Saturday, 25 August 2018

'Help! My House is Haunted': Contradictions, deception and misdirection.

Time to dip my toe in the stagnant swamp that is paranormal television again. This time I'm taking a look at Really's new ghost hunting show 'Help! My House is Haunted'. The show is scheduled to run for twelve episodes from mid-July in a fairly prominent Friday night slot sandwiched between 'Ghost Chasers' and 'Most Haunted'. The show is hosted by Chris Fleming from the US, Barri Ghai from the UK and Sandy Lakdar from France.

Whilst the show came to my attention as a result of several articles published in the Star featuring host Barri Ghai (1), it captured my interest for two particular reasons. Firstly, in the show's cold opening, it claims that science has now advanced to such a point that it can be used to "sort fact from fiction" with regards to the existence of ghosts. Secondly, the show's title implies it's aim is to come to the aid of members of the public who believe their home is haunted.

This means that despite it is For entertainment purposes' screen cap at the start of each episode, it is making two claims that I think should be taken seriously. Firstly, the show is claiming scientific accuracy and more importantly, it is claiming that it can improve the lives of the people's houses investigated.

I already have a severe issue with the second claim and the show's ability to demonstrate this. One of Ghai's articles for the Star implied that "every home in the UK 'could be' haunted". If the show's producers are aware that the idea that a home could be haunted could cause distress, as the very title of the show implies, it seems irresponsible to lead many to believe their homes are haunted simply in a bid to drum up interest in the show.

Whilst a very British show, American readers may be interested too, as it credits a certain Zak Bagans as an executive producer. Whether he had any input in the show or this is simply a vanity credit, I'll let you be the judge.

Why Episode 3: De Grey St, Hull? 

I chose episode 3 (listed as episode 4 on IMBD for some reason), which features an investigation at a residential home in Hull to focus on in the review. This may seem like a random choice, it isn't the first episode, it isn't the latest episode, but of the four episodes available on Really's on-demand service, it is the only one to actually involve a residence.

The other episodes thus far concern public buildings, hotels, stately homes and public houses. Certainly, these places can be homes, but they don't really fit the show's mission statement as given on the station's website (2):
"Ghostly bumps in the night make for good cinema, but if it's happening in your own house and scaring the life out of mum, dad and the kids, then it's suddenly not so entertaining. Help! My House Is Haunted's team of new, fresh of paranormal investigators are taking the art of ghost-hunting into the 21st century."
As this is the claim, it seems odd that 4/5 of the investigations thus far have not been houses. As my primary concern is the way the team conduct themselves around the public, it isn't appropriate to get bogged down with their investigations of public venues.

Unfortunately, even this episode can't be totally cleared of the idea of ultimately being money-motivated. In fact, it could be more directly tied to paranormal tourism than any of the other shows combined. 39 De Gray street is a well-known destination for ghost hunting events companies, with groups charging up to £55 (~$70) per person for entry to the site.

Clearly, what this demonstrates initially is that the show isn't what it presents itself to be. I suspect the mission statement is an attempt to distinguish the show from other ghost hunting shows. The fact that they fail to maintain this dividing line is very telling. They aren't investigating private residences. They aren't helping people who believe their homes are haunted. The title is completely misleading. This show is about the 'paranormal pound' nothing else.

The proprietors involved in the show don't want help. They want publicity.

Perhaps a more fitting title for the show would have been 'Kerching! My business is Haunted (and on the telly)'.

In addition to this, the claim of taking "ghost-hunting into the 21st Century" has to be contrasted with the image of one of the hosts burning feathers to ward off evil spirits. That's all it really takes to dismiss any notion of this programme offering modern take on these subjects.

As with all paranormal investigative TV, science is simply window dressing. In the end, it's the old favourites that the crew rely on because that is the kind of method audiences react to. It's the kind of method that allows these shows to say something conclusive about ghosts.

In fact, immediately after this image is shown in the cold-opening, Ghai tells us about the team using the "latest high-tech equipment" in their investigations. I have to wonder if the production team are mocking their audience in doing this? I can't see how this isn't a deliberate attempt to show just how contradictory the show's mission is in comparison to its content.

Meet the team... 

The show introduces us to our three hosts and a clear lack of consistency is further hammered home. Chris Flemming is introduced as the team's physic. Sandy Lakdar as a "truth seeker" who cites "her body as her first detector". All of which sounds like a so-called 'sensitive' to me. Wasn't this the show that is going to investigate ghosts in such a way that is only possible now because of advances in science?

Whatever you think of psychics and sensitives, they've been around for centuries. Neither 'skill' classes as any kind of advancement. Only Barri Ghai presents himself as an expert in technology.

We'll see how this pans out during the episode. 

The idea of Lakdar as an investigator using the scientific method is a laughable one in consideration of the name of the team she heads up with her husband 'The Believers' (3), which tells you everything you need to know about the level of objectivity they bring to their work. They have even titled the documentary of their investigative methods 'The Art of Believing' (4). Which implies to me that they present beginning an investigation with a pre-existing belief as a benefit. 

