Friday, April 27, 2012

The SpiritChasers

   The SpiritChasers began in 2006 as a DVD invite to a Halloween party James and I were hosting.  We were currently within another golden age of ghosthunting, mediumship and spiritualism, and were delighted by the various programs portraying authentic paranormal phenomena on television.  I have always had an interest in this field, being Native American and knowing about the spirit world early on certainly helped to fuel my own research into the other side.  One of the first houses I lived in was an old Victorian home located on the outskirts on downtown Denver.  It was a classic haunted house, and in fact the room in which I slept featured an old closet, which instead of a door had a curtain, where a woman had hung herself several years prior.  Some nights you could witness the woman's blue feet dangling from under the curtain, and many nights you could hear her crying from inside this closet.  It was actually the reason we moved.  My father worked nights, so my mother was often alone with me, and it was simply too spooky an environment to raise a child.  Before leaving, however, the heavy cellar door to the basement slammed shut by itself, catching my finger and leaving a scar I still bear to this day.  That early experience branded me, physically and otherwise, with a need to know what was going on behind that curtain, beyond the veil.

    My first ghosthunt occurred at age 12.  The cousins who I grew up with and stayed with often lived in a house which was subject to several instances of poltergeist phenomena.  Objects on the dining table would move in the night, as would chairs.  A heavy light switch flicked itself on, mysterious voices were heard.  Once playing hide-and-seek with one of my cousins, I ran into my aunt's closet to hide.  For reasons I still can't describe, I was having trouble finding the back of the closet, as if it had grown larger.  I was feeling my way through the clothes hanging there, when I grasped an arm.  In shock at first, I didn't fully understand what was happening, until I felt my hand move further down the arm, to rest upon an ice-cold, aged and wrinkled elbow.  I burst from the closet in hysterics, screaming and crying, and yet I still spent many nights in that home, fascinated by the activity, witnessing real ghost stories unfolding before me on countless occasions.

   One evening, after everyone had gone to sleep, I entered the dining room, which seemed to be the supernatural hotspot of the home.  I had been reading a lot of Ed & Lorraine Warren, legendary investigators of paranormal claims.  The library in my elementary school actually had an occult section, which in retrospect I find very odd, but I am now grateful for the resources available to me at that time, helping to shape and educate me in ways I would soon learn to appreciate.  I sprinkled flour around the dining room floor, to ensure that no sleepwalkers in the house were responsible for moving the chairs at night.  I also placed my treasured boombox under the table to record any noises while I slept.  I awoke early the next morning to find that there were no footprints in the flour, yet the chairs had still been pulled out from their places.  A bag of chips and some coasters left on the table had also been rearranged, and when I played back the tape I was startled to discover the noise of a grandfather clock, which my cousins did not own.

   So, by 2006, there were a slew of new programs dealing with such phenomena, which soon became cliched, outrageous and overly dramatic.  I have seen bloodlettings, blinged-out EMF detectors, people setting fires, screaming themselves hoarse for spirits to appear, people being possessed, jumping out windows, and ghosthunting underwater in scuba gear ( as if Michael Bay himself was behind such programming ).  It was understandably a very different vehicle than the one I'd grown up with.  When I was a child, the supernatural was still a very popular subject, as I assume it always will be.  People like to be scared, to hear ghost stories told in hushed and serious tones in dimly-lit rooms, to play with their boundaries of fear and to be able to turn the lights back on afterward.  Back then, every program had to have their own "spooky ghost story" episode.  From Charlie's Angels to The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman to Chips.  At that time, they all had the same effects, laughable now but wistfully romantic.  There was always a thunderstorm outside that set the curtains billowing and the candles flickering.  Sometimes a rocking chair would get going of its own accord, and there were always frightening oil paintings lit up by lightning flashes in the background.  A swinging chandelier was usually present, as were the sounds of creaking floors, moans and chains.   A heavy wooden door was usually guaranteed to slam shut by itself at some point, and objects would comically levitate, obviously hung by strings.  It's far more violent, loud and in-your-face now, perhaps due to the desensitization of our culture, though I do long for the days when all it took was a billowing curtain in moonlight to satiate the general audience.

