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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DUDE: The Goofy Brilliance of 'Ghost Adventures'

OK, fine, the ultra-goofy brilliance of "Ghost Adventures."

If you’ve ever found yourself furiously clicking through the Travel Channel schedule, hoping (in vain) to find a new episode of Anthony Bourdain, you might have come across “Ghost Adventures.” It’s a show in which a trio of friends — Zak, Aaaron, and Nick — travel to supposedly haunted places all over the United States (and sometimes Europe, for special occasions) to see if they can encounter anything paranormal.

Their m.o. is to lock themselves in terrifying old buildings and stay the full night in darkness, night vision cameras their only guide through dark hallways and crumbling, crypt-like rooms. They’re partial to dilapidated 19th-century hotels, old prisons, and abandoned asylums.

The ringleader, star, and voice-over narrator is Zak Bagans, who looks like he spends most of his time in a haunted gym eating growth hormones. Zak’s odd, unclassifiable, and strangely endearing persona is part of what makes “Ghost Adventures” so absorbing: What is his story? Is he some kind of gym-rat jock, a goth, or what? And why the anime haircut?

His portlier and/or slightly geekier cohorts Nick and Aaron do most of the camera work. They also supply plenty of hilarious and creepy encounters with the Beyond, mainly by capturing eerie disembodied voices on a tape recorder and feeling sudden cold chills (some variant of “Dude! It just got REALLY cold in here!” pops up on every episode).

Each “Ghost Adventures” routine usually includes the following:

- Scratchy, distorted tape recordings capture faint, wheezy voices that supposedly offer tell-tale signs of some particular ghost the guys have heard about (the lovelorn girl, the train conductor who hated the world, the murderous priest).

- Zak taunts the “bad” ghosts with jocular insults and challenges (“Come and get me, you bastard!”). Aaron usually gets ill from the weird vibes. Nick often hears demonic sounds.

- Dialogue usually includes “Dude. Dude! DUDE! DUDE!” and “Did you just fuckin’ hear that?!” and “I don’t feel good, dude.”

- Slamming doors, strange shadows, and uncanny voices from nowhere frighten everyone half to death.

- The guys often take their "findings" to some paranormal "expert" or another to verify whether or not they have indeed encountered a ghost. Their ghostly suspicions are usually confirmed!

The trio’s giddy excitement in the midst of terror might be the most endearing aspect of “Ghost Adventures.” In one episode, Zak exclaims “Yes, we DO show emotion! We love catching this! This is why we’re here!” after the the guys get particularly excited about some ghostly voice on the tape recorder. Though awesomely bad, "Ghost Adventures" is genuinely exciting on some level: it has a sense of fun that seems totally spontaneous and unforced. It captures so well the appeal of faraway places and experiences, the mysterious or romantic or fun qualities of voodoo tales or haunted Wild West hotels.

Zak and company make getting attacked by ghosts — or at least baiting their attacks — seem fun. After watching an episode or 10, you might find yourself crying "DUDE!" in the night.

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