May 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Woman in Black

I recently saw the Daniel Radcliffe movie The Woman in Black, which is based on the book. It was an interesting and entertaining movie, but to be honest it was not as scary as I was expecting. My wife thoroughly disagrees with my assessment, even though it was her idea to watch the movie (as it is her idea to watch most of the scary movies I see, and then refuse to go to bed afterward).

It was refreshing to see Radcliffe in a movie that did not involve him wearing round glasses and a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. He plays a much older and more mature character than in the Harry Potter movies, a father who is also a London attorney. In the vein of a true creepy ghost movie, the tone is dark and mysterious.

I wasn't expecting too much from the movie, not because I thought it wasn't going to be very good, but because I somehow escaped the marketing campaign for The Woman in Black. I really didn't know much about the plot of the movie, just that it was British and it was supposed to be about a haunted house.Without ruining anything, The Woman in Black tells the story about a young attorney who is sent to a remote part of England to settle a deceased woman's estate. He is tasked with going through all of the paperwork in the house to ensure the lady did not leave an updated will in the house. So what's the catch? The house is located on an island, with a single road leading to it. Each time the tide rises, the pathway is underwater, leaving the house completely cut off from the mainland. To make matters worse, the house is haunted by a woman's vengeful spirit bent on revenge for wrongs done to her in this life.

I can say The Woman in black is genuinely creepy. The movie features some of the scariest toys ever made, including dolls that looked possessed and toy monkeys I would personally burn before putting in my house. The plot takes some twists and turns that are a little unexpected, which kept me engaged even though I could see the end coming from far away. Instead of going for a lot of the current horror movie cliches, The Woman in Black offers a different flavor that is refreshing and unique, without being so out there viewers cannot relate to it. Daniel Radcliffe shows off his acting chops by giving an excellent performance that does not show even a glimmer of the Harry Potter character he played so well. The other cast members play their roles very convincingly as well. Along with the excellent cinematography, period dress and props (including a beautifully restored Rolls Royce Silver Ghost) I was immersed in the world the movie had created.

Would I recommend The Woman in Black? Absolutely. It was well worth the time and a rental.

***Spoiler Alert**** 

I wanted to say something about the end of the movie. The ending theme of the destructive power of not forgiving, even beyond the grave, was a nice touch. It gave me something to think about long after the end credits rolled. I saw the ending coming from afar since it kind of reminded me of The Ring. The Woman in Black is definitely a superior movie that does not have all of the huge holes The Ring has, but I could tell Radcliffe's character and his boy were going to die in the end.

***End of Spoiler***

Here is the trailer for the movie, in case you want to get a taste for what it is like:

May 25, 2012

Are They Aliens or Followers of the Devil?

People's theories on different alleged paranormal phenomena really interest me. I don't mean to say that I don't believe in anything paranormal, nor do I simply laugh at anyone who does. Sure, I have run across a fair amount of people who have really overactive imaginations or might even need some medication or institutionalization, but they are often the exception. In fact, I have found most people are embarrassed to share what they have seen or heard because they fear being labeled an idiot or a lunatic.

In any case, I was reading about a book called Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture. The review I read quoted some of the statistics from the book. There were some that were not horribly surprising to me, like that women are much more likely to believe in ghosts and hauntings than are men, while men are much more likely to believe in UFOs and aliens than are women. One of the most interesting pieces of information I read over had to do with religious belief and aliens.

I am going off of memory here, so this is not a direct quote, but the review essentially said that people from more fringe religions (Evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc) had less excepting viewpoints on the paranormal than members of more mainstream religions (such as Catholics). These people from less popular religions were far more likely to see pretty much anything paranormal as a manifestation of evil, or as a tool of the devil. For example, many people from these religious groups that were surveyed for the book expressed the personal belief that aliens were actually the devil's angels in disguise.

I had heard this theory many times before, both when I was a child and as a teenager. What was always explained to me by people who held this aliens-are-the-devil's-henchmen belief was that the devil was trying to distract people from God by making it appear that aliens were visiting the Earth.

