The Conjuring

I was fortunate enough to see an advance screening of The Conjuring last night, and even though I promised never to write a movie review, I’m gonna do it anyway. Since the official release date is July 19, I’ll do my best not to ruin it for you.

Basically, I think I may have witnessed the birth of a classic – the kind of paradigmatic film people recommend 40 years later for all the right reasons. The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense” immediately come to mind, and that’s some pretty lofty company. The Conjuring was just that good for me. It’s one of the best directed films I’ve seen in years, and the lack of CGI effects make the experience even more faithful to reality. Every technical aspect seemed wonderfully flawless to me, and the cast was perfectly selected, but that doesn’t explain why this movie works so well. That comes from its honesty, because this film tears right through your soul.

If you’re a fan of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and who isn’t really, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do them proud with sensitive, realistic performances that can only add to the Warren legacy. And Lili Taylor was spectacular in my opinion. She righteously communicated the most difficult range of emotions to translate on film – that of growing, gripping fear, without any reliance on melodrama or forced reaction. For my money, Ms. Taylor may have turned in the best performance of her career – never over the top, but always on the edge. The entire cast was impressive, and they did it the hard way, with an obvious dedication to character and old-fashioned acting.

Unlike most modern films, The Conjuring doesn’t try too hard. Theres no window dressing or useless frills; no assaultive shock-value or cheap thrills; no bullshit paranormal mumbo-jumbo – just an unassuming but astonishing story that feels completely genuine every second of the experience. Of course there are moments sprinkled throughout the film that make you jump, but they’re natural without ever being obvious. And The Conjuring certainly doesn’t tone down the creepiness factor, but it never seems forced.

This is basically a throwback film in that it doesn’t rely on gimmicks, illogical horror, or gratuitous violence. Instead, The Conjuring commits to quality of story and just the perfect amount of suspense to seamlessly lead you down the same terrifying path of no return the Perron family is forced to endure. You share their anguish, feel their indescribably damaging and hopeless terror, and suffer every excruciating second along with them. But this film succeeds where so many others fail because it rises above the nonsense and makes you a true believer. I don’t think I spent a single moment questioning either its authenticity or plausibility.

The Conjuring is just very good filmmaking – possibly great. Certainly it is near the top of its genre. This is a must see, and well worth the trip to the theatre. This is what “the movies” are all about.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/
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Voices From Forever by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/ZBBmj Available on Amazon
There Is No Silence by Randall Keller http://goo.gl/U6KY7 Available on Amazon.

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Fool’s Gold

My wife and I watched spellbound as a strange, translucent shadow moved back and forth in the hallway outside our bedroom door. It moved inconsistently at about human height, and bore a strikingly similar shape to that of a person. We watched a while, anticipating movement; looking for clues to its identity; commenting on what we thought it might be. Eventually, I got out of bed and proceeded to the only light source available – the crack in my daughter’s bedroom door. Inside, by the glow of a night light, I found a very small balloon dancing about near a fan and reflecting a faint shadow into the hall through the barely open door. End of mystery. Certainly not paranormal, though it looked every inch the part.

Yesterday, my dog was standing in the kitchen waiting for his snack. This was a bit of a shocker, because Oliver was outside, tied up, and barking. How could he be in two places at once? Was he astral projecting? The spirit of his deceased father, perhaps? His doppelgänger? I’m a trained observer, dog-gone-it, and I know what I saw. Clear as a bell, it was. But it wasn’t. I am always amazed at how such hallucinations are possible, but this was a brief sighting, and obviously not an accurate one – my brain somehow found a way to create Oliver’s “second” and make it appear acceptably real.

This is what we face as paranormal investigators – the natural occurrences of normal life can confound us in a heartbeat, and our imaginations will trigger without any perceivable encouragement. How to recognize the validity of our observations (barring audio or video assistance) becomes a major task, because it appears painfully obvious that we’re terrible eye witnesses and simply can’t be relied upon for accuracy. Occasionally, the things we see are more difficult to dispense with – especially when they span more than a few seconds and are seen by more than one person. Other times, our paranormal experiences are fleeting. They find us alone, and while no less real to our senses, present the same problem – how do we differentiate between reality and illusion. Do we stop trusting our eyes and ears? Is this just part of what it means to be human?

Absolutely it is, but this is not a black and white issue – it is ten thousand shades of gray. Seeing my dog where he was not doesn’t deny the existence or the richness of credible paranormal experiences. The weight of one single incident has no bearing on any other. The fact that our minds are capable of manufacturing such visions does not categorically explain or discredit every unexplainable event we encounter. The truth is always found in the middle – between the obvious and the impossible; in spite of belief or doubt. Our job as investigators is to accurately recognize enough of the facts to shed a small light on what is real, while never losing sight of the false or the convincing.

