Tag Archives: The Supernatural

Future Seasons of American Horror Story

I wrote a post very similar to this one after the end of Season Two and, while I kept that post updated, it’s beginning to fall a bit out of date, and so I wanted to revisit the post with some new ideas and sexier photoshop work.

So, a bit of a recap, shall we? American Horror Story is a show defined by iconic marketing imagery, a frantic-yet-elegant cinematic style, an ensemble cast that’s always excellent, pitch perfect thematic studies, and interwoven anthology plots.

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In season one, we visited the Murder House. The setting was a haunted house in California, and it allowed the writers and directors to study such American Horrors that the supernatural horrors are only caught up within: the real horrors — the way people react to and perpetuate social issues. Adultery. Abortion. Gay rights. The 21st Century family. School shootings. Depression. Teenage romance. Bullying. The themes that circle the home.

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With second season, we had a big switch, moving into the Asylum. Though first season was dark, it was so in a sexy, elegant, nature. The scares crawled around inside your head a bit. But with season two, Murphy and Co. turned it up to eleven. The sexiness was out the window. The show was a period piece for the 60’s, a time that’s beginning to seem almost pre-historic to us. The setting and time period allowed the writers to explore the big issues of the time (many that are unfortunately still very prevalent), and what made the season brilliant by the final episodes was the way the writers spring-boarded from social issues to philosophical issues. Women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, the role of the Church in the world and within institutions, the treatment of the mentally ill, the ways science can twist and corrupt, and the ways science can redeem. We got some supernatural scares, but not so much of the ghostly, super-powered variety. We saw aliens as a brilliant stand-in for God, we saw possession unrecognized in a place of god, and of course we saw our seasonal historical murderer.

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And then season three happened. Drawing mixed reviews from critics, season three moved us down south, with Coven. Coven aimed to iron out some of the kinks with Asylum: to give the audience a breath of fresh air from the deep darkness of the Asylum, to shave off some of the abundant themes and plotlines that slowed the second season in the middle of its run. They went after feminism and racism in the south, tracking the split of two witch clans and the battle between them as it was reignited. The first episode was a powerhouse, but the show stumbled along after that, missing the opportunities to sneak in genuine frights, and, sadly, instead of deconstructing many of these themes, wound up reinforcing them by season’s end.

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And now, in the late summer of 2014, we move into the fourth season, where we’ll step right up to the Freak Show. I’m utterly pumped for this season (and utterly disappointed in myself that I never thought of the carnival/freakshow idea in my earlier blog post: thanks commenters!) Where Murphy first confessed he was going for a lighter tone and a funny feel the way of Coven, he realized as he got into the plot that this season was, in fact, darker than Asylum. And, I hope, more on track with its thematic study of the nitty gritty. The promos are already exceptional. The clown is going to be scary as shit. And for the first time in more than half a century, we’re really going to get a piece of film/television that digs around in a very much overlooked piece of American history: the sideshow carnival. Looks for more civil rights type issues, post-WWII racial scares, and another season where the monsters are never the monsters.

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(And of course, the alternate title card used with the actual-footage teasers)

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So where do we go from here?

Ryan Murphy has on multiple occasions mentioned that the season following Freak Show was going to be followed by something very much out of left field. While I’ve got a few good ideas, I don’t think any of them are quite as out-of-left-field worthy for the fifth season as Empty Space. Space has a myriad of setting-style titles, so it could be tough for fans to guess this subtitle. But space is a rich American horror soil, and very much do-able for Murphy and Co. I have regular debates with my good buddy CJ about the possibilities of such a season. He argues that aliens shouldn’t make an appearance to throw viewers, whereas I think they can. Granted, AHS has already done aliens in Season Two, but they were brief and very much an image-centric stand-in. They could easily do some creatures heretofore unseen. But with the potential for deep space survival, fear of unknown planets, rebellious robots, rebellious other ships, and with a wealth of horror-movies to nod to and reference, I think we can count on seeing Empty Space in the near future for AHS, hopefully as near as Season Five.

