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.

DESTINATION TRUTH - Ghosts of Masada & the Leprechaun

History Channel - Original Air Date 3/17/10

This review will be short, as a change in DVRs left my recorder unprepared to catch this new show in the series.  However, I did manage to catch most of it on a late-night re-run (while admittedly half asleep).  So, Josh & the crew go to Israel to look for ghosts, and Ireland to look for the little people.  They have the usual spooky encounters and just-before-the-break cliffhangers  Because they're amusing people, I'm amused.  On Masada, a forbidding hilltop fortress, they catch a mysterious, shadowlike figure on film where no people should be -- i.e. atop a long-deserted ruin when they're the only people around.  In Ireland, they catch some thermal hits and a few odd lights, but no solid proof of the little people.  As usual, the show gets by on the charm and (mis)adventures of Josh & the crew.  If you liked them last time, you'll probably like them now - especially in their swimsuits (in the Dead Sea).  Mostly, it seemed a pretty standard show.  If I have a chance to catch the full episode, and there's something more of note, I'll do a longer review or add to this one.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MONSTERQUEST - Sierra Sasquatch

History Channel - Original Air Date: 3/17/10

You'll never guess what's on MonsterQuest for this Saint Patrick's day?  Yep, another Bigfoot show.  I guess this shouldn't be surprising, my Bigfoot blank book is one of my best sellers.  So if MQ has gone to this well damn often, maybe we can't blame them.  Bigfoot is, well, big.

We start with Butch Young, a military trainee who had an encounter with 2 bigfoots (bigfeet?) during a nighttime wargame patrol.  He and his patrol didn't get a good look, but they know the humanoids they saw in the hills that night weren't other people in their maneuvers.  They have another military eyewitness -- this time in the day -- later in the show.  John Mionszynski is skeptical; he thinks most "bigfoot" tracks are known animals misidentified.  Naturally, MQ has to send out teams - including regular Jeff Meldrum - to look around, and examine, er, footage.  They take up a plane that can glide silently to do some recon, but turn nothing up.  They then look at a vacation film, from an anonymous family, that shows a mystery creature - which the science team will analyze.  The photo experts set up cameras and do some pretty accurate measuring, trying to determine how big the shape actually was.  The show is also working with a tracker this time, and the MQ team sets up a test to see if he's any good; the tracker does amazingly well.  But, they don't find new, conclusive prints, just one similar to ones found by a local witness.  A juvenile, maybe, they speculate.  Then they compare some human prints with some they believe are bigfoot.  Some of the prints they've taken might be juvenile bigfoot, though they certainly look human to me.  Of course, no one knows what a juvenile sasquatch print would look like.  The tracker says there isn't enough evidence to know.  Unfortunately, passage of time and weathering have made it difficult for the film experts to calculate the creature's height - 6-8' is the closest they can get.  But it still looks like a bear or a guy in a bulky costume to me.  So, once again, nothing conclusive.  Maybe when Destination Truth starts up again, we'll get some actual monsters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One Week Left to Sign Up for Free Story for Haiti!

Just a reminder that the free story for Haiti is going out in a week!  Sign Up now. You need to be on the list by 3/17/2010 to get the story link.  (And, as my pal Stan Lee might say, I don't want anyone left out if there's a last-minute rush!)

Oh, and of course I promise never to give or sell the mailing list to anyone.

-- Steve

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MONSTERQUEST - Lizard Monster