Things paranormal can offer up a frustrating road to travel; can make us appear foolish and gullible, and frankly, will waste our time. The paranormal can be fool’s gold, as it cloaks the truth amid just enough glitter and shine to catch our eye and capture our imaginations. But just because we can be deceived, doesn’t mean we are. Sometimes, there truly is “gold in them thar hills” – buried between the facts and the deceptions. Ya just gotta keep looking, and learn to laugh at yourself along the way.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com

Temporal Therapy

We’ve been anxious about the afterlife from our beginning. For thousands of years we’ve entertained a constantly evolving and intense curiosity centered around our own demise. What happens when we die? Where do we go? What about our soul? Can we come back? We seem plagued by so many questions that appear to have no definite answers.

Some of our inquiries find religious solutions or resolve themselves within the science of “the times.” These offer mechanisms of faith and knowledge that appear to provide both rejoinder and life-affirming action, but they have proven to be temporary, and over time, return for another generation’s consideration. In short, over the millennia we’ve come to very few correct conclusions, which is why we still spend so much time on the same old issues.

Today’s paranormal investigator seems to focus mainly on spirit communication. Of course that’s over simplifying a bit for the sake of brevity, but what used to be ancestor worship seems to have evolved into proving the afterlife through contact. Many of us might deny that is our signature interest, but in some form or iteration, that which follows life is at our core. Today’s paranormal is all about the afterlife. We don’t seem to mind not understanding the particle accelerator, but we are frantic to know exactly what happens when we die. If you think about it, that’s pretty significant. It truly helps to define us, and therefore, should lead us to a better understanding of our human condition. A worthy end indeed, and a valuable contribution to society, right?

But I think we get confused into believing that every problem actually has a solution, and that all we need to do is find the right one. There are so many theories, and many of them “feel” so right… Certainly one must be accurate, even though history has shown that incontestable truths become old-time foolishness soon enough. Our modern ideas fall by the wayside in the wake of new and better discoveries. We proclaim that our experience teaches us reality, that our careful research offers insight, and that spiritual understanding provides “the way.” But we’re not so bright. Even though we sputter and bluster and pontificate about thus and such, we still know nothing about the afterlife for certain.

I recently found myself trying to ease the very worried and heavy heart of a 94 year-old woman, as she pondered the uncertainty of what awaits her. And I lied. I told her all about the wonders and joy of a rich hereafter; about an eternal existence free from bodily failure and mental degradation. I told her how she and her lost loved ones would meander through time in peaceful bliss – without a care or worry; without so much as a single fly in the ointment of everlasting nirvana. I told her my favorite theories – those that spoke to me. I told her as if I knew them to be true, and they seemed to soothe her restless imagination. But I was wrong, and I knew it.

Words are usually only temporal therapy, but what’s so wrong about taking our death with a dose of the inevitably fabulous? Are the facts so sacrosanct that our only final certainty must be that we haven’t a clue? Isn’t it better to believe there will be a new, exquisite life emerge through that final exhale?

I don’t know. I think there are no honest answers – just more questions, but there comes a time when all we really care about is finding a calm and peaceful now, even if that “now” is no more than the final second of our final breath. It should be sufficient to know that whatever awaits us is worth waiting for, but can that be enough? Will that satisfy the itch? I doubt it, because this is not about who we are. It’s about who we will be and our instinctive need to move forward.
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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/

Impeccable Timing

A man told me a tale while we were discussing Season One of American Horror Story. It seems that early one crisp Thanksgiving day, while driving down a lonely, local road, he happened upon a transparent person crossing in front of his speeding car. Slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting the figure, the car came to a stop just a few feet away from an unfazed revenant. Yes, he was indeed transparent, seemed to lack one leg, and consisted of a shimmering, unstable substance. The driver was not drunk or otherwise impaired; he wasn’t tired or distracted. It was just a trip down the road for cigarettes on a holiday morning; a trip he had made many times before.

The apparition turned and looked him right in the eyes, offered a beaming smile, and literally tipped his hat, before turning to predictably disappear. “He faded away. He was just gone.” The man went on to say he was shaken, and stayed stopped in the road until the sound of an approaching car snapped him to his senses. He slowly proceeded home, and not knowing how to explain the encounter, kept it to himself for years. “You know,” he confessed, “I might have been driving too fast. Maybe that thing made me slow down so I didn’t hit a tree or something.”

