Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Demon Files: Scraping the barrel to the molten core of the Earth.

Not a fan of paranormal TV.

In fact I think that almost without exception most paranormal television is complete and utter shit.

So while certain sections of social media went crazy this week after Karl Beattie of Most Haunted fame was caught "faking" a paranormal "happening" on the show's live Halloween investigation, I was oddly unmoved. You can read more about that here and here.

Frankly, whether Karl faked this incident or not was less of a concern to me than the fact that people were actually shocked, and in some cases DISAPPOINTED that MH would fake evidence! Most Haunted, and individuals involved have been exposed as faking stuff for YEARS (Don't believe me? Google Kreed Kafer).

Are these people oblivious to that?

What is abundantly clear is that many people do still find shows like Most Haunted credible, convincing evidence of the paranormal.

It was that notion that was in my mind when I came across Destination America's (also the producers of the recent Exorcism Live) new paranormal offering... The Demon Files... a show that is as exploitative, sensationalist and potentially dangerous as any other paranormal show I've ever seen, yes that includes Chip Coffey's utterly deplorable "Psychic Kids".

I decided to take a look at the first episode "The Mirror" aired on Destination America, Sunday 1st November 2015. The Demon Files is predominantly a vehicle for ex-cop turned Demonolgist,  Ralph Sarchie. You may be familiar with Sarchie from his book "Beware the Night" and the Eric Bana film based on his story "Deliver Us from Evil". I wasn't, meaning I came into this with a completely fresh perspective.

One thing is immediately and abundantly clear: this is Sarchie's show. Sure there's an introduction to the team at the beginning,  and the group shots in the promo material, but this is all about Ralph.

Sarchie is quick to point out in the introduction that he is not a paranormal investigator and not a "ghost hunter" he's a demonologist. Me thinks the lady does protest too much, especially when much of the "evidence" on display here is collected in the tried and tested (and failed) methods used by most ghost hunting TV shows:

EVP? Check.

Orb videos? Check.

Investigations in the dark when clearly a investigation in the light would be more feasible? Check.

The truth is that the only real difference here is this show is far more up front about its "demonic" agenda. This is just a culmination of a change that's been occuring in American paranormal shows for a while, demons are replacing ghosts simply because the idea is scarier. Demons are always evil, always inhuman, and never mean well. These aren't placid spooks that will be ushered gently into the light. Someone's gonna get fucked up messin' with a demonic.

Or not. Again the difference is a superficial one. These demons manifest in the same way as common garden spooks apparently, just check the above list.

So the concept of a "demonic" is presented here simply to up the tension and sense of danger. A cheap move in lieu of any actual tension. That would be my explanation for the laughable disclaimer the show begins with:

 "...May be due to ghosts or darker entities..." WOW. The way they've phrased that there almost makes it sound like someone has actually proven an evidential link... or even that paranormal activity, ghosts and dark entities ACTUALLY EXIST!

Oh and don't attempt exorcisms without "proper training" presumably proper training means buying some impressive looking equipment, some religious paraphernalia and declaring one's self a "demonologist". Oh and getting a TV show commissioned of course.

In this first episode Sarchie travels to Fayette, pennsylvania and meets Leigh-ann, 23, and family. Ralph tells us they have been suffering "violent attacks" indicative of demonic activity. But when the family recount their experiences there doesn't seem to be any violence involved. Their encounters range from the mundane and explainable, to the actually quite scary, but still explainable. scratching noises for example would be easily explained by vermin, something Sarchie never checks for.... he's not an investigator as he told us after all. And the "feeling" of being pinned in their beds experienced by Leigh-Ann and her mom explainable by sleep paralysis, still terrifying I'll attest, but explainable.

Leigh-Ann's mother goes on to describe her and her husband's history of substance abuse, domestic violence and Leigh-Ann's suicide attempt. Are these really the people that should be exposed in a paranormal TV show? I'd argue not. The family clearly have some very real problems, the stress of believing they are living under demonic oppression cannot be healthy for these people. Having Sarchie and a TV crew come in to confirm this is potentially very harmful.

There's already more than a whiff of exploitation about the show and we're less than ten minutes in.

