Heckling Hitler’s Ghost: The Posthumous Pleasures of Ghost Hunters International

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Boy do I love me some ghost stories.

In all honesty, I tend to approach most poltergeist-obsessed TV series with a certain level of indifference, convinced I’ll be underwhelmed. But more often than not, when I finally get around to watching all that eerie night vision footage – typically in a marathon, as the episodes stack up in my DVR menu – I get hooked by those scenes of men and women running around in the dark, calling out to other dimensions. By the time I switch off the TV, I’m always a little spooked about walking through the shadows to the bedroom; I’d like to pretend these shows are pure silliness, but they get to me in a very primal way. (More on Techland: The top 10 sci-fi films of the decade)

One of my favorite series is Ghost Hunters International, not only because of the show’s name – they’re not just looking for ghosts, they’re hunting ghosts – but because of the technology and audacity on display. The new season kicks off on Syfy Wednesday night, with an episode that finds the hunters openly heckling the spirit of Adolf Hitler.

Apparently there’s a conspiracy theory that Hitler didn’t commit suicide at the end of World War II but instead escaped to South America where he lived out his days relaxing at a hotel in Argentina – a hotel that today is run down and littered with spooky tales of apparitions and ghosts. After the Ghost Hunters set up shop with a bunch of new equipment, the crew makes a few genuinely creepy finds: The sounds of Nazi boots marching through the hallways and the image of a transparent figure sitting hunched over on a bed. The latter is actually pretty damn impressive.

But by far the best moments of the season premiere are when the investigators set out to rouse the Fuhrer himself. There they are, in the middle of the night, heckling one of history’s most infamous figures. “Come on you war criminal!” they scream, and I’ll admit it: I giggled a little bit. It leaves me thinking of a whole slew of Ghost Hunter episodes that could be done in a bid to track down the infamously disgraced in the afterlife. (More at Techland: Complete coverage from the Consumer Electronics Show)

I spoke with two members of the Ghost Hunters team – Dustin Pari and Barry Fitzgerald – about their unusual techniques, the challenges of the standard paranormal investigation – and why they chose to go after Hitler.

There are a few scenes in this premiere when it seems like you’re  actually having a lot of fun, jabbing at Hitler and trying to get him to make a scene.

Investigator Dustin Pari: I find this whole notion of Hitler possibly escaping World Ward War II fascinating. And it’s not often that I personally go into a situation looking to provoke much, but Hitler is one of those universal villains where there’s nothing you can say that’s too politically incorrect. So we went on the attack. Personally, I don’t buy into the story that he died down there in Argentina, but I thought we’d have a little more fun with it and go into it looking to provoke a response.

What’s the most convincing ghost evidence you’ve found in recent missions?

D.P.: There have actually been two recent cases in Argentina that were both amazing. We have a full spectrum photo that shows a character seated on a bed and there’s also another intriguing image that we saw at a location where a child died of hypothermia. In that investigation I saw a short shadow figure that was 2.5-3 feet tall, and it just knocked me back on my heels. It wasn’t something I was expecting. But coming up this season I think we have some of our best cases yet, with the best evidence. If ever there was a time for people to catch the program and possibly turn from a skeptic to a believer, this is it.

When you say ‘believer’ though, there’s more going on here than just getting spooked or freaked out. Do your missions ever lead you to think a little differently about the afterlife? There’s something almost spiritual about what you’re doing here.

D.P.: I would say that I’m the spiritual brooder of the group. I’m definitely tuned in to different world religions and one of the things I don’t like is the term ‘ghost.’ You start to conjur up images of white sheets or something, and that’s a far cry from what we’re really dealing with. To the best of my ability, I try to conduct my investigations as if I was conducting an interview with someone like you and I, and to invite them to come forward and make a connection. The bigger picture is, of course, what happens after we leave our bodies and after life is over, why are some of these people still here? I theorize that there’s a window of time where we can hang out and check in on loved ones after we die. But why some of them stay and some don’t, there seems to be a lot more than meets the eye.

Purely in terms of the images you guys are now capturing, and the technology behind the cameras you’re using, it seems as if you have taken the next big step…

Investigator and photographer Barry Fitzgerald: For 20 years,  I think the technology has been rather stagnant. But we’re now making a move towards better equipment that can provide us with answers. Already, with our new cameras, things are happening in the frame that we are not responsible for. We did an investigation in Tasmania that was truly amazing, where we captured this image of a person walking across the open ground over the course of a 30-second exposure. It’s a person walking across the screen and we tried over and over to duplicate what the camera had produced, and there’s simply no way we could make it happen again. When you have evidence like this, it’s harder to dismiss.

We’re also seeing new cameras being developed. I just got my hands on a camera that has four different modes, capable of switching between ultraviolet, infrared, low light and an extremely sensitive thermal imager. It’s capable of seeing drafts coming in from under a door and using forensic software to analyze even the slightest movement. The sophistication of this equipment is a game changer, and I feel like we are standing at the precipice  where no one has ever stood before, of being able to see and analyze things in a way that no one has ever done before.

I’ve always been surprised by some of the photographic evidence from these sorts of investigations – sometimes we’re looking at blurs or orbs that could have been caused by a flash or a light reflection…

B.F.: I try not to work with a flash, and there has been an orb phenomenon that a lot of people see and run with it. But most of those orbs are due to dust and moisture reflecting light. What we’re trying to do is get beyond the limitations of our own eyes. There’s a filter that develops over the eyes between the ages of 7 and 13 that stops us as developing children from seeing into the full spectrum. As adults, we can no longer see what children can see. So the goal with these new cameras is to see the full spectrum, and the result is that we start to record images of things that weren’t there before. The human eye is very good, but some of these new camera developments are 10 years ahead of anything we’ve ever seen before.

How much does the international dimension of your show add to the challenges of your investigations?

B.F.: If you’re going to get a good feel for these locations, you really have to understand history. When we deal with locations in Europe, for example, there’s a multiple layer thing going on, where you have 900 years of history to work with and you have to differentiate what time periods these things are associated with. It’s almost like a puzzle: You’re not just going after a ghost, but what time period this ghost is from and what it’s trying to say. That’s the biggest mystery for a lot of these locations – as you’ll see with some of the episodes coming up after Hitler’s ghost.

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