   How could James and I possibly entertain people who have seen and experienced so much in this very visceral existence of ours?  Well, for one, we do live down the street from a haunted park, where in 1991 a 737 crashed killing all on board.  We could take people there.  I could purchase the necessary ghosthunting equipment on eBay and hand them out to our guests.  It would be like one of my favorite movies, The House On Haunted Hill ( the original Vincent Price version ).  They were even selling little plastic coffins in stores by then which we could fill with treats.  As I worked on the invitation, it became apparent that no ordinary invitation would do, we really had to play it up.  I was watching  reruns of Ghost Hunters late one evening which was interspersed with countless "As Seen On TV" product placements before eventually unraveling into a tacky paid program.  That's when the bell went off.  I could simply combine the two, film my own program as a paranormal infomercial, very public access, very comical, and at the same time adding the swinging chandeliers of my youth.  It only had to be maybe twenty minutes to half an hour.  We could burn it to DVD and use them for invites!  So we did it.  Acting and filmmaking had been in my life deck of cards for some time, and I did have some experience editing video ( IE: being asked to record weddings, to make personalized slideshows and videos, etc. ), so it just seemed a natural extension of my hobby combined with my passion for "parting the veil".

   Immediately afterward, in true synchronistic fashion, a close friend invited us to a show he was directing that happened to be at a haunted auditorium.  I told him we'd go if we could poke around the building afterward, and he agreed.  After the show, sneaking around on catwalks backstage, climbing dark and empty staircases as everyone left the building and forgot we were still there, I realized I had recaptured the feeling of those old ghost stories being played out before me.  It was scary and exhilarating at the same time, and it made me feel alive in a way that few other things could.  James made an excellent investigator, brave, brash and willing to do anything to make it a memorable experience.  With the giant auditorium empty except for us and an office manager who had no idea we were there, we really began to feel like we were on an official "ghosthunt" instead of just aquiring footage for a cheesy film.  We soon happened upon a mysterious door marked "13".  I looked at James with a big grin splashed across my face.   "Ready?"  He nodded in delight and I tried the handle.  Locked.  We turned away to try another room, when something from the other side of the door knocked back at us.  And thus it began, our adventures in the paranormal.

   Shortly afterward, we scouted out the haunted park together in anticipation of our party.  We brought our digital camera with us, not really expecting to capture any evidence of spirit activity, but as we traversed the park in the pitch-black night, autumn leaves crunching under our feet and Mars hanging low in the October sky, I began to feel as if the "conditions" were right.  Everything felt like it used to when I'd go trick-or-treating with my cousins, embracing a night full of mystery and safe fear, before the poisoned-candy urban legends or serial killers and we were able to run late into the evening under a harvest moon in cheap vinyl costumes, hoping to make it back home in time to catch Linus still waiting in his pumpkin patch.  We returned home in time to catch the Ghost Hunters live from The Stanley Hotel, a place I'd poked around in before with Julie.  James made us hot chocolate, as I sat transfixed on the viewscreen of the camera.  Much like the experience in my aunt's closet, it took me awhile to perceive that something particularly odd had taken place.  I realized I was holding my breath, then shouted at James to look at the screen.  The images that began to roll before us, ones which were not visible to us when we took them, showed bizarre, ectoplasmic forms manifesting in a way I had never seen before.  It was like looking at new forms of life.  We were fascinated and shivering, unable to believe our perception had widened to a point where we could witness such phenomena.  We were simply out to film a reflection of the supernatural for friends and family, not knowing the real thing had been looking back at us the entire time.

