Afternoon Inquisition

AI: G-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-ghoooooooooooost!

I’m stepping in for Amy for the next couple of weeks. One of the Novella brothers (we’ll call him Schmeve) is unable to sleep through the night without his blankie because he’s convinced his house is haunted. He asked, in confidence, for the Skepchicks to help. We sent Amy to investigate. I cannot divulge any more information about this super-secret ghost hunt. And you didn’t hear it from me. Act like you know nothing.

Speaking of ghosts and skeptics, this week is a rough week for skeptics who own televisions. Every single show on every single channel is Halloween-themed. There’s always a skeptical character who is trying to ruin everything for everyone, and at the end of every show that skeptic has to concede that something, if not everything, they thought could be explained away is still unresolved… and therefore, very probably, supernatural. The only shows that don’t do this are for kids 4 and under. So I spend my days maintaining my skeptical sanity by watching PBS Kids (which, BTW, is an excellent skeptical resource for kids year-round.)

But I like a good horror story with a totally supernatural explanation. A story where the skeptic is wrong because the evidence is clear that here, everyone is dying of supernatural causes. I have no issues with a story taking place in a world that’s just like ours except that there’s murdering ghosts everywhere. I love a story that brings me to the point where I want to hide under the blanket but I’m afraid of what may happen if I look away… even to blink.  But when the story is over, I don’t have to sleep with the light on… my scare-away-demons light is skepticism.*

Do you like scary stories? Do any scary stories actually scare you? What are your favorite ghost stories? What makes your spine tingle? Or do horror films bring out the raging pedantic skeptic in you?

How do you cope with skeptic-bashing week on TV?

(*Except when it comes to Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary still scares the crap out of me as an adult. I cannot go into a dark room with a mirror unless I move my eyes away from the mirror. I am terrified that I may see Bloody Mary. I don’t care if she’s real or not. I do not want to see her. And I’m not taking the chance.)

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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69 Comments

  1. I like what Borges said about mirrors, in “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius”… to paraphrase:

    “There is something abhorrent about mirrors that is the same thing that’s abhorrent about intercourse. It multiplies the number of human beings.”

    Yeah, I like scary stories. And they scare me. I find it doesn’t ultimately matter how much I disbelieve that stuff. I think most of our fears are kind of hard-wired. Our brains evolved to see nasty monsters in the shadows… after all, it’s FAR less dangerous to see a monster that isn’t there than to fail to see one that is. Who am I to argue with nature? Whether there are ghosts in my house or not, there are definitely ghosts in my perceptions.

      1. I was going to answer no, and no. But if we count stuff like Blink, then yes and yes. (And I just narrowly escaped falling into tvtropes.org while looking for the “wibbly wobbly timey wimey”-quote.)

    1. Ah! Found the actual quote:

      “mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.”

      It’s said by his friend Bioy Cesares (he was real!), when they talk about how creepy mirrors are in darkened rooms, late at night. :)

    2. Natalie, I was just about to comment on today’s quickies page about pareidolia being adaptive (despite the fact that we skeptics laugh at people who believe in Grilled Cheese Madonnas.) It’s much safer to be scared of the rustling grass that might be a lion, or the leering stranger who might be a rapist, even if it’s statistically unlikely. You only have to be wrong once to have a very bad day.

      BTW, on your follow-up, Scariest.Who.Ever.

      To ramble on, I find monsters that you can’t quite see much scarier than those you can see plainly. The first half of Jaws, before you got a good look at the shark, was far scarier then the 2nd half, and I don’t think it was because the shark didn’t look quite real. Same with Alien. The angels in Blink had a unique solution to this problem. You could see them just fine, but they were lifeless, harmless stone statues, even though they were remarkably ugly. It was when you couldn’t see them, because you looked away or blinked, or the lights went out, that they suddenly became scary.

      1. I am such a killjoy but I never found Jaws scary, and I never understood why it freaked people out (I didn’t think it was a very good movie, either, if I’m gonna be honest). It’s a fictional story about sharks, which the majority of us will never encounter, and shark attacks are really rare as it is. I am more concerned with jelly fish stinging me or something when I’m in the ocean than I am about a highly unlikely shark attack.