Personally, I think the theory is a little convoluted. Sure, there are some people who have set up UFO churches, which seems to only support such theories. There are also people who seem to seek God out even more because they figure he is over the aliens and them, and that they need his protection from any aliens who might be hostile. Just like anything in life, I think a belief in aliens affects people's belief in a superior being in the way people allow it. After all, some people after a huge natural disaster stop believing in God, while others are strengthened in their belief of one who can help them through the aftermath.

I haven't read Paranormal America yet, but I plan to in the near future. Perhaps the findings published there will shed more light on why some people think aliens are really of the devil. If I do figure out more about the theory I will post about it on here. I honestly have never fully grasped the theory, other than people are afraid of the unknown and want to label it as bad so they don't have to give it any more thought, but can simply cast it away as rubbish.

What do you all think?

May 18, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Parapsychology in the News

Happy Friday, everyone! As you all know, today is when I post about the paranormal. I had trouble deciding on the exact topic of this post, since there have been so many interesting items about parapsychology floating around in the news lately. In case you missed some of these things, here is a sampling of parapsychology in the news:

Skeptico recently posted an interview  with Dr. Daryl Bem, a Cornell University emeritus professor, about his research in parapsychology. Bem talks extensively about attempts by skeptics to discredit his research, including talking about the unethical and potentially dishonest methods used by other academics. I can tell you from personal experience that academics can be particularly crafty at discrediting others' work by leaving out information, or analyzing statistics in just the right way. In any case, the interview is interesting if you have the time to read it over.

Speaking of academics, parapsychology and skeptics, SF Weekly ran a profile on Stanley Krippner, who is a well-known parapsychologist. Krippner's response to critics is particularly interesting, as he says he agrees with much of the criticism leveled by the critics of parapsychology. The profile also goes into some detail about Krippner's sometimes bizarre experiments, such as when he involved the attendees at a Grateful Dead concert in an parapsychological exercise.

Finally, I ran across this very interesting piece from the Las Vegas Sun, which talks about remote viewers who assisted in a murder case in California. The story helps counter claims made by some that psychics have never helped in any way solve a crime. While I personally believe there are a million scam artists posing as psychics, along with people who have mental issues or good intentions but not good methods, this article points out there are a few psychics who have used their abilities to genuinely help others. It's an interesting story that is most definitely worth the time.

May 15, 2012


It was a hot night in June of 2005 when my wife and I slipped into a sparsely-populated movie theater just up the street from our apartment. The only reason my wife was there was to be with me. I was there to witness the cinematic rebirth of my childhood hero: Batman.

I grew up on a fairly steady diet of Detective Comics--for you non-comic book folk, that is a Batman comic book. When I was in my early teens, I was in awe as I read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. I was not a fan of Tim Burton's Batman, which was too plastic and comedic (in a twisted way) for my tastes. I won't even talk about the other Batman movies of the 90s, they were all so awful.

When I heard Warner Brothers was working on a new Batman movie, I was a little skeptical. until I read an interview with Christopher Nolan. Nolan's philosophy on Batman lined up right with mine. Instead of being some freak sideshow good for some cheap thrills, as the character had been used by other directors, Nolan saw him as a complex vigilante who seeks what most of us want: true justice.

Needless to say, I walked out of the movie theater after seeing Batman Begins completely satisfied and wanting more. Even more surprising, my wife was totally shocked at how good the movie was, since she was expecting the same cheese as before.

When we saw The Dark Knight, also on opening night, it was a completely different scene. We were in a huge theater in downtown, where almost every screen was playing The Dark Knight. We had to buy tickets weeks in advance and the theater was packed as everyone clamored to see Heath Ledger's final performance. I was blown away with how intense the movie was, and Heath's performance nailed the Joker I always loathed. It was pure cinematic beauty,

As we draw close to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I hope we are not in for a disappointment. Nolan's track record as a director is phenomenal, so I think it will turn out. It even looks like he might have managed to squeeze a good performance out of Anne Hathaway. I have a really good idea what the movie will involve, but I'm going to keep my mouth shut so I don't ruin it for anyone else. After all, I successfully predicted everything that happened in the second Star Wars movie (among many other movies). But Nolan is good at throwing some incredible curves, and being the final movie this will probably be one hell of a ride.

If you haven't had the chance to see the trailer, watch it here:

May 11, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: The World is Going to End... Thanks to a German Guy!