Sarchie begins his tour of Leanne's home. He seems keen throughout the show to remind us he was a cop, he's states frequently "As a cop..." or "A cop deals with..." In this scene he is carrying a large torch with him during his snooping, despite the house being well lit.

In one bedroom he finds an old mirror which he decides is apart of the investigation, and linked to the demon, for absolutely no discernible reason other than it looks the part!

Through out his initial investigation Ralph's world-view becomes painfully apparent, he hangs crucifixes about the home, consults his Bible, and makes frequent references to the holy trinity, god's love and Satan. Whilst there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with him holding this world-view, he clearly isn't objective. He is looking for confirmation of his world views and one shouldn't be surprised when he finds it.

When he tell's us initially that he isn't a paranormal investigator he's being too modest. He isn't worthy of being called an investigator of any kind. He made his mind up long before he walked into that house. Hell, if he hadn't we wouldn't have a show would we?

At around 9 minutes in we get our first "paranormal event".

Brace yourself. Its a doozy.

Whilst rooting through Leigh-Ann's closet, filmed by his film crew, in a extremely cramped room, a stack of DVDs fall over.

And one of the DVDs has the word "Devil" on the cover, Well actually it doesn't. Its a copy of Ralph's own "Deliver us from Evil" movie (available from all good stockists, eh Ralph? Was this contractual or what?) which has title laid out in such a way that it looks like "Devil".

Following this event Ralph laughably shouts to his team "We've just had phenomena up here!" Really? A falling stack of DVDs is phenomena? Sarchie explains that these aren't just DVDs, they are DVDs about the devil. So that one on top of his film with the light blue cover, lady in scrubs and hot pink title is "about the devil"? Has Satan moved into the lucrative "chick-flick" market? It is evil....

Investigation done Ralph now wants to begin his "religious provocation". This involves him shouting insults into thin air in order to provoke the demon to attack him. Its become something of a staple of certain paranormal shows lately.

Before the provocation can begin however, Sarchie has the important job of turning the screws on the family in order to up the tension for the audience. Now this is what I call exploitation...

Sarchie essentially tells the visibly shaken family three things:

1, They have a demon, not just in the house but attached to them, meaning they can't just flee the house essentially.

2, If the demon is provoked it WILL hurt them.

3, He's off to provoke it.


I'll do some provocation of my own now, just to the producers of this show now and the FUCKWITS at Destination America who allowed it to be vomited onto their network:

Did any of you, stop for one second to consider the potential effects of telling all this to a family with a history of substance abuse, mental health issues and at least one suicide attempt between them, not to mention a clear obsession with the paranormal?  At all? Did any of you say "wait guys... could this HARM these people? Is the resulting sensationalism worth that potential harm?" And if none of you did, FUCK you. And if you did and decided to proceed anyway... FUCK YOU!

I suspect that this "provocation" of your ethical sensibilities is as wasted as Ralph's attempts to provoke demons.... AS NEITHER THING ACTUALLY FUCKING EXISTS!

Anyway... Ralph's provocations are cringingly  bravado fuelled, he describes them as "Basically giving the devil the finger". The gems include:

"Come and get some!"

"Manifest you coward!"

And "Beware the night jerk -off", which is the name of Sarchies' book (minus the "jerk-off" obviously). Available at all good retailers.

Sarchie visibly revels in his macho routine, one suspects his warnings to the family simply serve in his mind to make his scene more impressive. It doesn't, it makes it sickeningly crass.

During this process and the following investigation Ralph's team are supposedly collecting evidence that will confirm this is a situation in need of a exorcism. A foregone conclusion for Sarchie already we can be sure.

The collected evidence 
1. Video's of "orbs". One of which Sarchie states cannot be dust as it changes shape as it moves. Well orbs aren't dust, they are light reflecting from dust (and other particles) hitting a camera lens. As they move the angle at which the light hits the lens so the shape clearly does change and often disappears, Sachie also finds it remarkable that as he and a colleague open a door several "orbs" rush past them. This is easily explained by Brownian motion.

2. Temperature variations throughout the house. At no point does Sarchie consult an actual measuring tool to measure these claimed changes. Also there's no evidence that any base-line readings have been taken, meaning noone can legitimately say whether these fluctuations are out of the ordinary.

