In 2011, Latoya Ammons, her mother, and her three young children moved into a house in Gary, Indiana. Shortly after moving in, they claimed flies swarmed the porch despite being the beginning of winter and even returned after they believed them to be exterminated. Later, Latoya’s mother, Rosa Campbell, reported hearing footsteps in the basement as well as other noises and creaks in doors and such. She even said she started seeing a shadowy figure that would pace in the living room, and, even scarier, claimed to have been choked by something she could not see.
Later, the older son was thrown across a room. The younger son was reported to have been seen with his eyes rolled back in his head and growling that he will kill them. When the Department of Child Services were alerted to the situation with the family in 2012, the agents assigned to the children believed they were just “acting out for their mother”, but then one agent saw the younger boy beginning to climb the fuck up the wall backwards! Even a veteran police officer believed the house was experiencing paranormal activity. Father Michael Maginot came in and performed three exorcisms after concluding the family was being tortured by literal demons. Latoya and her family moved to Indianapolis in 2012 and no longer have seen or experienced any other paranormal activity. The experience gained national attention and considered one of the more convincing modern-day instances of true demonic possession.
Enter Zak Bagans, best known as the star of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures. In 2014, he bought the house site unseen for $35,000. This is his film about the home and the paranormal activity within.
Let me explain something here before I start talking about this movie. I have a very… terse relationship with Zak Bagans. While I can’t deny that he seems to have some belief in ghosts, paranormal activity, demons, etc., the guy is a bit abrasive. There is a bit of fun to his Ghost Adventures show – particularly in the earlier seasons. That said, it’s not a very good show, and I think his “techniques” can be very dangerous if these ghosts and demons actually do exist.
I mean, if you really do believe some sort of pissed off force or monster is haunting a home, maybe it’s not the greatest idea in the world to go in and start yelling for it to “Come at me, bro!” You know, stir up shit in the last five minutes of the episode only for the edit to appear that you’ve now kicked the hornet’s nest of a demon only to have the family or people who called for your help to have to deal with this even more fucking pissed off entity?
That said, I also cannot deny that when Halloween approaches, and the weather starts to cool off in October, I do very much enjoy watching his show. It is embarrassing and it is something I find myself often defending as being part of my Halloween/spooky time celebration, and I certainly do not care enough to watch the show during the other 11 months of the year. But during the month of October, he is a national treasure in my household.
Naturally, when I read on the Indianapolis Star’s website that Bagans has made a “documentary” about the Ammons home and experiences there, called Demon House, my interest was piqued. Considering it was available everywhere on demand as of today, I decided to toss 7 bucks at it.
Right out of the gate, I have to wonder a bit about the actual goal of this piece. On screen, it tells the viewer that the following documentary may not be suitable for all audiences and that demons can attach themselves through people and devices and such. Yet, when I went to get the skinny on that Ammons Haunting from Wikipedia, it actually says this movie is a “mockumentary”. Yeah. It’s not exactly clear whether or not this is a movie documenting his experiences with this house he wanted to investigate or if it is a dramatization.
On the surface, this feels like, at least to a certain degree, to be very similar to the stuff the Ghost Adventures Crew handle on the television show. They have a place they heard about, they go to investigate it, and hi-jinks ensue. This opens somewhat autobiographical with Bagans telling us about a nightmare where he faced a 12 foot goat demon thing that made him inhale some black smoke that made his lungs hurt when he woke up. In his words, he says, “…and I knew that this was some serious shit that meant something.”
That was not me trying to say something like Zak Bagans. That was what he actually said about this nightmare. I bring this up because it sets a particularly important tone for this “documentary”. Much like the Ghost Adventures show, Bagans narrates in a deadly serious, monotone style that makes you think he is some sort of tortured soul set about a path to face these monsters, demons, and things that go bump in the night so we can all sleep soundly in our little beds.
