Review: Blair Witch (2016)

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If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a terrible surprise… 

When my local cinema advertised the chance to see a yet-to-be-released and unnamed horror movie for just £5 I jumped at the chance. In my gut, I knew it was going to be either Ouija: Origin of Evil or Blair Witch and I did a little fist pump of joy when the Blair Witch title came up on the screen.

Not everybody did, though. About half a dozen people walked out at this point. Perhaps they had traumatic memories of watching the original Blair Witch Project? I certainly do. I was twelve when the found footage movie hit the big screen and revolutionised the way in which we experience horror movies. I didn’t get to see it until it was released for rental and then my mum talked me into sitting up to watch it with her.

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Black Hills Forest

Back then I wasn’t a paranormal researcher (I was just 12) and I believed that ghosts were real and the film terrified me. My head was full of real-life anecdotal stories of terror from around the world (because I was a ghost geek even then) and I couldn’t get my head around whether or not this was another one of those, or entirely fictional. For days afterwards I couldn’t look up into trees just in case there were stick effigies hanging in them (just as I couldn’t look out of a window at nighttime in case I saw the red eyes of Mothman.)

So when the ‘Blair Witch’ classification notice came onto the screen revealing what our movie would be, this time, 29-year-old me made a commitment to watch it without fear. For 12-year-old me. To restore honour to my family.

I really enjoyed the film. It was interesting to see how modern technology was used by the group of friends exploring that notorious woodland and the forward-planning by the characters added to the authentic feel of the story.

And until this evening I always thought that the notion that a horror movie could make you jump out of your seat was just a saying but there was one moment that really did make me do that. I freaked right out but managed to contain myself.

James Allen McCune in Blair Witch (2016)
James Allen McCune in Blair Witch (2016)

The suspense in Blair Witch is carefully crafted and toe-curlingly good. It builds superbly and paces well but sometimes the payoff was a little bit too predictable and cliched. Other times, not so much.

Having revisited The Blair Witch Project (1999) in my adulthood and now having watched Blair Witch (2016) I’d say that I prefer the 1999 film simply because the fear was of something unknown and mostly unseen.

The occasional glance, the movement in the peripheral, the suggestion, noises and signs that indicated something was just beyond the reach of observation… all combined this gives it the edge over the 2016 sequel. A sequel that has all of those things but also used a few too many scare tactics resulting, at times, in something that was supposed to be scary but actually had people chuckling.

There were many bits of the story left unresolved and I can’t help but wonder if this is to lay foundations for a follow-up. I am divided on whether I want that to be true.

All in all, Blair Witch is the second best movie to come out of this franchise and I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. If you enjoyed the 1999 film I am confident you’ll enjoy this one too.

Blair Witch is released in cinemas September 16th.

Musings on Special Snowflakes

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I’m a card-carrying member of the Labour party. I’m a skeptic, humanist, atheist, secularist and feminist who is part of the LGBT community. I’m telling you this so that you can see that people have reason to disagree with my opinions on a regular basis.

It happens and I welcome it. We all have our opinions and we’re allowed to voice them and to disagree with one another. Sometimes we might *gasp* change our minds.

Yet, in the last year or so I’ve found myself being labelled as a “social justice warrior” by those I debate with online. So often have I seen people respond to my points by typing #SJW, #SafeSpace, #Triggered, or #SpecialSnowflake.

It happens so regularly that I’ve invented a sort of law; the quicker someone is to label you as such, the more racist they are. Just need a name for it.

It’s an assumption on their part that because I am a young woman (though it happens to male friends too) with lefty ideas I am part of the regressive left movement that seems to relish is closing down speech that they do not agree with. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Someone once pointed out that I had short hair and “look gay” as evidence that I was a so-called Social Justice Warrior which, I must say, was such a charming and convincing argument.

I almost lost a job once for publicly criticising faith healers and I have seen friends and people I admire no-platformed and mobbed with hate because their opinions are considered inappropriate. A male friend of mine was once the subject of a hate campaign because he shared a Jesus and Mo cartoon. I’ve previously blogged my opinions on free speech and attacks against it and how easy it is to think you’re being rational when you’re not. Here are some examples:

Hate Speech: Atheist Students
Jesus and Mo Walk Into A Freshers Fair…
The Shirt That Matt Wore
Banning Books: You Are Your Child’s Enemy

It is so frustrating, then, that people so easily presume I am like this just because I don’t agree with their ideas that take root in right-wing ideology. Dismissing people as SJWs or “special snowflakes” because they don’t agree with you is such a presumption. It appears to be a tactic used to dismiss the need to address any claims or points I am making and it’s as dismissive and as counter-productive to rational discourse as no-platforming speakers because of a so-called safe space policy.

I understand that trigger warnings are useful in some instances but it is my opinion that the idea of “being triggered” is over-used in some areas of society by people who don’t want their ideas to be challenged. Whether that’s ghost hunters who don’t like skeptics, theists who don’t like atheists or feminists who don’t like a certain type of other feminist.

But whether such people are wrong with their tactics (which I think they are) doesn’t really justify this new-ish way of dismissing an opponent. #sjw is the new way to justify not answering points raised against you when your argument is weak. A new method of avoiding the burden of proof.

Naturally, this begs the question – who is really the special snowflake, hmm?


 

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That Viral Gettysburg Ghost Video

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A video uploaded to Youtube in 2013 has been gaining some traction on social media in the last few weeks. It’s footage of two ghost hunters allegedly capturing a ghost on video on a battlefield in Gettysburg.

Here is a screen-cap of the moment the ghost appears in case it isn’t clear.