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Almost equally as obvious and overdue as space in the AHS franchise as my vote for Season Six? I’ve subtitled it the Woodlands. (Part of me fought with debate over calling it “Sticks” — a play on the folk phrase for the backwoods mixed with the River Styx from Greek mythology, a thematic allusion very much up Murphy’s alley). The Woodlands locale is rich for AHS. It’s the setting of many in the classic staple of American Horror: the Slasher film. We set this at a cabin or lakeside retreat, and let havoc play out. We’d get the classic slasher killer (likely somebody historical), but there’s room here to play with more modern manifestations from the woods, like Slenderman or cryptid beasties. Murphy has spoken in recent interviews about the nature of death on television, and how it’s different than in movies. Because of the way a 13-episode television run connects you with characters for six times longer than the average movie, you become far more attached, and so those deaths are more meaningful. While in many ways this can be a deterrent for a slasher season, I think it’s territory to play with those losses as the horror that they are.

Thematically we’ve got play by looking no further than Lars von Trier’s disturbing film, Antichrist. Von Trier, in interviews, pointed out that one of his main thematic goals with the film was to explore the dichotomy between the woods currently illustrated in Romantic tones, as a place of peace and finding one’s self, as a Walden, but whereas historically, the woods are a terrible, terrible place of darkness. That’s where you go to fight for your life, where the food chain spins endlessly, and human wit is tested against animal ability.

So I say, let’s do that. Let’s pit the humans against the wild. (And don’t even get me started on what a gorgeous season that would be to watch, cinematically).

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THE season I’ve been waiting to see from Murphy. This show had better not run dry by the time we make our detour into Lovecraft Country (perhaps a better subtitle, but it’s clunky). Innsmouth of course is the setting of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, about a small community of inbred and hybrid creatures living on the coastal shores of Massachusetts. Lovecraft has been one of the most defining characters in modern horror, introducing us to Cosmic Horror and a strange philosophical place of Nihilism and mysticism. This topic is hot right now after being constantly hinted at in HBO’s first season of True Detective, so I think it’s time for something more overt to hit the airwaves. Certainly themes are easy enough to play out. Let’s look at science and religion, cults and isolation, the power of nature, sprinkle in some Storm of the Century and tales of epic sea monsters for flashbacks, and we’ve got one of the tightest, darkest, rainiest, and creepiest American Horror Stories yet. Perhaps the topic will dry up by Season Seven, but I doubt it. Lovecraft never leaves us.

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Okay, fine, Maize isn’t a setting, but it was the best I had, and I loved the play on Maize meaning corn, as well as the wordplay of Maze. Look no farther than the Shining for the maze/minotaur trope in classic horror. Mash it up with Children of the Corn and we’ve got something special. Now, though Murphy says he has as many as 13 different settings in mind, I’m worried themes come less varied than settings, especially if he continues to pack them in the way he did in season 2. Eight seasons is already a bit long, but I think these are the quintessential settings that absolutely have to be covered, and the Maize season would be the quintessential finale, wrapping us up for season Nine. The Native American connection brings the end back to America’s beginning. Dig around in America’s roots, explore the monsters in the soil,  Native American legends, the horror stories from before the genocide, then toss in some Dark Romanticism and Sleepy Hollow, maybe pepper in some Celtic Halloween roots to stir the melting pot, and we’ve got an incredible finale to an incredible show.

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Creepier Things

Thought I’d toss up some of my portrait-a-day shots for my 365-day photo challenge. A big part of my plan this month was to dive into creative/conceptual photography and do some really cool, subtly supernatural, eerie type of photography, and slowly build a photoshopping skillset. My first forays blew my mind a bit.

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How to Photograph a Ghost!

Photography Follow-Up:

Hey guys, I’m back with more vlogs! Sorry it was so long, my camera got stolen, and I got a new one, but then I was busy with summer work and getting the next book out. No excuses!

What I want to do is finish up on the photography topic that I was discussing before the break, and break down the different ways to photograph a potential spirit, and why some may be better than others.

So.

The setup: you’re in a very dark basement that’s said to be haunted, and there’s not much in the way of ambient light for any average camera to pick up at all. How do you best set up the situation to photograph a ghost?

The go-to camera of most experiential investigators?

Cell Phones.

Why they’re good? They’re portable, at-hand, and the images are easy to share and, these days, decent quality. Another less-known reason it’s good? Oftentimes, because the lenses are smaller and cheaper than your average point and shoot or SLR cameras, some cell phone cameras actually see a bit further into the UV light spectrum because they’re not as thoroughly filtered. Hence why lens flare is a little more wacky on a cell phone. If spirits do exist in this smaller, often unseen band, cell phones might be more likely to see them.