3. Some of the weakest EVP you'll ever hear. Seriously even with the captioning on the screen I couldn't make out what was being suggested to be. Steve Huff would be outraged.... then sell them an app.

4. Subjective feelings from team "psychic" Shaun. Lots of "I feel..." and "I sense..."

At one point a window shutter bangs scaring Shaun out of his skin. He claims as it happened he was receiving a terrifying vision of a "lizard-demon" . Funny he looked pretty relaxed to me before it happened, not someone experiencing a "terrifying vision"

5. Leigh-Ann's suicide attempt. Yep... you read it. Ralph presents this young woman's attempt to take her life as prime evidence as the presence of a "demonic". The show returns time and time again to this. Physic Shaun has the taste of pills in his mouth. Leigh-Ann's drawings of a lizard-demon that she believes she saw as she was unconscious is trotted out, seemingly matching the vision Shaun had as he was falling asleep.... sorry conducting EVPS.

The mirror is cursed because Leigh-Ann was looking into it when she tried to kill herself.

It just goes on and on.

All this is just so tasteless. Attributing attempted suicide to the actions of a non-existent fairy tale entity in order to strengthen the case for an exorcism that has to happen for there to be a TV show.... I'm sure that Leigh-Ann receive a lot of therapy after this incident, all this BULLSHIT not only cheapens that genuine help, but threatens to undo it.


Sarchie has the balls to describe the utter guff I've listed above as "spectacular evidence". He's wrong on both counts. Neither is it spectacular, nor is it evidence.

Needless to say the exorcism, he concludes, must go ahead.

Sarchie sits down again with the family. He tells Leigh-Ann that she is responsible for inflicting this terror on her family by drawing an anarchy symbol on her bedroom wall in sharpe when she was thirteen and allegedly dabbling with the occult. As this brings her to tears, he tells her:

"You are the devil's now."

To a young girl... quite obsessed with the paranormal.... who has previously attempted suicide.

Excuse me for a second.....


We get our second disclaimer now. This one even more bombastic and sensationalist.

Sarchie warns us after this how dangerous the ritual is. The devil, he says "won't go down without a fight" which leads one to wonder why the family are still in the house when it occurs? In fact why have they been left there throughout the whole process? Because the audience need to see someone scared to aid catharsis, and Ralph's ego won't allow him to be the one who is in the vulnerable position. They are his sacrificial lambs, literally at one point, when Sarchie sends Leigh-Ann and her mother, both already terrified, to their beds to "lure out" the demon!

This becomes deliciously ironic when Sarchie points out the potential physical and psychological threat to the family during the exorcism. This is the first time I've seen even the remotest regard for the families well-being in about 36 minutes. Its a hollow gesture given what has gone before,

Another hollow gesture is waiving the potential physical harm (not that I believe there actually is the potential for physical harm here. Not unless Ralph drops his massive crucifix on his toe) by saying Mike and Mark will be with the family and they are "fully police trained". I presume this includes restraining lizard demons?

Ralph pushes on with the exorcism, conducted by errr.... himself. It seems that like most demonologists, Sarchie has decided that title qualifies him to do virtually anything at a whim, except speak Latin apparently. In fact the whole ritual is sans Latin, this sentence contains more Latin. And then its over.... despite all the warnings... the disclaimers... the dramatic music.... NOTHING HAPPENS.

Ironically at the end of the show, Ralph tells us he's taking the cursed mirror to John Zaffis, He's having the nephew of the Warrens recycle his old shit after spending 42 minutes recycling theirs!

And that's it, the devil goes down, it seems, without so much as a whimper...

And that's the problem here. Throughout the whole thing, to quote Del Amitri, nothing ever happens, Nothing happens at all.

And that's my experience of paranormal programming in general. Take away the dramatic music, the scared punters, the disclaimers and there's nothing.

In light of this, can one really be that angry that during a three hour live Most Haunted episode, someone ensured at least SOMETHING happened, even if it was fake?

Ironically at the end of the show, Ralph tells us he's taking the cursed mirror to John Zaffis, He's having the nephew of the Warrens recycle his old shit after spending 42 minutes recycling theirs!


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