    1. I’m with you. It’s all about the quality of the story they are telling and the production. Many people don’t like the paranormal activity series. I love it, not because it scares the pants off me, but I love watching it scare the pants off of other people. I also love guessing at what’s coming next and trying to “outfox” the director. Facing my fears rather than giving into them gives me a good boost of testosterone as well as adrenaline. The story isn’t really about some supernatural event, but simply about how the director is trying to take advantage of our own fears to entertain us with surprises and creep outs. There is nothing logical to the plot, but the scares are based firmly in the psychology of human beings and that’s what I’m there for.

  2. Not quite Halowe’en-y, but the Everworld series by KA Applegate has a really awesome skeptical character, Jalil, who manages to keep his skepticism in the face of all sorts of “crazy” stuff. Even though the fantastical world of “Everworld” is presumably “real” he doesn’t stop trying to find underlying patterns, and never gives in to the “I don’t know….therefore supernatural!” thing.

    Personally, I love horror stories, just like I love science fiction and fantasy. When I was a teenager I had a bit of angst over why this stuff couldn’t be real, too, but I outgrew it and I still enjoy these genres.

  3. I love scary* stories but they do scare the crap out of me. I usually end up spending the following few days explaining to myself (again) why I’m a skeptic and how no one has ever produced evidence of the supernatural anywhere ever.

    Oh and I never look in the mirror unless the light is on. I know myself and my imagination will merge whatever shadow image I see in the mirror with the million or so scary movie images i’ve seen over my lifetime. Better to just let that sleeping dog lie.

    *that’s Scary as in Creepy, Suspenseful – not Gory. Gory is just gross.

    1. I have a great deal of affection for Bloody Mary, but if that’s not your thing, may I suggest the following.

      Zombie
      Spider’s Kiss
      Creepy Crawler Punch
      Nightmare
      Corpse Reviver
      Paralyzer
      Red Death
      Deadly Nightshade
      Devil’s Poison

      I know these drinks are real, for I found them on the interwebs.

    2. I will drink them in as a host.
      I will drink them with a ghost.
      I will drink them far or nearer.
      I will drink them in front of a mirror.
      I will drink a Bloody Mary.
      I don’t think that booze are scary.

  4. The TV show “Lost” wasn’t really horror, but it was supernatural and sometimes quite scary…..and I loved it!! It was “sciencey” but definitely not science. The skeptic in me was perfectly willing let it go and just enjoy the ride. Traditional ghost or horror stories don’t really interest me. I do get scared, and it is unpleasant. In real life, I have absolutely no fear of ghosts, even in the dark, on a stormy night, in an old house….alone.

    1. I loved Lost, but one thing that kind of bugged me about was how they set up the whole skeptic / Man of Science vs. Man of Faith theme, and in the end just took this really easy way out of the conflict and were just all “they were BOTH wrong!”. And it kills me because in the first couple seasons it seemed like the direction they were taking Locke was to much more explicitly illustrate the dangers of blind faith. I guess it still kind of works, in that he ends up being the ultimate patsy, and that’s probably the most immediately apparent danger of faith: being exploited. But still… I felt let down. :(

  5. I like movies with suspense and tension. I think I was 18 when the first Alien movie came out and I still recall how much popcorn I saw flying up when that little sucker popped out of the guy’s chest. I like that kind of suspend your disbelief scary, but horror movies have never done much for me.

  6. I always thought that Roseanne did a wonderful job with Halloween. It was about fear and fun and practical jokes but I don’t remember there ever being a supernatural element.
    As for scary movies I find that as long as a story is entertaining and self-consistant I will put up with an awful lot in the name of fun. Ghosts however don’t really do it for me anymore, my wife has been watching American Horror Story and it’s just boring to me (although I love that house). I don’t get it.

  7. I don’t really like scary stories that much, but I do enjoy a good one from time to time. I think still the best is _I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.

