By WILLIAM J.WRIGHT
Dim the lights and order room service because legendary comic actor and paranormal expert Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers) is back to narrate more terrifying true stories of the world’s most haunted hotels in season two of Saloon Media/Blue Ant Studios’ HOTEL PARANORMAL, premiering this month on Canada’s T+E network. Featuring interviews with real people who have come face to face with the supernatural, commentary from leading psychic mediums and paranormal investigators, and recreations of actual encounters with entities from beyond, the second season of HOTEL PARANORMAL promises to be yet another terrifying and thought-provoking journey into the unknown. Recently, series producer Sarah Zammit (Haunted Hospitals, Into the Unknown) sat down with Rue Morgue to discuss all things ghostly and drop some tantalizing hints about what spooky surprises await viewers.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Sarah. First off, are you yourself a believer in the paranormal?
That’s a good question. I have not had paranormal experiences. To me, I’m interested in questions of the afterlife. I’m interested in questions about things that can’t be explained. So I would say that I’m definitely open to the idea that there is more around us than certainly, I’ve experienced. I didn’t grow up as a believer. I really came to the subject matter through making TV shows. But what interested me right off the bat was when I would talk to people about working on a paranormal TV show – everybody had a story about some kind of encounter. The more that I talked to people about it, literally every single person had a ghost story. So I have a deep appreciation and certainly an openness to the paranormal, but I’ve not experienced paranormal encounters.
Has being exposed to the supernatural subject matter of shows you’ve worked on like HOTEL PARANORMAL and Haunted Hospitals altered your perspective on life and death?
Yeah, I think there’s such a deep longing and need to answer questions like, “What happens when we die?” “Is my loved one who passed on okay?” “Is there some way to still connect?” I think those are all powerful questions that are central to any kind of exploration of the paranormal. The breadth of the paranormal fascinates me. I think that’s what I’ve learned and what’s been opened up to me in doing these TV shows. There’s a wide range of beliefs. There’s a wide range of encounters, and there’s a wide range of thought…it’s given me a deep appreciation, and my approach to the interviewees and the subject matter is that I’m not here to prove or disprove. I’m very interested in what people believe actually happened and why and how those experiences changed them.
As you know, T+E recently conducted an in-depth survey that found, among other things, that nearly half (46%) of all Canadians believe in ghosts. Are you surprised by those results and how do you account for such a widespread belief in the paranormal?
I’m surprised and I’m not surprised. One in ten felt that they had stayed in a haunted hotel and half the people polled have had some kind of encounter. But, you know, from my perspective, the appetite for this type of show – not just what I’m doing but in general – in the entertainment world and in popular culture is huge. It seems that there is an endless desire to watch these shows. There’s something compelling about this connection to the afterlife and what is that opening between this world and the world of the afterlife and beyond. Because these types of shows have resonated so strongly with audiences, I wasn’t surprised – everybody has a story. I think there’s something very interesting about that kind of contact. What is it? What’s going on? People love mystery and they want answers to some of our biggest questions.
I understand that there were some strange goings-on during the production of HOTEL PARANORMAL season two. What can you tell me about some of the unusual occurrences that happened on the set?
Yeah! We were filming at a hotel in Ontario that had been assessed by a medium who felt that it was an active site and that there were portals, et cetera, at this hotel. [The crew] was very excited that we were filming there, but also, there was a number of crew who, unrelated to each other, came up to me over the course of the filming [with experiences]. One person had said that they found a bullet casing. He had shut the door, there was nothing there, and he woke up in the morning and there was an old, empty bullet casing. So that was one thing, and then there was stuff like a word written in a mist. There was another person who was so terrified that he went and woke up another crew member in the middle of the night because he thought that there was a shadow figure in the room with him and he felt it pressing down on him. We had actors who felt that they had had things happen and didn’t want to be there. We’re filming a paranormal TV show, so obviously we’re shooting things that are scary and intense. There are some really obvious reasons why people might have that reaction, but I’ve done these kinds of shows before and not had that kind of experience where people were really adamant that these things had happened. It was quite something to be filming this show and witnessing people around me being impacted by their own paranormal encounters.
“I’m very interested in what people believe actually happened and why and how those experiences changed them.”
Why do you think that hotels are such a focal point for paranormal activity?
There are a number of reasons. There may be some kind of tragedy that happened or some kind of conflict or unresolved trauma that happened on the land where the hotel was built. Sometimes, it’s the building itself. There are so many people who go through hotels. There are some stats that state that there are really high numbers of suicides in hotels. There’s intense activity that happens. People get married or they’re breaking up or they’re having affairs. There can be all sorts of reasons. There’s a heavy footprint of a whole bunch of energy going through a place, and the idea is that a lot of that energy gets left behind.
You have a true legend in both the worlds of entertainment and the paranormal as narrator for HOTEL PARANORMAL. What does Dan Aykroyd bring to the show and does he ever have any insight regarding the stories you cover?
He brings so much to the show! I can’t imagine the show without his voice. He determines the tone of the storytelling. He’s an incredible icon, obviously, and just a complete professional. He’s driven by excellence, so it’s just an honor and pleasure working with him. He truly elevated the great writing that was there, but really, we wrote for him. He would see the shows and watch and definitely there was back and forth about the kinds of encounters that were there. He would share insights on some of what he thought was happening there or compare it to something else he had heard of or offer his expertise through theories about what he thought might be going on. Working with him and getting to have a back and forth around each of these stories with him was really an exceptionally great part of working on the series.
What goes into researching stories for the show?
We start with the interviewees and we definitely look for a variety of locations – anywhere from grand hotels to motels to BnBs to guest houses and we look for geographic variety. The strongest story wins at the end of the day. Across the series, we did have quite a lot of variety. Often, we can’t name the hotels –sometimes we don’t have permission. There’s a really wide range of places that people have stayed in and that is always interesting. We had one place that dated back to the 1100s, and we have newer hotels and houses that have become BnBs that were potentially built out of bricks from local prisons. It’s interesting how the actual building itself is sort of animated during a paranormal encounter. Sometimes, it’s a spirit within the building, but in some stories, it was the building itself that seemed to contain energy that contributed to the encounter.
HOTEL PARANORMAL’s reenactments are some of the scariest parts of the show. What are some of the challenges in producing these intense sequences?
There’s an extraordinary team of people that I’m fortunate enough to work with. That’s really the truth of it. The team is sensational, and they have very, very little time. That’s probably the biggest challenge. There’s not a lot of days to shoot these stories, so we jam-pack a lot into a very, very short period of time, and we do that very well, but you can only do so much with the time that you have. That’s the biggest challenge. I’m constantly amazed at how the team knocks it out of the park consistently even with extraordinary challenges.
With the plethora of paranormal content on television, how does HOTEL PARANORMAL stand out from the pack?
I hope that, at its core, there’s an authenticity to it where there’s a balance between feeling the truths of the interviewees and some great drama. I feel like people are drawn to true stories. With good storytelling and trying to be as authentic as possible and also trying to be as entertaining as possible, I hope that it’s a winning combination.
Without giving away too much, what can we expect in season two of HOTEL PARANORMAL?
Lots and lots of string episodes! We have some paranormal events that I’ve never heard of before – fire, electrical entities, possessions that are just so layered and so complex and so visual and terrifying! There are also some stories of beautiful encounters, but we really go on a ride with everyone. We have a real string of strong storytellers, and I hope people enjoy the ride.
HOTEL PARANORMAL, Season 2 airs Fridays at 9 PM ET/PT on T+E, starting July 2nd 2021.