   We had the party, but because we felt a special connection to the spirits who appeared before us at the park, we decided not to take anyone there.  After all, beverages had been consumed, so people were already full of spirits as it was.  One of our male guests was also dressed as Marie Antoinette for God's sake, and I couldn't fathom him traipsing through the park in those heels.  But it really came down to respect.  If these entities appeared before us once, perhaps they would again.  Our guests still had an enjoyable time, and we took photos of everyone with a special disposable camera that inserted ghostly images into every frame.  They also loved our DVD invites.  James and I had decided to call the program, and ourselves, "The SpiritChasers".  All the good names were already taken by 2006, mind you, and we never expected anyone to take us seriously anyway.  Still, by 2012, and several adventures later, we've kept the name.  Due to it's popularity, we've been releasing a new SpiritChasers film every Halloween.  Last year we premiered our fifth one at the same theater in the same haunted auditorium where our first investigation took place.  By then, we had already captured images of full and unmistakable apparitions, as well as voices from the other side.  A whole new world had opened up to us, and we never had to do any bloodletting or shouting ourselves hoarse to get there.  We never ran miles of electrical cable through historic properties or acquired nine-hundred dollar infrared cameras.  We never charged anyone anything to come along with us, so long as they were open to the experience.  We simply went out with a flashlight, our lucky camera, and respect.

   After our SpiritChasers V premier, I looked over all the footage we'd shot for past specials.  I noticed my editing and special effects had significantly improved.  I looked over all the evidence we'd acquired, all the investigations, never losing a sense of that magic from being a child on Halloween night in the early 80's.  It was something we could be proud of.  The premier went well, but it played to a mostly empty theater, after all our work, all our adventure, all our longing.  It was simply light entertainment to others, but by then things had culminated to a point where I was ready to share our material with a larger audience.  The premier was simply a test.  I decided to contact the producers of the Biography Channel's "My Ghost Story", one of the few paranormal programs which had any dignity by that point, and I submitted our best evidence to them.  It's hard to grasp, after filming that first infomercial of ours, and the comedic HSN ( Haunt Shopping Network ) product placements it contained, that we would be watching ourselves on national television one day.

   In January of 2012, James and I were flown out to L.A. for an interview at the BIO studios.  A week after that a cameraman was sent to film our dramatization of one of those ghost stories we got to live inside.  I was flown out again a month later for the filming of yet another story of ours, another cameraman again dispatched to capture a re-enactment of that story.  And today, through the networking, wishing and simple faith, we have managed to present our own case for the paranormal to a great many who are ready to widen their vision and recognize we truly do live in a world of signs and wonders.  Many of us believe the thousands of crop circles appearing worldwide are hoaxed, simply because two men confessed to doing one or two.  But what if the true creators of this phenomena came forward, alien, interdimensional or otherwise, to ask why you wouldn't believe in them?  There are miracles happening every day, perhaps too incredible to believe, just viral videos to be deleted from your "favorites" menu at the end of the day.  And yet it costs nothing to hold a thought, to ponder it, to invest in it.  The rewards of that tiny act could mean you embarking on the greatest adventures of your life.  At one time society believed transportation by train was impossible because it was thought the human body was unable to withstand speeds of over 20 miles per hour.

   "X-rays will prove to be a hoax."  "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."  "A Rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere."  "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable."  "I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea."  "How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck?  I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense."  "The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty - a fad."  "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication."  "Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time.  Nobody will use it, ever."

   The majority of these proclamations were made in the early 1900's by the top thinkers of their day.  What events, beliefs or proposals are currently taking shape that you are finding too incredible to invest in?  Too preposterous?  Too supernatural?  Too grand?

   "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
   "Television won't last.  It's a flash in the pan."

   So, the first of our My Ghost Story episodes airs this weekend, and I can already feel the difficulty in having to bear watching as my every pore and blemish is enlarged and enhanced on big high-definition TVs everywhere, but perhaps this is a test as well.  If I can deal with my own imperfections, working with what I have, with limited means but a world full of desire and vision ( as we of The SpiritChasers have always done ), perhaps the conditions will be right for us to present these wonders on a regular basis.  Perhaps one day I'll be laughing over how hard it was to see myself on TV that first time, to convince executives to green-light our show, to face rejection from countless publishers, to exhale...

   For now, we're simply keeping our eyes open to those things that happen outside our peripheral vision, engaged in a call-and-response with our dream architects, sending out morse codes with heartbeats that still rise when candles flicker, broadcasting signals that say we've broken through our fear and are ready to communicate with something outside of ordinary perception.  Everything in and outside of our world has a spirit.

   I am Christopher Allen Brewer, and I am a SpiritChaser.

   - Christopher Allen Brewer, April 2012