The problem with Bagans has always been that he thinks what he does is far more profound than most people (outside those who desperately want to believe there is a life beyond our own mortality) will really believe. And that is a major problem with this movie from the get go. I most definitely believe that Bagans believes in what he’s doing. I believe that he believes ghosts are real and they ride along with us in our day-to-day lives.
There are some very interesting elements to this movie that I actually quite liked and applaud Bagans for investigating deeper. While it is not exactly made clear, there comes a little bit of a subplot to this investigation. Bagans starts to battle with a movie producer who claims to have bought rights to everything concerning the Ammons’ story. Basically pressing Bagans to dump his investigation or face legal action.
This starts Bagans down a path to investigate if these Hollywood producers’ money has started getting people to fabricate stories and ultimately create a pretty intricate hoax. Bagans is even questioning articles from other family members of Ammons who says things are not as the family is saying. He even learns there is a major mold and carbon monoxide problem in the house that might make people hallucinate.
It is certainly appreciated that he actually is doing something of due diligence. Asking questions we often don’t see on Ghost Adventures. In the tight 45 or so minutes of those episodes, he only has time to talk about the spooky shit. He never talks about the stuff that might just be fabricated or part of some sort of social conscience hysteria. It’s actually refreshing to see him question these things here.
Buuuuut that only lasts about 5 minutes.
Naturally, Bagans reverts back to his old ways. The remainder of the movie is much more Ghost Adventures in style and he starts talking about how his investigation starts to get crazy. Most former residents, and even some of the squatters that were staying there when Bagans bought the house and arrived said there weren’t any paranormal activity they could speak of. Well, one squatter would tell stories if Bagans gave him money, but then all of a sudden a former resident starts having the heebie jeebies and her mic picks up EVP activity. Thus, begins the “Bagans getting overcome with some unknown force and he begins pushing around his other investigator and we return to the full on exploitation style investigation” seen on Ghost Adventures.
Here’s the problem with this documentary and I think it’s why some remain really skeptical. Be it editing style, or Bagans’ own way of talking about the topic, or the people interviewed, it is pure exploitation. The Ammons are even dropped around the time that his more commonly seen Ghost Adventures style starts to take over. Sure, they are mentioned, but no further interest is paid to the reports of what happened to them. Even Father Maginot even disappears after exorcising the daughter of a woman who had also lived in that house and later says she suddenly remembers spooky shit that happened to her and her family – even tying her brother’s murder and daughters attempted suicide to the house itself.
Allow me to explain: Bagans is very good at asking questions of witnesses and so forth in a way that is similar to a lawyer. He asks leading questions at times, but also questions that can only give him the answers he wants. He’s not quite the slick car salesman like Ray Comfort, but he can get what he wants by asking carefully formed questions. He also often ties coincidences together as if that is hard, undeniable evidence.
My point is, Bagans knows how to ask the questions and he and his fellow investigators are a superstitious lot and that certainly colors a lot of what he does and how he does it.
Let’s also just rip this band-aid off too… Most of the people he talks to are “believers” in some way. They may not be directly religious, but they believe in ghosts and therefore, much like that good ol’ voodoo, they make the connections needed to make to fit their belief system. Many of the people Bagans talks to in this movie are indeed religious people (like Father Maginot), and African Americans who have deep spirituality and are able to make those same connections Bagans does to coincidences, higher powers affecting your world, etc.
I don’t want to say that Bagans is trying to exploit these people so it fits his own belief. If he is, he may not actually do this on purpose. In some ways, he’s a bit charming in what seems to be his enthusiasm for the subject matter of ghosts, but I have to be honest in my agnostic belief in the topic as well. It’s not helped by his belief that people are cursed by the house. That he’s been affected by past experiences in spooky places. That he, and many of the people he associates with, might even have emotional issues of his own. He certainly knows how to ask those questions, talk to spiritual people, or people who can be drawn to that energy he has about the topic. All that said, he ties the death of his former friend and collaborator Debby Constantino into all this as well and that has an exploitative touch to it and I felt kind of weird about that.