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In episode 14 of The Spooktator we asked Kenny Biddle to join us as a guest host and just prior to recording I asked Kenny if we could discuss this video in the show because I was interested on his take on it. You can listen to episode 14 by clicking here.

Kenny has gone one step further than just providing his opinion on this footage – he’s actually deconstructed the whole thing in this really insightful video! Check it out and give Kenny a follow over on the I Am Kenny Biddle blog.

I originally considered this to be something done in After Effects or similar industry-standard software but Kenny shows you don’t need anything that fancy to produce these sorts of effects.

p.s. Kenny mentions Captain Disillusion. You can find his Youtube channel here AND you can catch Captain Disillusion at QEDcon next month. #exciting

Win: A Natural History of Ghosts

competition time

YOU CAN WIN…

natural history ghostsTo be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke all you have to do is subscribe to this blog by filling in the form below.

Described as ‘insightful and illuminating’, A Natural History of Ghosts is a firm favourite in the Stevens household. In it Clarke traces the scientific and social aspects of ghostly sightings and brings to life classic cases from Hinton Ampner and Borley to the Angels of Mons. But he does more than just tell ghost stories… he explores why and how these stories came to be, and what they mean to us today. This book is a delightful read whether you believe in ghosts or not.

The winner will also receive a Ghost Geek pin badge and something from my ghost collection too (which is a collection of ghost-related merch, toys and items and not actual ghosts.)

Badge modeled here by "psychic conman", Ash Pryce
Badge in the wild. Model: Ash Pryce.

The best news is that I won’t bombard you with spam once you’ve signed up. You’ll just get an update when something new is added to the site. It’s a win-win situation!

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

Bill Nye on Ghosts

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The folks over at BigThink.com recently shared a video in which Bill Nye answers a question from a woman and her son about ghosts.

‘We have a question on your perspective on ghosts, and what you think happens to your life energy after you die. Is it just pushing daisies?”

It presented a great opportunity for Nye to respond to a question that many people have asked through the centuries.

The answers provided by Nye are less than inspiring though. His first mistake is to treat ghosts and psychics as one subject when this simply isn’t the case. A parapsychologist will study psychic claims but typically not ghosts and haunted houses. A paranormal researcher (like me) will research ghosts and haunted houses but not psychics.

Nye mentions that he is a member of several skeptic societies who have “looked and looked for haunted houses, ghosts in cemeteries or psychics who believe they’re in touch with people who are dead and there’s no credible evidence.”

What I think he means is that skeptical investigators routinely examine the evidence presented by people who claim it provides evidence of such things, and find it to be less than compelling and certainly not up to standard. No skeptical society that I am aware of has ever launched investigations to actively find evidence which would be a venture into the pseudo-scientific.

In the video Nye also talks about Harry Houdini and the code that Houdini promised to deliver after he died should ghosts be real. He seems to be quite confused though as he states:

“You may know that Houdini, the famous magician, said “if anybody can come back from the dead it’s me, man. I’m coming. And he never got in touch with anyone, no-one ever heard from him. yet a secret word between he and his mother that he said, you know, I’ll give you the secret word when he comes back. You know what the secret word is? NOBODY KNOWS! It was secret! He never came back!”

The code word was actually shared between Houdini and his wife, Bess. The word was also published in the authorised Houdini biography written by Harold Kellock titled Houdini, His Life Story.

Those who listen only to Nye’s version will not know the truth and perhaps will miss out on the insight that the Houdini story provides into the human relationship with ghosts.

For a while Bess believed Houdini had communicated from beyond the grave but it is likely that this was her way of coping with her grief following his death. This has been written about in detail by Massimo Polidoro for Skeptical Inquirer and you can read about it here.

This is something we see happening even today. Ghosts are a coping mechanism for many people and research has shown that some people benefit from the belief that a deceased love one is visiting them in ghost form. This is why I found myself growing annoyed with Nye when, at the end of the video, he tells the woman who asked the question that she can outwit her friends who believe in ghosts.

“Your friends who believe in ghosts – you can outwit them. You’re ahead of them because you’ll not waste energy look around looking for ghosts.”

Oh, hun. No. Not believing in ghosts doesn’t make you a superior person. Just watch skeptics talk about politics and you’ll see that non-belief =/= intelligence.

People who believe in ghosts aren’t stupid. They’re often people searching for closure or trying to figure out what they’ve experienced. I should know because I am the result of that line of reasoning. People asking these questions are not wasting their time in doing so.

Although Nye is technically right that research has provided no evidence for the survival of the human “soul”, this isn’t the whole sum of ghosts or even paranormal research.

Some people who believe in ghosts do not believe ghosts to be the human soul. Some people do not believe that haunted houses are haunted by ghosts, some people believe in ghosts but not haunted houses.

Paranormal research is a complex and weird field of study regardless of which direction you approach it from. Even those who’ve been researching this area for decades learn new things all of the time, which is why the research is ongoing. The confidence with which Nye dismissed these ideas suggests that he’s an expert, but his incorrect statements prove otherwise.

It’s behaviour like this that make me think I was right when I recently wrote of how Science Snobs Make Us All Stupid. And you can take my word for it because I’m a member of several skeptical societies – and even on the board for one.

I would have loved for Nye to say “evidence suggests ghosts aren’t real but…”, because we have so much to learn and teach about human perception from the experiences that people report. Explaining the Ideomotor response or Pareidolia effect can blow minds. As skeptics we could do well to remember that just because we have knowledge, not everybody does and it’s this can be used to engage people. Not ill-informed dismissals.

Knowledge is only powerful if you share it.