Spooked: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium
This review is dedicated to my father, who never once said to me that skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, but who lives that concept every day.
Okay, so, there's this haunted Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Louisville, Ky. You may have heard of it before, since it has been explored by everyone from the people who make Most Haunted to Gary Busey (don't ask). So, what was once my favorite high school freak-out tale has become an international ghost hunting Mecca. I don't mind, really. Especially since the current owners are awesome people who are doing everything that they can to make sure that the grounds and the building stay open to the public.
Th problem is the quality of people that international ghost hunting Meccas attract. See, we had this jackass film maker named Christopher Saint Booth traipse into town to make a horror movie called Death Tunnel, which was filmed on sight at Waverly Hills. Apparently, to help promote the film, which has had questionable success, the same fellow has made a documentary about the paranormal events at Waverly. Before I go on, ole Chris is kind of like Ed Wood but without the charm or sartorial style -- his scruffy hair, dumb silver jewelry and bad hat choices are evidence.
This documentary is called Spooked, and amazingly enough, Frank and I discovered a copy of this gem at Video Ezy here in Nowra. It was a must-rent, not only due to the subject matter (now that I don't live in Louisville any more, I'll watch pretty much anything about Kentucky), but because of the stylish and dignified name of the aforementioned film.
I am sad to report that every single thing that I feared to find in this documentary was found, and then some. First, it wins the Amityville Horror award for internal inconsistencies. Facts are provided to the viewer in white text on a black background at the very start of the film. Almost every single one of those facts are contradicted by the statements made by interview subjects within the following fifteen minutes. It's not necessarily a bad thing that the initial facts are contradicted, because most of them are incorrect, but one has to wonder exactly why the initial facts that are presented were not corrected after obtaining information from interview subjects.
One of the primary interview subjects is sadly, Keith Age, who is the founder of the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society. You get to witness this fellow in his best good-fellah-from-the-holler, yee-haw-ain't-we-havin'-a-time best, as he leads a film crew though the beautiful and sadly run-down sanatorium. You also get to watch him trot out his usual repertoire that he provides to all tour attendees, which include stores about and EVP meter "melting" in one of the treatment rooms and about how ghosts seem to like to throw chunks of cement at him. I'm on the side of the ghosts in this instance, because if Mr. Age came traipsing through my house on a regular basis, waving cheap electronic gizmos and shining laser pointers around, I'd probably throw concrete at him, too.
By now, you may have guessed that I don't care much for Mr. Age. And you'd be correct. I've heard far too many stories about this guy and his cheap but uninspired showmanship to believe a word that comes out of his mouth. He's the type of paranormal researcher who likes to stand in the back of a crowd, stumble into people in front of him, and exclaim that he's just been hit in the back by a rock which was thrown by a mean old ghostie. And, though he claims that he is a skeptic at heart, who is desperately seeking confirmation that the paranormal exists, he'll blithely point at really bad "orb" photos, and insist that they are evidence of the paranormal.
I was afraid that "orb" photos were going to put in an appearance, and I wasn't disappointed. Plenty of them are trotted out in the course of the documentary, along with grainy close-ups up "faces" in the orbs. Not once does the documentary mention the questionable nature of "orb" ghost photos, nor are the viewers provided with information about the weather conditions under which the photos were taken. Other photos are show the the viewer, ranging from images of strange human torsos and faces to misty "ectoplasm" shots, some of which are so obviously cigarette smoke, that I ended up feeling embarrassed for the film makers.
Some of the other interviews were mildly entertaining, especially the ones with two ex-patients of the sanatorium. Hearing about their experiences with Tuberculosis (repeatedly called the "White Plague" in the film), was interesting. They firmly express how good the care they received at Waverly was, despite the sensationalism of the film makers, who repeatedly attempt to intimate that there was something nefarious going on while the building was operated as a Tuberculosis Sanatorium. (They were barking up the wrong tree, abysmal care of patients didn't figure into the building's history until it was reopened as a Nursing Home years later.) There are questionable moments in the editing, in which it appears that certain interview subjects are backing each other up about stories that are patently false. Careful watching allows you to identify these moments fairly easily.
In conclusion, watch Spooked for a piece of Louisville folklore history, because all of the old stories are told, including everything from the nurse who hung herself on the fifth floor in the infamous room 502, to the ghost of a little girl named Mary who haunts the floor below. Or, watch it for the images of Waverly, which are hauntingly beautiful in their desolation. Or even watch it to make fun of Christopher Saint Booth's fashion sense. But don't watch in the hopes of seeing a detailed and well-documented documentary about the paranormal events that are reported to have taken place there, because you certainly won't find that here.
Oh, and Happy Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Yule/Happy Kwanzaa/Happy Holidays, ya'll -- and have a happy New Year, too!