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August 29, 2015

Spook Yourself on Halloween with 'Paranormal Witness'

by Stephanie Earp, posted Oct 25th 2011 5:45PM
This Halloween, if you want to give yourself a good scare, you've got options. You can get down with AMC's flesh-eating 'The Walking Dead' on Sunday, or take in the Canadian debut of 'American Horror Story' on brand-new FX Canada channel on Monday, but for my money, the most genuine chills to be had are over on Space (Mondays at 10PM), with 'Paranormal Witness.'

Quietly growing its audience from week to week, this reality series is surprisingly effective considering the tools in its arsenal are pretty familiar. It retells scary and unexplained stories using a mixture of reenactments, interviews with actual people, archival audio and video and lots of spooky sound and lighting effects. So basically, things 'America's Most Wanted' wasn't doing. But the show transcends the sum of its parts, and I think it comes down to great writing and great casting.

'Paranormal Witness' starts by selecting not-too-outrageous stories with sane, normal protagonists. The real people they feature on camera don't get hysterical and most of them don't even seem sure that they really believe they've had a paranormal experience -- they only claim they can't explain it. They describe their experiences to the camera about the same way you imagine they would relate it to a stranger at a cocktail party: with a self-deprecating shrug. Most of these people also have some fairly indisputable evidence of what they say, either in the form of audio (like 911 calls or police radio transmissions), home video or unrelated witnesses.

This careful story selection is just the first phase of the casting process, though.The producers follow though by finding decent actors who look enough like the people they're playing to ease the audience into accepting them alongside the real folks, and then they keep the dialogue to a minimum.

Because it's all so reasonable (the nice people seems so easygoing, the actors play it all so believably, and on-screen text never tells you what to think), it gets under the skin of skeptics like me. Because I am a total skeptic, and despite my good review, I'm still not sure I believe most of these stories don't have a simple explanation -- like an overactive imagination. The difference between 'Paranormal Witness' and other shows of this ilk is that 'Witness' doesn't need you to believe to scare you silly.

Not scary enough? Try these other Halloween programs:

Stephen King Biography - Sunday October 30, Noon ET/PT, Bio
Thanks to a 1999 automobile accident, King's life is as scary as his stories.

Ghost Hunters Live - Monday October 31 7PM ET, OLN
Spend six unedited hours locked inside the Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania with Josh Gates and members of the 'Ghost Hunters' team. Six hours.

Scare Tactics - Monday October 31, 9PM ET, MuchMusic
Host Tracy Morgan returns with the fifth season of this show where people set up their "loved ones" in terrifying hidden camera scenarios.

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