It's hard to discuss Chris Flemming without referring to the many strings to his bow. On his website (5), he markets himself as a physic, a paranormal investigator, a media expert (disconcertingly vague that one) and even an inspirational speaker. What caught my attention was his storefront 'Ghost Outlet' (6) - from which he sells the usual array of electrical equipment at marked up prices. You could also pick up some personalised Chris Flemming merch... want a signed photo of Chris in a grey waistcoat for $20? 

Of course, you don't, why would you?

On to the episode itself...

Hull hath no fury...

After a strangely lacklustre intro sequence, we are introduced to the property on Grey street in Hull, which we are told has been the site of a spate of poltergeist activity. This includes events such as a carving knife being balanced on some plates. An event we are told cannot be explained in any other way than some form of paranormal intervention.

How about someone preparing a late-night snack and forgetting about the knife? 

The team arrives at the home and Chris Flemming enters to investigate, commenting "it looks like a slum". Fuck you mate. We can't all make $20 a pop for photos of us in shitty waistcoats. Chris also remarks that he has been told nothing about the property in advance.

This ranks as one of those claims you often get on paranormal television that are just so unverifiable that it's completely pointless to make. No one is going to be convinced by the claim, the only people who would accept it are the people who would have accepted Chris' psychic proclamations without protest anyway.

It's also a claim that he will disprove himself in short measure.

Those psychic skills of Chris' determine that the house is uninhabited. I'm assuming that he was also blindfolded outside the house as the boarded-up windows kind of give the game away in that regard. He also uses his amazing talents to count "panes of mirrors" in a particular room. Whilst investigating a room filled with dolls he remarks how "creepy" they are and that "they might be possessed". Or the owner could have just stuck a load of old tat up on the walls to creep out the ghost hunters who are fool enough to pay him to investigate his house.

In the meantime, Ghai and Lakdar head off to the local history centre to collect information about the story. Again there's a contradiction here. One-third of the team seems to understand that the benefit of prior information before entering the house colours the experience that will be had in the said house. The other 2/3s of the team are rushing off to find as much information as possible and thus ensure their experience is completely coloured by prior knowledge. 

Ghai and Lakdar aren't the only people who have headed to the Hull History Centre to research 39 De Gray Street, the home in question. Local historian, Mike Covell also conducted his own research on the property (7) (8).

Let's compare and contrast the two sources shall we?

The alternate histories of 39 DeGray Street

The show claims that the property has had multiple occupants, with very few staying for prolonged periods of time. Covell's research seemed to confirm this. But there are lots of reasons why people may not stay in a property for a prolonged period of time that has nothing to do with ghostly occurrences. The high-turnover in occupancy allowed Covell to reach out to several previous residents, none of whom reported ghostly or paranormal happenings.

The show's team quickly abandon actual research quite and go to the house's owner Andy for the property's history. That's the difference between Covell's research and their's. The show settles for word of mouth and rumour rather than actual information as Covell did.

Andy tells Lakdar a tale about seeing a ghostly young girl at the foot of his bed. At this point, with the help of a sharp edit, a quite extraordinary bait and switch occurs. After this story is relaid Lakdar tells us in voice-over that Andy informs her that the home was a former foster-home. We don't know where this information comes from, when the show's focus returns to the conversation between Andy and Lakdar, she is asking how he feels to be surrounded by a multitude of infant ghosts.

Covell thoroughly researched the claim that 39 DeGray street had, at one time, been a foster home or orphanage, as is commonly claimed. Checking the property history of Hull, local and national newspapers and even documentation regarding fundraisers and subscriptions, Covell found no evidence that 39 DeGray street had ever been an orphanage or foster home.

What's remarkable is our psychic Chris picks up on the spirits of distressed children. Almost as if his psychic powers are tuned in to the false narrative created around the house rather than its actual history... But remember, he didn't know anything about the property before going in...

Ghai meets a local author Mark Riley who claims that a number of children have been murdered in the property by 'evil spirits'. Again, Mike Covall scoured a multitude of local and national papers to find any mention of murders taking place at 39 De Gray Street. And again he found no such evidence.

As the show juxtaposes these information gathering sections with Chris' journey around the house we are repeatedly told that he can't possibly be aware of the information being recounted to both Ghei and Lakdar. This claim is undermined by two conceits. Firstly it requires the audience to believe that the trip to the library and both interviews were conducted simultaneously to Chris' tour of the house.

How long exactly was he in there? Because accounting for travelling time, the length of the actual interviews and the time it takes to set up and dismantle recording equipment, not to mention the collection of exterior shots... well... it's highly unlikely that all these things happened on the same afternoon or day even.

Secondly, all the information that is relaid is commonly available on the internet. The sites which advertise jaunts to 39 De Gray street boast of its macabre history. That's what inspired Covall to write his articles dismissing this word of mouth history that has built up around the house. Flemming could just be drawing on the same information that is commonly available that brought the production company to the location in the first place.

The whole time I'm watching the information gathering process the adage "methinks the lady dost protest too much" is echoing through my mind. The show is to at pains to claim the Flemming knows nothing about the 'history' surrounding this property. Unfortunately, Flemming is his own undoing in this respect. At one point, whilst in the room occupied by the dolls, he turns to the camera and reminds the audience that the owner of the house rents it out for ghost-tours.