Maybe, I thought, and I remembered reading a similar story a few months earlier concerning a woman trapped in a burning building. She was confronted by a floating apparition who directed her through the maze of fire, and eventually to safety. It was a miracle, and she was completely convinced her life was saved by “the white angel.” Maybe my friend in the car was keeping similar company.

Were these angels? Possibly deceased human spirits sent to save the living from an unnecessary and horrific death? No one will ever know of course, and it requires faith to see this as a backup plan for when our senses and sensibilities fail. But there are those who disbelieve the paranormal verity suggested by both of these incidents; naysayers who can offer no explanation, but plenty of doubt. There always has to be rationality; a real reason – maybe “something more believable.” Because they lied? “Well, let’s just say mistaken.”

My inner believer wants to slap the skeptic right off of some people. I am amazed at our inability to accept one another’s honest testimony. Must we know whether these two incidents were real or imagined; whether they were placed into the mind by a higher power, or manufactured by a subconscious need to survive? All the possible explanations are preposterous, but does it matter?

There are times when the paranormal comes to visit in ways we could not have even imagined, and frequently, we benefit. Often, we lose sight of the true nature of things paranormal – we prefer to make it frightening and menacing. We so easily welcome the notion of demons and monsters; creatures whose only purpose is to suck the life out of us or possess our mortal souls. But the true meaning of such things doesn’t have to be abhorrent. When we least expect it, the paranormal comes bearing gifts – of life, love, and an understanding of what it means to be flawed and in trouble. Sometimes, the paranormal is a good thing to have around. Sometimes it’s timing is impeccable.

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Also visit Voices Unplugged at http://voicesblogunplugged.wordpress.com/

The Sixth Sense

The sixth sense exists. It’s real, there is proof, and I’ve seen it in action. It’s not as strong as our other senses, of course, which is why most of us are not aware of it, but it’s there – absolute, undeniable, and statistically provable.

The experiment goes something like this… Put two curtains in front of a person and let them know that behind one is a photo of something. It could be anything – a rabbit, a family of four, ball bearings; doesn’t matter. Behind the other curtain, there is nothing. Now choose which curtain hides the photo. Sounds like a 50/50 proposition, doesn’t it? It is. On average, people get it right half the time. We’re obviously guessing, and the laws of probability rule the day.

Now replace the random photo with a picture of something erotic, and repeat the experiment. Miraculously, the erotic photo is discovered 53 percent of the time – consistently. Is that because we’re a sex obsessed species? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Over the millennia, we’ve had to survive varying degrees of a harsh environment, and the key to our survival has been the ability to successfully reproduce sufficiently enough to continue as a viable species. When faced with the promise of something so vital to our subconscious need to exist, our sixth sense is awakened, and we’re no longer merely guessing.

I would imagine that some of us fall below this 53 percent – like me, for example, but that means there’s someone else whose sixth sense is incredibly stronger than the average. I find that encouraging. I love the idea that there are people with a highly developed sixth sense, even if I’m not entirely certain what that means or how it can be reliably put to use. Evidently, this truly is a gift – like throwing a baseball faster, or playing a violin better. Certain people among us just seem to know things the rest of us don’t, and we should revere and celebrate their abilities as much as those of any athlete or musician.

Personally, I’m satisfied that the sixth sense is more than the stuff of coincidence or fiction. Scientists at Harvard and Cornell are convinced as well, and while it’s a tremendous leap to suggest any paranormal implications, that too may be possible. It certainly gives me pause to wonder, and I’m not alone. Studies are being done on willing test subjects with the hope of discovering those individuals whose sixth sense is the most highly developed, and whether this could include the ability to deal with “other” things unseen.

If this sixth sense had a hand in allowing mankind to make wise decisions and recognize better survival choices millennia ago, why couldn’t we use it once again – now, when we seem so hellbent on annihilating ourselves in such a variety of ways. I think we’re missing the boat here! Not that we should become a planet of seers and fortune tellers, but maybe we could finally learn to embrace life without so much misappropriated effort, unfounded prejudice, and lousy decision making.

Personally, I’m all for it. The sixth sense is real – just as real as the moon, the stars, and Hershey’s chocolate. There’s no denying the data. Why deny ourselves the benefit?

Not Suitable for Television

Friends and family frequently come to me with questions about the paranormal TV shows. “Is Ghost Adventures bogus? Celebrity Ghost Story is just for publicity, right? You know John Zaffis, don’t you?” Well, lets see – I don’t think so, no, and I only met him once (for ten seconds). I guess they think because I’m in the field, I’m compelled to watch every single paranormal show. It’s a requirement, right? “You went to Penn State. Was Ryan Beuhl there then?” Good Lord, he wasn’t even born yet! Hush.

