Hollywood Plans a Paranormal End to the Summer
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:
- Along with sex and violence, the paranormal and the other-worldly is a universal subject with high interest that cuts across language, culture, and age. These films can be easily packaged and sold to mass audiences across the globe.
- History shows that at the turn-of-the-century, culture and art tend to turn towards the spiritual and the doomsdayish.
- Gothic is “in” right now among youth culture. Films of paranormal nature are appealing to the prized teen and twenty-something audience.
- The Baby-boomer generation is growing older with increasing fears and anxiety about the afterlife. These films may be popular because it is a way for Baby-boomers to cope. At the same time, Generation Xers and teens are going through a time of rapid technological and scientific advance and change. There may be a “future shock” effect going-on, where younger generations turn away from science, favoring non-scientific modes of thinking.
- People are tantalized by paranormal topics with belief relatively strong throughout the population. Visions of spirits, the afterlife, and extra-human powers can be assuaging and comforting.
- For Hollywood producers and writers always needing content to fill the plots of movies, these paranormal topics have a rich and vast lore from which to pull story ideas.
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 http://www.csicop.org is also included.
Contact Matt Nisbet at 716-636-1425 X219 to arrange interviews.
An atheist hairdresser suddenly experiences Christ-like bleeding wounds, and Vatican Priest Gabriel Byrne investigates. For comments on stigmata: Joe Nickell, Skeptical Inquirer investigative columnist.
Winona Ryder uncovers a devilish plot to let Satan come to Earth. Anti-Christ included. For comments on belief in Satan, the Anti-Christ, and exorcism: Paul Kurtz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, SUNY-Buffalo, and founding chair of CSICOP.
Rosemary’s Baby meets Alien as Johnny Depp plays an astronaut who is possessed while in space and returns home to menace wife Charlize Theron. For comments on belief in aliens: Kurtz
Johnny Depp (again) plays a book-collector who stumbles across ancient codes for demonic possession. For comments on demon possession: Kurtz.
Child therapist Bruce Willis encounters a boy who can see dead spirits. For comments on spirit mediums: Nickell.
Kevin Bacon is hypnotized and invaded by evil spirits. For comments on hypnosis: Robert Baker, Professor of Psychology, University of Kentucky.
Depp (still again) plays Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton’s take on America’s most famous ghost legend. For comments on ghost investigation: Nickell.
Arnold Schwarzenegger battles the devil (Gabriel Byrne) who comes to earth to mark the end of the millennium. For comments on doomsday prophecy and fears of the millennium: Kurtz.
Based on the Stephen King novel by the same name, in this film starring Gary Sinise and Tom Hanks a death row inmate is discovered to have miraculous healing powers. For comments on miracle healing: Wallace Sampson, retired professor of medicine, Stanford University.
Five people are offered a million dollars to spend the night in an insane asylum. For comments on haunted houses: Nickell.