I thought you didn't know anything about the house before going in? You just debunked yourself mate. Well done.

Let's move on to the investigation itself and the team's various scientific claims.

Lights out, it's Investigation time.

In this element of the show, we are really exposed to just how similar it is to every other ghost hunting programme currently broadcast on UK and US television.

We get a pseudo-scientific explanation of why the house may be a conduit for spirits. Hull is surrounded by water and water draws energy towards it. All meaningless nonsense, of course, but Ghai delivers it to the audience with the confidence of a sci-fi hero suggesting that the solution to a sticky problem is "reversing the polarity of the neutron flow".

When the investigation begins Lakdar is pains to point that the lights are switched out, as they always are before beginning an investigation. Yes, because why would the ability to actually see be useful in an investigation?

I can't see how operating in these lighting conditions would harm an investigation

Comments are frequently made during the investigation that hint at two of the hosts Ghei and Lakdar not acknowledging that owner Andy rents it out for ghost tours. Ghei remarks that the house makes him feel uneasy. It's designed to that. It's like suggesting that the owner of a ghost train should clean up a few of the faux cobwebs. Lakdar laughably states she can see why he can't get any occupants to live there.

Yes, because he is making a killing from rubes paying to ghost hunt in there! Why would he waste money fixing the place up for tenants when he is exploiting its ramshackle state for money nicely already?

We see little in regards to 'evidence' during the investigation. The vague impression of hands on a mirror lead the team to conclude that this mirror is a 'portal' of some sort. Flemming boldly states that as a result of this there is a chance that the team may not even survive the night!


Sandy insists that she is left alone in the house for some reason. During her solo-investigation, which consists of her sitting upstairs on the landing carpet, she claims to have heard footsteps. Ghai concludes she has encountered a male 'malevolent' spirit. I'm left wondering how tense and dramatic the scene would have been if the lights had been allowed to be left on. In a well-lit environment, I doubt that many viewers would have concluded that anything of significance had happened at all.

After her vigil, Sandy appears to break down in tears prompting Ghei to remove her from the residence. As she turns to the camera, there isn't so much as a smudge to her heavily applied eye-makeup.

There isn't much to say about Flemming's contribution. He holds his hand out and says multiple spirit children have hold of it. Again, remove the eerie soundtrack, turn on the lights and tell me this isn't just a crank in a room spouting bullshit. Would anyone be convinced be either Lakdar or Flemming without the production elements of the show?

One interesting thing that happens during the investigation is Sandy asks 'the spirits' to move a ball placed on a table in one of the upstairs rooms. The ball doesn't move, but a cable on one of the lighting rigs waves slightly. What is interesting about this is the door to the room is closed. The wire leads out through it.

In every other instance of the team investigating a room, they leave the doors open. Before the wire moves, Sandy turns away from it to look towards the wire. If she is expecting the ball to move why isn't she watching it? Why is she watching a completely different area of the room? Why is she facing away from the cameraman who is recording the events unfolding in the room?

She says that she turned towards the wire because its movement makes a noise, but she's already looking that way before the movement begins!

The team reinvestigate the room with their high-tech equipment derived from X-Box Kinect technology. Part of the anomaly is a 'dancing figure' on top of a wardrobe.

The stick figure image of the X Box Kinect is created by the system detecting and identifying vaguely 'human-like' shapes. The system is far from perfect, thus often confuses chairs and other objects as humans. Kenny Biddle gives a great explanation of how the system works and can become confused here (9). So what could be causing the system to be confused here?

Could it be this strange light-setup?

It could certainly look like a vague head and shoulders.

As if to confirm my theory, Ghai points the Kinect detector into the small wardrobe where it displays multiple 'entities'. In reality, it is simply confused by the multiple hangers in the enclosed space.


Let's wrap things up at this point. I'm aware that I've now written 3000 words about a very silly paranormal investigation show, that was cheaply made to capture a few ratings on a Friday evening. But 'Help! My House is Haunted' surprised me with just how contradictory and deceptive it is.

I don't expect paranormal television to be honest. I doubt many people do. But this show can't even be honest about its title. It isn't about helping everyday people. It isn't about homes or residences. It isn't a show that heavily focuses on science. It isn't a show that has only just become available through technological advances.

There's simply nothing different about this show than thousands of others, but whereas they acknowledge that they are what they are, 'Help! My House is Haunted' is hiding a quite mundane show under a title that someone clearly devised before the show even went into production.

It's a patchwork of the usual deceptive practices offered in ghost hunting TV and a host of bizarre contradictions. It is almost as if different elements of the cast and crew had a completely different idea of the show that they were making.

In the end, this makes it a deeply cynical offering that insults the intelligence of fans of paranormal television hoping they won't notice how poorly stitched together it is. 











  1. I ran across your review when I was googling how bad their EVPs are (a very loud wall of noise with no discernable words but they tell you anyway). I watch paranormal tv strictly for entertainment and never paid much attention to their contradictions and production tricks except to roll my eyes at the particularly bad ones. Thanks for your eye-opening article; it was really interesting!