Friday, April 29, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Dashcam Chupacabra - Nightly News Alien

Syfy - Original Air Date: 4/20/11

"Haunted Funeral Home" features two knuckleheads breaking into a funeral home that's supposedly haunted; tissues fly into a lamp, chairs fall over -- but it looks staged.  The "Lake Lure Ghost" seems to show a ghostly figure near an ice sculpture - but it looks like a long exposure motion blur to Chi-Lan (and me, too).  So the two cases to check out are... From Argentina (again) comes "News Alien," which seems to show a "nightcrawler" like alien walking casually behind an interviewee.  The alien was only spotted when the film aired on TV.  It looks like a fake to me, but off they go to investigate (probably along with last week's haunted swing -- ganging up a trip, I suspect).  "Dashcam Chupacabra" is a video from a squad car showing a strange, hairless doglike animal running down a dirt road in Texas, and a rancher claims to have a carcass.

In Dewitt county, chupacabra rumors run rampant, so they go talk to the rancher who has one stuffed and mounted.  The specimen is a strange, dog-like creature with big fangs and long claws.; the ranch owner claims to have seen another one 3 days ago.  She also has the carcass (meat) of the stuffed one in her freezer -- and is happy to provide samples for genetic testing.  Then, they talk to Sgt. Carter who took the original video.  Could it be mistaken identity?  They set up a simulated dash cam and bring in local animals to check against, including a miniature horse (nope) and an Peruvian Inca orchid dog (very similar, especially in the run - but the snout is wrong).  So, they do a night watch to try and find a live one and use a helicopter drone to help them look.  (Nice tech!  That'll generate UFO reports!)  They hear howls and see something on their IR and night vision cameras, but it's only cows.  The DNA sample comes back as a hybrid of gray Mexican wolf and coyote.  Case solved.  But is this beast the "real" chupacabra?

Austin claims they blew the alien case in Patagonia "wide open"; let's see how they did it.  First they test a stray wind sock blowing past to see if it could be mistaken identity -- but it's too windy to even pull that hoax off.  Could it be a worker moving some kind of equipment?  Nope. Then they notice the alien is casting a shadow opposite that of the reporter in the foreground.  Looking like a hoax, so they go and ask the videographer flat out: Is it a hoax?  "No. Not completely."  Did you fake it? "Yes." He says he did it as a joke, and he then shows us how -- using an animation program that looks like Poser.  (I use the same program to make art.) The hoaxer thinks local people have a predisposition to believe in such things, because of local UFO sightings.  Naturally, because you always have to do a night investigation, they now set up one to look for UFOs on the coast.  Bill suggests that local thunderstorms might attract aliens -- though I think it more likely to create ball lightning or other electrical phenomena.  Jael also mistakes what looks like lens flare for some kind of "gray halo."  (Nailed by Chi-Lan, later on.)  The local sea lions begin acting up, and Jael hears strange whistles, from atmospheric electrical events -- an approaching thunderstorm, it turns out.

Aside from the night investigations, which seem increasingly silly and irrelevant to me, this show featured some very good bringing the truth to light.  I know that "Ghost Hunters" has made tromping around in the dark popular -- and viewers are more easily creeped out at night -- but I wish there were less of it.  A lot less.

FACT OR FAKED: Playground Poltergeist - Alien Intruder

SyFy -- Orginal Air Date: 4/13/11

Passed over this week are "Pantry Ghost," in which a door mysteriously opens, is closed, and a face appears behind the pantry door window.  (Too convenient, no reaction, and a subtle edit for the SFX.)  "Dome UFO" seems to show a light hovering over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, before shooting into the sky.  The fact that there are no other witnesses to this, and that it looks like CGI rule this out.  Leaving the two cases to follow up: Alien Intruder, in which a Florida couple claims to have caught on camera an alien spying into their bedroom.  Now they have a second strange video, seeming to show a hovering, ghostlike alien.  The second case is of a swing set in Argentina that seems to swing on its own -- but only one of the three seats.  Legend has it that the swing is haunted.

In Argentina, the team talks to the original witness, then they try pulling the swing with mono-filament wire.  It looks good, but you can see the line, plus the swinging swing is ongoing; surely no one would hang around for this long a hoax.  Next, they build a duplicate swing set right next to the "haunted" one.  But, when set in motion, the new swing does not keep going like the original.  Next, they put up an air-supported dome to isolate the swing and use a fan to simulate various wind directions.  Doing this, they discover the center seat is slightly wider than the other two, and the right angle of wind sets it going while the other to remain stationary.  (They don't mention that the swing stopped swinging when they put up their dome.)  So, no hoax, just normal fluctuating wind conditions.

