By: Claire Horsnell
Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans is no stranger to spectres and spirits. His energetic approach to spook-hunting filled sixteen seasons of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, during which he visited some of the most haunted locations on Earth. However, in his new film Demon House, he faces what might be his greatest challenge so far. Intrigued by dramatic reports of demonic possession and manifestation in a small house in Gary, Indiana, Bagans purchased the house, and spent the next two years investigating and documenting apparently paranormal activity within it. The movie is a fascinating study of a haunting, and definitely raises more questions than it answers— but Bagans was so disturbed by his experiences in the house that, at the close of filming, he had the building demolished in order to prevent anyone else being harmed by it. Fortunately, he was not too spooked to speak to Rue Morgue about his documentary…
Your movie begins with a warning that demonic forces can travel electronically. It’s not something that you get into in depth in the movie – it’s mostly focussed on the house, of course – but as a veteran ghost hunter, is that something that you’ve experienced previously?
Z: Spirits can affect electronic devices and they can manipulate them. It’s kind of like the old Poltergeist movie where they get trapped in the television. These entities, who are highly intelligent, would change the settings to my DVR twice, to my security system; they followed a police chief home and started changing his code to his alarm system, they would turn off cellphones. And so it makes you wonder, these demons, these entities, do they have some form of ability through instrumental transcommunication, travelling through various forms of electricity and electronic devices? For me the warning is not for publicity, it’s a very real thing. They don’t want to be figured out, they don’t want to be probed, they don’t want to be dissected. They don’t want to be figured out by somebody.
You use a combination of interviews, real-time footage, and dramatization, which is quite unusual in a documentary. What was the artistic process that led you to the decision to incorporate dramatized versions of certain events?
Z: When I interviewed the child protective services case manager Valerie Washington [who claims in the movie that she witnessed a child who lived in the house walking backward up a wall], she told me that when she witnessed these events, it traumatized her to the point of having to move to a different state. I wanted that same tone to come through in some of the re-enactments, for people to feel the effects of what it would kind of be like to witness this. When children become affected by paranormal events, it’s scary because they’re so defenceless. To me, that makes it even more terrifying to the viewer, to know that these innocent children were being affected by something so evil that they couldn’t understand. So I wanted to use these re-enactments as a way for the viewer to go back and kind of witness those events since they weren’t on any footage. So I mixed, you know, those visual elements with appropriate sound effects to intensify the emotions of what those particular events were like.
There’s one especially dramatic moment in the movie where a dark shape appears on the film – almost like something reaching out toward you and the crew—that you had analyzed by a NASA technician. Did the technician eventually figure out what it was?
Z: I did indeed send the roll of footage to a NASA video analyst that’s worked on several space shuttle missions including the Hubble telescope mission. I wanted his yea or nay on it. And upon reviewing it, he discovered that had we had gone back and recreated the same thing, if the cameraman had put his hand in front of the lens, there would have been a flesh tone associated with the hand. This [the shape in the frame] was a completely [solid] black mass. It came into the frame, [and] it shapeshifted into a different shape. And he was able to examine that security camera [footage], really zoom in there and use all of the software that he used on all of these NASA missions to see that the cameraman did not wave his hand in front of the lens whatsoever. And it was mighty interesting how the cameraman, within seconds of that, became severely affected.
Some of the most disturbing footage in the movie concerns cameraman Adam Allbright, who appears to undergo a significant personality change after coming into close proximity to the mysterious shape caught on camera. What happened to Adam? Obviously in the film he was severely affected…
Z: He was vomiting blood profusely after this happened, and he started saying some things to me about how I’m going to commit suicide and how I should go and kill myself in the house. And I had to let him go. I tried calling him about a month after this all happened, and he sent me a message and said sorry, I just do not ever want to talk about this again, and I can’t talk to you. I have not heard from him since. I don’t know where he’s at now, but I do know that shortly after this happened, he ended up getting 666 tattooed on both of his hands. I have not had any communications with him since; I don’t know how he’s doing. It was a really scary moment in that whole series of events.
You made a comment in the movie about the connection between poverty and hauntings. Do you still see them as connected?
Z: Gary, Indiana, was once named the murder capital of the country. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of poverty there, and there’s a lot of crime, a lot. And then there’s a lot of churches there, there’s a lot of schools there that are just not open, they just don’t have the funding any more. I believe that these demonic entities, they feed off of that. I believe they’re highly intelligent, and when they possess people, they will go after people that they know can’t move out, that financially they can’t go anywhere or do anything about it. The family in this house were trapped: they couldn’t run from this, they had to stay there. And I think that that really adds to where [the entities] choose to do these kind of things. I didn’t want to portray Gary, Indiana, as a poverty-stricken place, but the reality is that it is. In El Paso, Texas, they have a lot of demonic hauntings and demonic infestations; it borders a place in Mexico, Juarez, that was also once the murder capital of the world. I believe that where there’s massive crime, massive death, massive murders, massive drug use, massive gang activity, those are all the elements that conjure a demon.
Obviously the house was demolished, but you kept some souvenirs. Have you experienced any activity related to the souvenirs you kept?
Z: As a collector, I did decide to keep some items from the house. I put them in a storage unit and I kept them there for a while, and then I decided to put some of those artefacts into my museum (Bagans owns a 12,000 square foot historic mansion in Las Vegas, which he has converted into a themed museum containing a large collection of haunted objects.) There were two painters that were doing work in the Demon House exhibit and while they were working, their personalities changed. They said that it felt like the life was being sucked out of them. They both literally ran out of the building and they never came back. I do have some of the artefacts on display at the museum, and we’ve had some people have some experiences, but I don’t open it up too much. I want to display it but at the same time, I know what it has done to people. So it’s kind of a teeter-totter with me, whether I feel it’s right for me to be showing this stuff. I just feel that since I demolished the house, that I kind of destroyed their nest
This project obviously took a long time and had a big emotional and physical toll on you. What are you working on next?
Z: I am working on another film right now but I can’t go into detail on it, unfortunately. I’m busy with Ghost Adventures and filming and investigating that, and then my museum, but I am working on a new film as well.
You can watch Demon House in select theatres, on VOD, and Digital HD now.