Everything that is interesting about Demon House is in the first 50 minutes or so. That’s where he talks about the history of the events surrounding the Ammons, the experiences of people who were in the house, and those associated with the Ammons. It’s where he flirts with the idea that this may all be a hoax. However, it’s certainly no coincidence that the final 45 minutes turns into a run of the mill episode of Ghost Adventures.
It is in this final 45 minutes we see people with computers and silly devices that are meant to prove to us that ghosts exist. We often have people talking about stuff and then suddenly stopping, looking at another person and saying, “Did you hear that? It sounded like [insert ghostly/demony sound effect here].” People act strange, do strange things, ghostly shapes reach out to people, and maybe enter them? One of the cameramen starts making a scene and, of course, the other guys take their cameras and try to capture that instead of trying to actually help him. It’s a bunch of stuff we see every weekend on Travel Channel, but R-rated and extended like an “uncut” episode found on DVD.
A lot of time is spent with a cameraman bro who is apparently possessed and saying scary things and punching walls at a hotel and such. Then we get a bunch of word salad from a doctor who worked with the case that got turned into the movie The Entity and it comes off like when someone approaches you in the Walmart parking lot asking you for money because they have to pick up their kid and their car is broken down. It’s a lot of shit spewing out trying to convince you that the house gave him a failing prostate when the guy is already really old.
See what I’m getting at? It’s just an overlong episode of Ghost Adventures that tries to convince you that ghosts are messing with people who seem to be kind of overacting. It’s not helped by the final 15 minutes being Bagans locked inside the house by himself like a fucking asshole, not wanting to turn out the lights (because every paranormal show requires completely darkness for… reasons), and you get to see him start to act weird. These final minutes of the movie is where you start to realize that maybe this is less a true documentary and this might be a little juiced for dramatic effect.
Look, if you want to believe everything done in the multiple paranormal investigation shows, I’m not going to take that away from you. I’m not going to lie, though, I remain skeptical. Without me being there with the investigators, I can’t say what exactly is what. I can say that when you already buy in, and you get placed into a scenario that kind of stresses you out or heightens your already active belief in the paranormal, it’s likely that you will start seeing and feeling things. If you believe this stuff, this movie will back up your belief with little or no true HARD evidence. If you aren’t into this stuff, then you’re likely going to find ways to poke holes in everything you see.
It’s not helped that Bagans invites you to either come along with him and believe as he does, or confront him and try to prove him wrong. It’s not helped that you at least get to hear the history of the reports, see some police evidence, see some official documents, and actual newspaper clippings. That will shape your feelings and intuition from the start. Throw in a little scary music, the typical freeze frames and various camera angles and movements, stories of people committing suicide, or sudden health issues (even Bagans himself claims that shortly after the time in the house, he is diagnosed with permanent diplopia), and some bros acting like assholes in hotels, and this movie will do little than only plant you more firmly in one camp or the other. You either believe or you don’t.
With practically no further evidence than what you get in a typical episode of Ghost Adventures, expanded, with the exploitation dial turned up a little, this movie is not going to move your own personal needle at all. It’s not particularly creepy. It does explain the story of Latoya Ammon with a fair amount of interesting bits of eye witness stories and actual reports to back up what we could all find with enough investigation. Yet, some of the things that befell people who had been in the house or were associated with the investigation are not out of the ordinary to occur (a guy fell off his bike, a cop get shot, a guy got sick, a teenager attempted suicide). However, it could have continued to delve deeper into the possible hoax idea which only ends in a real missed opportunity.
Bagans puts it best in the very last line: “Like I said at the beginning, this story is cursed.” Yeah, it really is. It is cursed by your inability to turn learning of a possible hoax perpetrated by Hollywood cash into an opportunity to really find out what happened to the Ammons family.