In Milton Florida, the team talks to the people supposedly being harassed by these "aliens;" they also claim worm infestations on their lawn.  The homeowner has set up elaborate mirrors (and even strobe lights) to fool the aliens into thinking that they are not being filmed.  It seems ripe for a hoax to me, but the crew takes it very seriously.  First they use an art mannequin and try to replicate the alien in the bathroom -- they come pretty close.  Next, they set up to see if cast shadows (from a coat rack) could cause an optical illusion of the floating "alien."  Close, but not close enough.  So they set up a puppet to fake the video.  This is closer, but not as eerie as the original. This could be either an illusion or an intentional hoax, but they decide to do a stakeout and see if they can find any evidence on their own.  They set up lasers and one-way mirrors, and monitor the homeowner.  They get electrical interference, the homeowner thinks he hears things, and they find a mass of worms on the lawn.  Did they cause their own electrical interference?  Is there something paranormal going on here.  Voice analysis says the homeowner is telling the truth -- but I'm still not sure I trust that tech.  The case remains baffling; the homeowners seem to believe something is going on.  But what?  I wonder if local electrical interference could be setting up a hallucinatory "fear cage" effect for the people living in the house.

Not a bad episode.  The swing debunking was really well done.  But the "alien" problem would seem to require more long-term surveillance.  (Something I wish was routinely done with contactees.)  Just because people believe something is real, doesn't mean it is real.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

DESTINATION TRUTH: Thai Tree People - Aiya Napa Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/12/11

First, Josh & crew go to Thailand to search for the Naree Pon, a mythological Buddhist plant-person, 3' tall. A temple supposedly has bodies of these creatures, so off the DT folks go.  After fooling around with local food, they head to the temple and ask to see the bodies.  They're allowed, and take photos.  They then head to an area where the creatures are believed to have kidnapped people, and they talk to a recent witness.  They hike into the jungle, set up base camp, and poke around in the dark.  They find Buddhist shrines and avoid spiders and a poisonous viper, barely.  They poke around in a cave and nearly get hurt.  Back in LA, they ask a mammologist what the what the temple photos are -- and he cannot figure it out.  Because of the bodies, the case remains ever-so-slightly open.

On Cyprus, people are seeing a massive sea serpent, and folks are concerned about what they call the Aiya Napa Monster.  While waiting for their luggage to catch up, the team sees the local ruins and sights.  Local witnesses and fishermen suggest they check out the nearby sea caves, so they jump right in -- literally.  Finding nothing, they hire a boat and head to sea, with Josh doing the diving duties.  Naturally, they have to dive at night, too, and check out some undersea caves & wrecks.  Finding only fish (though glimpsing a big one), they do a surface patrol and catch a thermal hit.  In the end, they figure the monster is likely a basking shark, a gentle giant of the sea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

FACT OR FAKED: Raining UFOs - Ectoplasmic Pic

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/6/11

Videos not investigated this week are: Poltergeist Down Under, from Queensland, Austrialia, which seems to show an invisible force moving  boxes and other things across a garage  -- and then similar happenings in a kitchen.  The analysis says these things could be mono-filament wire and simply throwing objects.  Government UFO, in Hawaii shows formations of lights moving over a government installation.  Bill and Chi-Lan point out this would be super easy to fake with CG.  Which leaves the two the team will check out - Seeding UFO a Christmas Night UFO, dripping sparks "seeding the earth" and the old spiritualist ectoplasm photos (including one with a face in the "ectoplasm") by T.G. Hamilton.

They head to Longbeach to check out the UFO, noting that no one yet has an official explanation for the incident.  They talk to the helicopter pilot that took the video, and then they start running experiments using a night vision camera like the one that took the original video.  They start with a military flare; it drips well, but you can see the parachute.  Next, they test a homemade hot air balloon, powered by candles; this is closer, but didn't get quite the altitude.  Finally, they attach sparklers to an RC plane.  Though this seems a dead-on match, they also do a night watch, just in case there are real UFOs.  But all they catch is a bird (which looks like a UFO in night vision).  Conclusion, the balloon or the plane are both good explanations.

The second team goes to recreate the ectoplasm photos in the same house where they were originally taken.  Despite the "experimenter's" precautions, these photos all look completely bogus to me -- and apparently to the team, too.  The first one the recreate by Gavin simply blowing cigar smoke out of the sides of his mouth.  The second they recreate with cotton wadding.  The third they recreate using Dry Ice to create a mist around a "sleeping" figure. The fourth they recreate using a seltzer tablet and a photo attached to the end of a q-tip.  While these are not perfect recreations, they are very good given the time constraints.  And it's worth noting that the original medium had a lot of time to practice her effects and a lot riding on people believing them. The crew concludes that she might have hoaxed everyone, including well-meaning experimenters.

My conclusion: One of the most rigorous episodes in the series.  Well done.

