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Hollywood Plans a Paranormal End to the Summer

Matt Nisbet

July 22, 1999

For Immediate Release
Contact Matt Nisbet at 716-636-1425 X219

Skeptical Inquirer Magazine Offers Critical Guide to Movie Topics

AMHERST, N.Y.— Stigmata. Witches. Doomsday scenarios. Spirit communication. Devil possession. Hypnotism. Haunted houses. Miraculous healing powers. All these topics and more are being given life in movie theaters this summer and early fall as Hollywood is set to release a dozen films centered on themes of the paranormal, the occult, and the extraordinary.

The earliest offerings include The Haunting which opens July 21, and The Blair Witch Project which expands to wider national release on the same date. Starring Liam Neeson, The Haunting involves a band of test subjects suffering from sleep-disorders who are taken to an allegedly haunted house as part of a researcher’s experiment in hypnosis and suggestibility. Soon the patients begin to experience frightening ghost experiences, and what the researcher thinks is illusion, the patients know is real.

The plot of The Blair Witch Project involves a group of young documentary filmmakers who venture into the woods of Maryland to investigate a two-hundred year old legend of a witch. Mishap and misfortune ensues, as horror is depicted in a unique documentary-style. What movie audiences watch on the theater screen is the “actual” footage that was found after the film crews disappearance and untimely demise. In reality, The Blair Witch Project is heavy in artistic invention with no basis in real-life events. However, that has not stopped a sizable word-of-mouth hype about the movie, with many members of the public unclear about the veracity of the legend and film footage.

“Hollywood knows that the paranormal, the extraordinary, and the other-worldly will get people into theaters,” says Matt Nisbet of Skeptical Inquirer, The Magazine for Science and Reason. “They're taking what are essentially legends and myths left over from the Middle Ages and weaving them into big budget film releases. And boy, will they sell.”

Nisbet highlights several possible reasons for the sudden rash of paranormal-themed Hollywood films:

Nisbet also points out that, similar in effect to The Blair Witch Project, many of these films carry with them a veneer of reality. Viewers may watch the film knowing it is only fiction, but many times the film is the first time that audiences have heard much if anything about a claim like stigmata or hypnosis. If these claims are presented in a fictionalized account as real and supported by heroic characters and vivid recreations, then audiences are likely to come away with a heightened interest in the topic as well as increased belief.

“It is so very important that the public hear the scientific criticism and counter-evidence to claims like stigmata. Otherwise belief in these things exist as mental roadblocks, getting in the way of our ability to employ reason in a scientific world.”

For background articles on the depiction of the paranormal and science in film and television, go to:

Skeptical Inquirer Magazine’s Guide to Topics Featured in Upcoming Films

The following is a listing and brief description of films to be released in the late summer and fall, followed by suggested researchers to interview. A Web address for related articles from Skeptical Inquirer magazine and is also included.

Contact Matt Nisbet at 716-636-1425 X219 to arrange interviews.

Matt Nisbet

Matthew Nisbet is Associate Professor of Communication at Northeastern University and a CSI technical consultant.