With His New Doc, Ghost Hunter Zak Bagans Breathes New Life Into the Supernatural

If any one film genre is capable of surprising its audiences as often as it milks them, it’s horror. For proof, consider that over the past three decades, only a handful of horror films have truly altered the cinematic landscape and changed what Americans consider to be scary. 1996’s Scream was one of those films, and its unexpected success marked a turning point for the genre, fusing camp alongside bloodied corpses. With a domestic box-office of more than $100 million—the highest for an original R-rated horror since 1982’s Poltergeist—Wes Craven’s humorous slasher flick put production company Dimension Films on the map (the same can be said for Drew Barrymore’s then waning career). The company would later roll out three moreScream films, reboot the Halloween franchise and inspire a string of adolescent-led copycats, from I Know What You Did Last Summer to Faculty, Urban Legends, Final Destination and Jeeper’s Creepers.

But a string of original genre-benders were waiting to eclipse Scream’s popularized premise of mixing quirk with teens and ridiculous death traps. 1999’s The Blair With Project jump-started the subgenre of horror mocumentaries, The Sixth Sense, also released in 1999, supplied one of the most celebrated plot twists ever, 2004’s Sawreenergized the genre with a new, bankable franchise and 2017’s Get Out presented America’s racial inequality like never before.

The remaining mainstream, theatrical horror films released in between have been nothing more than formulaic filler, revolving around bumps in the night, B-list billings and supernatural beings. In fact, six of the 11 highest grossing R-rated horror films are about the supernatural, including The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity and Annabelle: Creation.

Something else these films generally have in common is they all claim to be based on true events, which itself has become one of the genre’s go-to gimmicks. Consider one of 2018’s most anticipated horror films, Slender Man. Based on a true story, Slender Man will hit theaters this August, based on the mythic, internet-created character that came to national prominence after two young girls stabbed their schoolmate because, they said, the Slender Man told them to do it.

In 2017, HBO aired Beware the Slenderman, a chilling documentary that addressed the events leading up to the stabbing through interviews with friends and family of the children involved in the stabbing. But based on its first trailer, Sony Pictures is taking a much different route with its fictionalized version. Rather than exploring the psychological impetuses behind the original incident, which are creepy enough, Slender Man The Studio Movie looks as if it’ll employ the sort of cheap jump scares that have fueled six Paranormal Activity films and eight Saw films, despite its very frightening, very real origin story. And thus we arrive back at the genre’s catch-22: What does it take to truly shock people these days when “shocking” has become so predictable? What is scarier than a jump scare?

In the last five years, production company A24 has explored this, becoming one of the more exciting distributors of horror with unexpected films like It Comes At Night, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, Hereditary and The Witch. But now its Zak Bagans’ turn, a man you probably recognize as host of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. With his new low-budget documentary Demon House, on VOD and in theaters now, Bagans has unearthed something truly fantastic within the horror genre, and with zero special effects and prosthetics.

The 90-minute indie examines a series of paranormal occurrences at a Gary, Indiana home first reported to local media by the home’s former occupant, Latoya Ammons, in 2014. Most notably, Ammons’ son is alleged to have been possessed by the house’s demons, which caused him to walk backward up a wall in a hospital room in front of family members and hospital staff.

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