    With regards to surviving this week of bad TV. Suppose an alien appears before you and shows you two boxes. They both show video entertainment divided into 1/2 hour or 1 hour pieces. On one box you have to be there at just the right time to watch a piece, but it may also be preempted by a sporting event or political speech or suspected kidnapping or bad weather. If you miss a piece, whether it is your fault or not, you need to wait six months for another opportunity to watch it. Also on this box you need to watch small advertisements for things you don’t want about a dozen times an hour. The other box is fully under your control. You can watch whatever your want whenever you want and at any point you can pause or rewind it. There are no advertisements. You can even watch all the pieces of a video entertainment back to back if you like. The only disadvantage to this second box is you have to wait a little longer, usually about a year, for the entertainments to be available. Which box would you choose? The only people still watching broadcast TV are sports addicts, political junkies, or people who badly failed the marshmallow test.

  8. I don’t have a working TV. Problem solved!

    Am I the only one that found The Poltergeist to be a rather horrible movie? Apparently it’s supposed to be super scary, but um, yeah, no. I don’t really find supernatural movies scary at all. They bore me.

    But, “torture porn” horror movies … they freak me out. I will not watch Saw or anything similar. No way. That shit freaks me out.

    Criminal Minds gives me nightmares! (I love the show, though.)

    Also my younger sister was watching one of those Rob Zombie movies years ago and I walked in on a horrible scene of a crazy person rubbing the removed face of someone he had killed on his own face … and I seriously can’t get that scene out of my head. *shudder*

    But ghost stories? Meh.

  9. John Carpenter’s The Thing is still terrifying to me. I am looking forward to seeing the prequel.
    I think Dead Alive and The Frighteners are better than The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
    I think that both versions of House on Haunted Hill are good but in completely different ways.

  10. Not really that much into the whole horror-genre. I really don’t like films like ‘saw’ and stuff. Lots of blood does not equal scary. It’s just… well… ross.
    As far as scary movies go, there’s a great Dutch/Belgian movie I really like. It’s called ‘Zwart water’ (it’s in Dutch, I don’t know if it was ever translated to English).

  11. Last night’s ‘Castle’ was about a murder of a ‘ghost hunter’ tv show host in a supposedly haunted mansion in a mysterious fashion. Nathan Fillion took the role as the prone to believe in the supernatural partner, and Stana Katic was the classically skeptical, hard-nosed detective. It’s a silly show in general, but despite having one of those endings where the believer gets the skeptic to concede a minor point, for the most part it did manage to stay on point throughout the episode as the evidence points out a very non-supernatural explanation of murder.

    Also, I was totally into zombies before they were cool!!

    1. There’s this great British detective show called Jonathan Creek. Alan Davies plays the titular character, who designs stage illusions for a living but teams up with his intrepid reporter friend to SOLVE CRIMES (of course). Anyway, where it gets fun is that pretty much EVERY episode starts out with an “impossible” crime that usually appears to be supernatural or something, and then Creek unravels what *actually* happened, which always turns out to have a totally rational explanation. It’s awesome… sort of the perfect cure for the average TV show where the skeptic always turns out wrong. In this one, he’s always right.

    2. I agree, and I thought the “point” Beckett conceded to Castle was really just her trying to get him to shut up about ghosts, but that’s my own willful interpretation of her as a good skeptic, which she usually is.

  12. Is it sexist of me to want to believe in Vampires if they are as hot as Kate Beckinsale in Underworld?

    You want Horror? Watch the Republican debates… be afraid.

    As a young lad, my favorite TV role model was Gomez Addams.

  13. Hi there!

    I love love love love LOVE horror movies. Well, horror in general. I don’t know when I decided that I loved to be scared to death, but it goes way back with me. As a skeptical adult, my love for horror has changed somewhat, but it’s still there.

    Let me use a bad analogy.

    Many skeptics are also magicians, and many magicians are also skeptics. When a lay person watches a magic act, he or she is fascinated by the “magic”. When the magician pulls a card out of thin air, the spectator has just watched a miracle in real life.

    When a magician watches the same thing, there’s a good chance that he or she knows how the trick is done. Or even if they DON’T know how it was done, they may have at least a good IDEA of how the trick was done. But, assuming the trick was done with a good level of artistry, the magician appreciates the trick on an entirely different level. The magician might tell a fellow magician: “His double-lift was seamless!” or “I never would have thought to use a card force in that particular way, it was genius!”. But they don’t lose their love for MAGIC, if anything, it’s intensified.