History Channel - Original Air Date: 3/10/09

The show scours Appalachia looking for the "Flatwoods Monster" a lizard-man seen in isolated parts of West Virginia.  Oddly, the creature seems to drive a hovercraft-like vehicle (or outfit) and emit noxious gas.  The story begins with a group of boys spotting a fireball in 1968, in Flatwoods, WV.  They followed where it fell and saw the monster; one was sickened by billowing fog/gas.  Joe Nickell, skeptic, believes the original reports (and memories of the thing) were distorted by strong emotions --in this case, fear.  Perhaps it was something fairly normal, misinterpreted.  MQ sends a team to investigate, including Frank Freschino, John Bainbridge, and renowned UFO researcher Dr. Stanton Friedman. They dig around a rotting tree where the creature was spotted, hoping to turn up evidence of toxins, but they find nothing unusual.  Freschino notes that many of the original witnesses were stricken with throat or lung cancer.  (I note that WV, with it's history of mining, has environmental and lifestyle issues that might produce pathologies like that without lizard men.)  The show then traces sightings back to the early 1500s and native American reports -- though there are sightings elsewhere in the world, too.  Next, the show relates the story of a Texan girl who discovered a strange skeleton in a cave: the so-called "starchild," which the show posits is a human-monster hybrid.  The owner of the skull makes a number of remarkable claims about the bones, and the MQ team's Dr. Susan Myster decides to perform some new tests.  A forensic artist will also try to recreate the skull's owner from existing data.

Meanwhile, the WV team sends up a balloon with a night-vision camera to see if venting coal gasses, which could cause hallucinations, may be in the area.  In 1952, a couple in a car encountered the Flatwoods Monster, which circled them -- emmiting sulfurous gas -- after their car stalled.  It touched the hood of the car, burning through the paint.  (Where that car is now, the show doesn't mention; nor does it show any photos.)  More recently,in 2004, a hunter spotted 3 whitish humanoid creatures, which Freschino believes are the same Flatwood monsters; he also believe the creatures wear armor (sometimes).  Nickell, though, believes that mass hysteria is a more likely explanation -- with rumors of monster spreading from one person to another.  He believes the Flatwood Monster started as a Cold War scare and has taken on a life of its own.  Dr. Myster concludes that the starchild is actually the skull of a human child, modified by a cultural practice (like "cradleboarding"), though it is unlike any modified skull she has seen before.  The skull was somewhat more dense than a "usual" human's, but still within standard variation.  So, no validation of the owner's fantastic claims.  The forensic reconstruction of the child's face does not look entirely human (though it's not terribly inhuman, either); it reminded me of an Egyptian pharaoh.  Soil samples tested from WV turn up nothing unusual - and even the previously "odd" samples turn up normal as well.  The team also fails to discover gas leaks.  The human stories remain compelling, but are they real?  Stanton Friedman notes that we should look forward, realizing that some of what we may have believed in the past is unjustified. (Well said, Stanton.)  I think Joe Nickell might agree with him.

This seems to be another MQ episodes tying together formerly unrelated monster and Fortean sightings -- in this case Flatwoods & starchild -- into one big "uber monster" conspiracy theory.   Because the connections the show draws are so tenuous, it will probably annoy researchers looking into the disparate sightings/phenomena.  It certainly annoys me.  But, I guess you gotta do what you can to fill up an hour of monster hunting -- especially after years of not finding any actual monsters.

MONSTERQUEST - Piranha Invasion

History Channel - Original Air Date: 3/3/2010

This episode of MQ posits that swarms of vicious piranha may be infesting freshwater rivers and lakes in the US.  Naturally, there are plenty of stories of fishermen catching piranha in the US.  But can a warm-water fish breed here, or are the sightings just pets set free?  Naturally MQ frogman Dale Pearson and company go to Tennessee to check it out.  But piranha don't seem to like the raw chicken being used as bait, and electrical wire dumped in the lake prove more dangerous to the diver than razor-toothed fish.  Of course, the show does feature scary fish stories as well as snatches of history and science.  The scariest stories come from South America, the piranha's native habitat.  There, piranha can pose an actual danger to people, and naturally nets strung to catch them turn a few of the ornery little bastards.  So do fishing lures; the piranha seem attracted by movement through their territory.  A scientist testing piranhas' reactions to cold temperature discovers that they get more sluggish the lower the temperature goes.  Though the fish can survive with temps in the upper fifties, when the water drops below fifty degrees, they're toast.  There are some warm inlets to the lake investigated, but -- despite the show's melodramatic warnings -- it seems unlikely to me that piranha pose any threat in the US.  At least, the show gives no solid evidence of any such threat.