DESTINATION TRUTH: Jungle Temple Ghosts - Namibian Night Stalker

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/5/11

First up, off to Thailand to look for the Phret, a spirit of the damned, which seems to be captured in a video, scaling a local monument.  The video is fuzzy (and seems like possible camera error to me), but the team heads off, talks to witnesses, and does the usual poking around in Bangkok.  They try to recreate the video with a variety of cameras, and then head out to a jungle temple reputed to house the spirit.  Ryder takes a bad spill on a dirt bike, needs stitches, and they regret not getting good-luck charms to avoid such accidents.  They deploy their usual base camp in the huge Khmer temple reputed to be the creature's lair.  They see mysterious lights inside and outside the temple and hear strange sounds.  Rex starts choking for no apparent reason, and red marks appear on his neck; Josh catches a mysterious heat signature on the FLIR, but they find no further evidence. The lights in the sky were probably distant fireworks or lightning; the light in the temple remains mysterious, as does Rex's incident, and the thermal hit.  The team fails to recreate the original monument video, but it still looks like a reflection problem to me.  Josh concludes, like all things in Thailand, what happened -- and the cause -- may come down to belief.

Next up, they head to Namibia (again with former teammate Jael) to look for the Night Stalker, a blood-draining beast.  (Like an African chupacabra.)  They head for a national park to find the beast, talk to the locals, and Ryder gets painted red by tribeswomen.  (She does Deja Thoris proud.)  They set up base camp, Jael arrives, and they prowl around in the dark (SOP).  They find a dead goat, avoid a live python, and nearly see some other animals in the dark.  Back home, the kills they discovered (goat & giraffe) are analyzed.  The giraffe, at least, was taken by lions.  The goat, the expert is less sure.  There could be something else out there, but for now we will all have to wait for more proof.

DESTINATION TRUTH: Sandstorm Spirits - Cerro Azul Monster

SyFy - Original Air Date: 3/29/11

Josh & Crew goe to Namibia to investigate a ghost town buried in the sand.  With them is old teammate Jael (now from Fact or Faked).  After the usual eating of strange food, talking to locals, and clowning around (Ryder loses a race with an ostrich), the group goes by dune buggy to Kolmenskop, the abandoned town.  They poke around in the sand-covered buildings and hear the (usual) strange sounds.  Ryder has mysterious trouble breathing, Rex swears he sees a figure in a room where there's no one (and immediately gets a bloody nose), and Jael hears breathing in her ear in an empty room.  They actually capture what sounds like the whisper Jael heard, but no other solid evidence.  Josh concludes that the long-gone residents are still seen, heard, and felt - though there's more investigation to do.  (I wish they had out-looking personal cams, as well as ones focusing on the team's faces.)

Next, they go to Panama to research a photo of a supposed mystery beast, the Cerro Azul Monster, photographed by some boys. The creature is hairless and looks something like a land seal.  So, off to the country of the canal to look for it!  They talk to a local professor, who says something unknown could lurk in the jungles, and get sent to possible habitat by witnesses.  They head into a national park, talk to more natives, and almost lose a team member and camera in a raging river.  Avoiding pit vipers and cave scorpions, they poke around in water-filled caves, get scared by fish, and capture a sloth on a perimeter camera.  Back home, they show the original picture to a zoologist, who says the "creature" is, in fact, a sloth with no hair -- possibly because of disease or mutation.  In such a wild land, it's no wonder ordinary creatures can become "monsters."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Cyclops - A Fun Flick, Uncut - Bert I. Gordon

(I watched this movie tonight and then posted this review on Amazon, and figured I might as well share it here, too.)

This is a fun film from early in Bert I. Gordon's career.  In it, you can see many of the elements that would later become B.I.G trademarks: giant people and animals, seat-of-the-pants special effects, and deadpan sincerity.  If you like cheesy monster movies from the 50s, this flick is a good bet.  The actors are attractive and competent, and it's fun to watch Lon Chaney, Jr. chew the scenery -- though it's actually the titular character who does the most scenery chewing.

The Cyclops, by the way, looks like a dry-run for the later Amazing Colossal Man/Beast make-up.  Half his face is melted and the other half distorted, with a huge eye.  It's a creepy if crude make-up.  There's a lot of pretty dodgy matte work here -- Bert got better at that as he went -- and I'm surprised that he didn't do much of it with forced perspective instead.  Still, for all its flaws, this film is a must have for collectors of B.I.G's work or 50s monster movie buffs.

In other reviews, there has been some controversy over whether the "pull the stick out of the eye" scene has been censored from this release.  Well, I just got my copy of the disc direct from Warner Archives today -- 4/7/2011 -- and I can say that I _saw_ that scene in this DVD.  So, unless there's more to the supposedly missing scene than the cyclops pulling out the stick and weeping for a moment, I'd say the current edition is intact/uncensored, folks.

Make sure you get this release and not previous ones.  The DVD quality is good -- a nice widescreen (anamorphic?) transfer -- and it played fine on my old Toshiba player (not a player/recorder).  I would have given it another star, but the SFX are pretty crude -- clearly from early in B.I.G.'s career.  What it lacks in polish, though, it makes up for in imagination and sincerity.