    It’s the same way with me and horror movies/TV/books. I look at the way that the writer/director tries to SCARE me. If there’s a cat that jumps out at a crucial moment and makes me jump, well, that’s pretty pathetic. But if the director has a CREATIVE way of terrifying me, I’ll appreciate it that much more. I don’t believe in demons, but when I watch The Exorcist, it just looks real to me, because the most frightening scenes were shot without background music. That’s brilliant. I don’t believe in aliens, but I do have a hard time taking my eyes off an angel statue. When any kind of storyteller DOES that, I get shivers up my spine, because of the sheer artistry of it. I just LET it scare me, because the creator did such a great job of getting me there. :D

    — Craig

    PS: I had a girlfriend once who swore up and down that she totally saw Bloody Mary in a mirror. She was just as convinced that it was a form of self-hypnosis. You set up the “conditions” to see Bloody Mary, and then your brain does the rest. Which …. is actually MORE terrifying when you think about it. Your brain can actually MAKE itself see something that isn’t there! This is why I’ve never done the Bloody Mary thing. What if I convinced my brain to see something that wasn’t there … and then my brain decided to see her every time I looked in a mirror, in a window, in my car’s passenger seat, looking out of my bedroom closet….? [shudder]

    1. “Your brain can actually MAKE itself see something that isn’t there!”

      Happens a lot! Hypnagogic hallucination, for instance, happen between the sleep/wake period and can be frighteningly real, but it’s just your brain playing tricks on you!

      Also, many people who have taken hallucinogens, can attest to the fact that the brain can create some crazy shiz. :D

      1. For that matter, DREAMING is just hours of your brain making itself “see” things that aren’t there EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT! How do I know that my brain isn’t just making up stuff all the time?! That’s even MORE terrifying!!

        (Maybe I should ask that dispomaniac college buddy of mine, or his young daughter, or that bald FBI agent that I’ve been doing decoding work for … )

      2. An experience of mine that made up a large part of my scepticism was sleep paralysis. I lived as a child in a 400 yr old house built on the remains of a 1000 yr old abbey. When they built it the church leaders condemned it since it was built on the graves of many notable people and a large graveyard from a battle in the English Yorkist/ Lancastrian civil war in 1490. I remember them digging up lots of stone coffins in the garden when a sewer was put in. So pretty much the perfect place for a Poltergeist type story to unfold. There were areas of cold/draughts etc the roof was perfect when trying to sleep… Creak.. Creak… Creak… Noises of someone walking back and forth in the attic, how random creaks could sound like that I don’t know.

        Worse was the sleep paralysis, a couple of times as a teenager I woke up unable to move. Feeling something holding me down in the bed but I could only move my eyes. In the corner of my sight a dark figure by the fireplace… Seriously shit scared me and the only thing I could not explain until I read about sleep paralysis.

        Since then I decided that since I had probably one of the most convincing ghost experiences in that house and it fitted sleep paralysis perfectly then ghosts probably don’t exist :-) Even so to this day if I still lived there I would not venture into the attic when the creaking started – one of the most daft things about horror stories because they always do!

    1. Ghostbusters are the best!

      Quote: ‘Janine Melnitz: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?
      Winston Zeddemore: Ah, if there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.’

  14. I love horror films, in fact, I am in the midst of completing the IMDB 31 days of horror challenge (31 horror films in 31 days, you can complete early, 16 have to be first time views). Not too much scares me, I’ve had a couple of films give me the chills, same with the ep. Blink that has been mentioned earlier. Alright, back to watching Vampyr to complete my challenge, I will probably celebrate this accomplishment next month with an Evil Dead marathon as I didn’t get to it this month :(

  15. Supernatural movies don’t scare me at all. I just look at them and thnk “Meh. That never happens. Not scary”. What gets me are psychological horror movies, the kind of things that really could happen. Fatal Attraction. Clockwork Orange. Those give me the willies.

    With one unblinking exception, of course. My 13-year-old skepdaughter still hasn’t managed to watch it all the way through yet! Even the little she has seen of the weeping angels freaked her out.

