film may have been spliced in; he wants to see the original.  When Linda confronts Cook about the film, Cook admits it's a hoax.  Mike Agrusa, local machinist, actually made the film by studying vintage film and using his collection of antique vehicles.  He wanted to capitalize on Cook's song about the dog man, and wore a ghillie suit himself to make the "creature."  He made the "sequel" film -- thereby pressing his luck -- using spray foam to simulate entrails and himself as the victim.  Agrusa says there might still be some creature out there, but it's clear he's just a hoaxer.  (Can I say, "I told you so!" now?)  The camera traps turn up animals, but nothing unusual.

After all the hours of analysis on the web and elsewhere spent on the Gable film, it turns out all you need to fool some "experts" is a collection of old vehicles, an ancient camera, and a bit of army surplus.  Professional magicians and con men know that the easiest people to fool are those who want to believe in something. My advice?  Before you believe an "amazing" film you see on the internet, ask yourself: "If I wanted to create this effect, how would I do it?"  Unlike many MQ episodes, this one presents a solid object lesson as well as supernatural mythology.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghosts of the Great Wall & Israeli Mermaid

History Channel - Original Air Date: 3/24/10

The Great Wall of China has a grim history, and recent deaths of workers & tourists have some thinking the wall may be haunted.  So, naturally Josh & the DT crew have to go check it out.  After goofing around in Beijing, they head to the "Wild Wall" to start investigating.  They rappel down one section of the wall (Ryder almost falls), and hike to a remote part of the wall to set up operations.  They hear noises and get an odd Flir hit, but Josh theorizes that the "footsteps" being reported are actually rustling birds, too small for the thermal camera to pick up.  Then, Josh feels someone grab his backpack, but there's no one around.  Later, he feels it again, and his backpack recorder -- with a mechanical switch -- is mysteriously turned off.  Other people also have experiences, and one of the team nearly falls off the wall.  As usual with ghost-hunting debriefing, they talk to Jason & Grant from Ghosthunters -- and turn up an EVP (mysteriously in English).  And for once, Josh is a little freaked out by his encounters.

Next, they head to Israel to find a Mediterranean mermaid (with a million-dollar bounty on her head).  Locals claim to have seen and even been touched by the creature.  They kayak around some caves looking for it, with no luck, and then head to Cesarea, location of some sightings to go diving.  Despite a hit on their sonar, and brief glimpse of a large shadow, they find nothing and move on to the main sighting area.  Come night, they patrol and catch something that looks like the silhouette of a head and shoulders on one of their cameras.  A further thermal hits prompts some diving by Josh, but all he finds are ancient ruins and trash.  Analyzing the films, the expert suggests a monk seal, perhaps, though -- as the show notes -- the ocean still holds many secrets.