Well, we're screwed.

No, really, I am talking about the end of the world as prophesied by the Mayans. Those dastardly Mayans apparently foresaw the stupidity of a German lab assistant, which has ultimately doomed society to alien invasion, a large asteroid hurtling toward Earth or maybe even a huge volcanic explosion the likes of which have not been seen since the time of the dinosaurs.

Brace yourselves for December 21, 2012--its going to be a bumpy ride, people.

As reported by German news website The Local, a Mayan skull that was carved out of volcanic rock was accidentally dropped during a photo shoot. An eyewitness blamed the incident on the lab assistant, who might have placed the skull on a wobbly surface, causing it to fall. A piece of the skull's chin chipped off as a result.

So what's the big deal, you say? Well, the skull was designed apparently to protect mankind during the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Don't worry, though, because there are supposed to be another 12 protective skulls out there. Hopefully no butter finger lab assistants get a hold of any of those skulls.

The really interesting part of the story is how a guy in Germany ended up with the Mayan skull. Somehow it was transported from Latin America to a monastery in southern Tibet, where it was stolen by Nazi German soldiers (sound like an Indiana Jones movie plot to you?). After the end of World War II, the skull was found in the collection of Heinrick Himmler, the same Nazi official who was famous for collecting pagan magical objects.

Before you cash in your 401k and buy a private island in the Caribbean, you should know that the skull's owner claims "a lot" of the other 12 skulls have "superficial" damage. See, don't you feel better about the end of the world already? I know I do, but mostly because I'm confident I can get a job mixing up alien drinks on a space cruiser.

May 4, 2012

Paranormal Fridays: Is Highway 666 Haunted?

I used to travel on highway 666 on a fairly regular basis as I went from Salt Lake City, Utah to Albuquerque, New Mexico. 666 was a desolate two lane road in the middle of the isolated desert, with few places to stop for gas or food. I made that drive myself a few times, but never at night for a number of reasons. There have through the years been numerous complaints about the name of highway 666, seeing as it has a connection with the antichrist described in the Book of Revelation. Government officials have since renamed the highway, bowing to the pressure from various western states.

The big question many people have is if highway 666 was or still is haunted. There are claims that a higher proportion of accidents occur on the highway, that more people die on it than other highways in the west and that paranormal activity on and near the highway is common. For several years I have tried to find official, hard data that shows that U.S. 666 had a disproportionate number of fatalities, and I have not been able to find any such data. I do know that the road being only two lanes in most areas with only a painted line between them, has seen its share of very gruesome accidents.

Many people have claimed that they have been driving 666 at night when a semi trailer going the other direction has crossed over the line, heading for a head-on collision. While that might not seem odd, the fact that these people describe the truck as being on fire and disappearing at the last second before impact should seem at least a little strange. Those who have stopped on the side of the road in the night have reported seeing hell hounds with glowing yellow eyes, running in packs.

And then there are the hitchhiker stories. Throughout the years many a driver has reported seeing a young woman in a flowing white robe walking down the side of highway 666 in the middle of the night. If anyone stops to see why the woman is walking on the side of the road, she dematerializes into the night air. Other motorists have claimed that a man hitchhiking on the side of the road has no face.

Ghost lights have been reported by drivers trekking along highway 666 at night. Others have reported seeing floating orbs of light, which people have debated are either spirits or UFOs that are for whatever reason attracted to the road. In many cases people have gone missing on highway 666, only to turn up later and not be able to explain where they have been. Time loss like has commonly been associated with alien abductions, so were those people taken away while traveling 666?

Although not as common as some other rural highways, people have reported skinwalker activity on highway 666. Drivers have seen strange-looking animals running alongside their car that is traveling 55, 65 or even 75 miles per hour. Others have reported something opening their back door, while a few unfortunate drivers have actually seen in their rear-view mirror a skinwalker sitting in their back seat.

So now U.S. 666 is named U.S. 491, but historic markers are still visible as a reminder of the highway's infamous past. Some feel such reminders still bring with them a curse, meaning the strange activity on the highway will not magically cease.

To read an official explanation of how U.S. 666 originally got its name, read about it on the US Department of Transportation's website.