  16. I never look in the mirror when it’s dark!!!!!

    (Well, mostly because when it’s dark, I can’t see much of anything in the mirror. I know. I’ve looked. I don’t do night lights. I like to sleep in a completely dark room. So mirrors in a dark room just seem kinda’ pointless to me. ;-)

  17. Zombies are pretty awesome! Night of the Living Dead (1968) is the best. Here is a free link. I believe it no longer has a copyright. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2956447426428748010

    And for fun there is Micheal Jackson’s Thriller! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA&ob=av3n

    If I want to creep myself out, and I know this lets my maturity level show, I play the Silent Hill games. Not that there is any rhyme nor reason to those games and they are pretty easy, but those damned creepy half people, half monster/zombie things that come out of nowhere get me every time. :)

    1. Strangely enough, Night of the Living Dead never was copyrighted (they neglected to put a copyright in the title card of the film which was the requirement back then). So, it entered the public domain almost immediately, unfortunately for George Romero.

      As for Silent Hill, I think there’s something about the Japanese horror aesthetic that you can get a sense for in that game that really digs its claws into me. The herky-jerky motion of the bubble head nurse…brrrr…

      1. I looked up ‘Japanese horror aesthetic’ and found a whole genre call J-horror and I think that my husband and I are pretty big fans of it, even though I hadn’t heard of J-horror before. We have rented many Japanese horror films complete with subtitles. I think they are pretty scary. The bad person/entity/thing is coming to get whomever, and they usually get them and the bad thing doesn’t die. Also there seems to be lots of tricks with things like lighting and twitching and suspense. I see a lot of these aspects are in the Silent Hill game. You can’t get to the bad thing causing the chaos and you never will. The lighting and, as you pointed out, the twitchiness of the nurses. I also think the use of sound. The scary sound may or may not have to do with the scary thing that is after you. Making me completely paranoid at that point that everything is a threat. :) Pretty awesomely scary! Happy Halloween!

  18. IRT PBS – Watch out for Curious George: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/gullible-george/ Episode promotes homeopathy and acupuncture to cure the Man With the Yellow Hat’s cold.

    Also, he has his own homeopathic kids’ cold product: http://www.swansonvitamins.com/HY036/ItemDetail

    That’s off my chest, so I’ll just add that I LOVE SCARY MOVIES. It’s a challenge right now with the kiddos, though. They want so badly to believe in magic and ghosts and bigfoot that I come across as Mother Killjoy on a regular basis.

  19. I love horror movies! Not so much the gorenography like Saw or Hostel, but campy ones like House of 1000 Corpses or The Evil Dead. The monsters like Freddy and Jason don’t scare me, but “real” people losing it, like in The Shining, have me white-knucking the comforter. I saw Alien when I was too young, and to this day I can’t even look at a snippet of that movie. I haven’t caught anything on TV, but I have been catching up on Supernatural lately. It’s a fun series.

  20. I’m generally indifferent to horror movies – some of them I enjoy, some I don’t, most I don’t have much of an opinion about one way or another (though the truly awful ones are great fun to watch in their own way).

    I do, however, enjoy ghost stories. As in stories that people tell each other, rather than film, television, or print. I find that these give me the creeps, especially ones that are allegedly true.

    I don’t believe in ghosts, in fact most of the stories that people tell of their own experiences I can easily explain by way of a basic knowledge of how the brain and the senses work, but I still enjoy hearing the stories and they do creep me out.

  21. One of my Facebook statuses today is:

    It’s actually easy to tell if your house is haunted. It isn’t. – Jimmy Carr

    I like a good ghost story now and then. I sometimes experience sleep paralysis and hypopompic hallucinations, so I recently “heard” a little boy ghost at the foot of my bed. He sounded just like my (adult) son did when he was a little boy, saying “Mom and Dad, I’ve been going hungry.” It was scary as it happened, but once I was awake, I knew what had occurred and wasn’t scared. If our house was haunted, we’d have noticed a lot sooner than four years in, and it’s unlikely the ghost would sound exactly like my own son. I think it’s kind of cool that my brain can do stuff like that!

    I love this “Cracked” article, “The Creepy Scientific Explanation Behind Ghost Sightings”:
    http://www.cracked.com/article_18828_the-creepy-scientific-explanation-behind-ghost-sightings.html?wa_user1=5&wa_user2=Science&wa_user3=article&wa_user4=flashback

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