Okay, okay – I can name drop if I need to. I sold a copy of Voices From Forever to Debbie Constantino and another to Chris Fleming. They were very nice, but I kinda doubt they read it. Chip Coffey once nodded in my direction – knowingly. That counts! Barry Kling said, “How’s it going?” Then he continued walking toward the Men’s Room. I didn’t follow up on that. So that’s the extent of my hobnobbing with the paranormal immortals. Sorry.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – I’d hang with Jason and Steve for sure; have a beer with Zak. I’d love to spend the day with Amy Allen, or the evening with Jael and Lanisha; me and Josh Gates could do some Parisian Catacombs – in the dark. I’m sure all these folks are just wonderful people – salt of the earth, and I wish ’em all well, but even if I did know them, I wouldn’t be spreading the dirt. I don’t feel one ounce of moral turpitude concerning the authenticity of their programs. I’m too preoccupied with keeping my own house in order to go mess up someone else’s.

Good grief! The business of television is to entertain the masses (that’s us), and I for one turn the damn thing off when I’m not being entertained. So I guess it’s highly possible that some things aren’t on the up and up in Paranormal TVland, but I don’t know anything about it.

No one’s ever offered to give me a show. Imagine that! It’s okay though – I always figured the reason film crews didn’t follow me around is because I’m boring. Really boring! Most of the guys they do film are not, but don’t get me wrong, I still love what I do – that’s why I do it. I’m fairly certain it’s not suitable for television though, but a guy can dream, right?

I can see it now – they’ll call it Ghostly Voices or The Ghost Listener… I hate the name, but the contract is air tight, and I have no say about anything. Section Five provides the usual standard pay of $1,300 per episode, and I have to buy my own lunch. Theres no wardrobe budget. Every week we’ll have a zoom close up of me pressing record; spooky sound effects will swell as I ask “is anyone here?” I’ll look all focused between questions – intense; even cerebral. They’ll find me a sidekick (hopefully Jael or Lanisha) who will pretend every word out of my mouth is pure genius; people will wonder if we’ve worked together long. It’ll be great!

Okay, dream is over. Stop asking me about these stupid shows – it’s too painful having to face the depth of my failure to reach paranormal deification. Think whatever you like, but they don’t deserve your adoration – it’s not like they’re The Beatles or Neil Diamond for God’s sake. Of course, you’d probably be better served not to worry about authenticity so much – just enjoy the show. And if you want to be seriously creeped out, watch Honey Booboo – she can’t possibly be real.

Description of an Apparition

The last 18 hours have been fascinating: two paranormal-like events! I will start with this one and tell you the other in a day or two.

It has been about an hour since I woke up to see an apparition standing on my bed. I had been asleep and dreaming, but the dream awakened me, and I was attempting to remember details; putting off the inevitable trip through the cold to the bathroom. I didn’t want to open my eyes, and after about 2 minutes I felt someone climb on the bed. I first thought it was my daughter, but the sensation was that of a lighter person, so I assumed it was my granddaughter.

I waited for her to speak, and when she didn’t, I begrudgingly opened my eyes. Instead of a 45 pound 7-year old, there was a tall, sharply-formed, dark person. He was about 5 feet tall, was wearing a nearly black jumpsuit, and his left arm (stretched out in front of him) was parallel to the plane of the bed. The jumpsuit was creased in a way that indicated pressing, but there were no parts of his body visible. He did not have a head, his feet were buried in the stomach of my wife, and his outstretched hand seemed to blend into the long sleeves.

I had opened my eyes without moving my body, so I thought perhaps he was not aware that I was watching. It also occurred to me that without the slight light creeping through the nearby window, he would possibly have looked like a shadow. And then, after about 3 seconds, he put down his arm as though finished, and he was gone. He seemed to break apart; to dissolve into the air as we often see in movies – digitally and very quickly, but in pieces; as though in small clumps of pixels. The difference is that he was not flat and projection-like – he appeared solid, and his dissolving was three-dimensional in appearance.

He was less than three feet away from me, and I was not asleep or groggy, or disoriented. I realize many people will suggest this visitation was trickery of the mind, or a classic case of confusion – something else; various other nonsense. It was as I saw it, and I was fully aware. I knew what it was the moment I opened my eyes. I knew some of what it wasn’t. I checked my wife, got out of bed, walked through the entire house, and sat down to write this. And now, there are questions.