The problems with cell phones though, for one, is that they’re usually hand-held. Especially when so many ghost photos are examples of pareidolia, it’s important to take multiple photographs from the exact same position, to rule out anything environmental that you can later compare against. It’s also easier to recreate the shot later for further comparison.

They also need a flash in low-light conditions.

Flashes

And here’s the thing about flashes. The primary problem is that the intense burst of illumination, so close to the camera’s lens, illuminates tons of particulate matter right in your photograph (at odds to off-camera flashes or light sources). So if you have a finger, camera-strap, piece of dust, or bug hanging out in front of the lens, the flash is going to make it look like ectoplasm. Shooting without the flash removes something like 98% of variables otherwise thought to be spirit.

Photoluminescence

But the other problem is that the flash could be harmful to spirits. Photoluminescence is the process of a gas or substance absorbing photons of light and then re-emitting them. This process is a very specific scientific process, so I don’t want to go babbling about a process that could well be irrelevant (like those investigators who try to equate everything spirits do to quantum physics), but if this process happens, and a flash photograph illuminated a spirit, that substance could theoretically re-emit that light back toward the camera, giving you a strange photograph. That said, photoluminescence often fundamentally affects the structure of the substance, and carries the possibility that the spirit (or conscious substance) could be harmed by the emission, losing their substantial form after the photograph and photoluminescence.

UV Radiation

The same goes for exposure to ultra-violet radiation. One theory towards why spirits may be more active at night (as discussed in this vlog), is due to the UV radiation being harmful to a physical, manifested form. The same way that we get sunburned by UV light (our substantial structure is physically damaged by this radiation), perhaps ghosts too are broken down by such exposure. This may well apply to IR as well. We see shadowy figures more rarely walking directly through an IR beam, and more often they’re crouching behind objects, only peeking out.

IR Illumination

In order to penetrate deeply into the room with our night vision cameras, many investigators rig extremely bright IR illuminators beside their cameras. They seem dark to us because we can’t see them, but these lights are veritable spotlights blasting out these rooms. While IR is on the less-harmful end of the spectrum (the wavelengths are longer, and the same way red-light doesn’t hurt our night vision, IR is more gentle as well), in such incredibly bright doses, it still could be hurtful to spirits, or at the least, very intrusive to a spirit’s environment. If someone shone a couple car headlights into your room in the middle of the night, it’s altogether likely you’d duck out of the intensity too, regardless of it giving you a sunburn or not.

Visible Light

Given that the intensity of IR illuminators may be, after the fact, even brighter for the spirits than just keep the lights on, well, why not just keep the lights on? Certainly many investigators have their reasons for investigating in the dark, (which I still explore in this vlog), but it is a valid alternative for ghostly photography, and also minimizes low-light solutions which introduce too many false positives.

But there’s still arguments against such light. It’s very intrusive, often harsh, conflicts with investigators’ EMF equipment, their more subtle sensitivities, and potentially the spirits physical structure (as UV, photon emission, and IR may seem to do as well).

So. We’ve got issue with flash photography, IR illumination, visible lights, how are we supposed to photograph a spirit?

Long Exposure Photography

The immediate alternative is to shoot with a long exposure. Long exposure is automatically applied on the “night-shot” setting of most cameras, and a manual adjustment on most DSLRs. The exposure is adjusted by keeping the shutter open for different amounts of times. If photography is simply burning light onto a sensitive plate, quick bursts of exposure (a fast shutter speed) will capture quick movement as still, but the longer you hold the lens open (slow shutter speeds) the more the image will blur before the photo is over. At night, this can be as long as seconds that the lens will be open, and if the camera is hand-held or if there’s movement in front of the camera, you get motion-blur (which can look like creepy trails of ectoplasm, where in reality the light source seems fixed).

This is how you make cool light-paintings. By running around with a flashlight while your lens is open, you can create cool streaks of light.

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The problem here is that, while you make cool streaks of light, it doesn’t also make streaks of shadow. Because the light is, in effect, burning into the sensitive plates, it masks any dark movement because that light is already burned in.

Think of giving yourself a sun-tan tattoo. If you were to drag a heart-shaped cutout across your skin at the beach, you don’t get any kind of design. But if you leave it in one place, you get your tattoo.

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Same goes for photography, as we’re also talking about light burning into a source. If you leave your shutter open for thirty seconds at a time and a shadow (or a non-illuminated person) were to walk across the frame, they won’t show up in your photo, the same way that the heart doesn’t show up on your skin if you’re moving it around.

Which is what makes THIS picture recorded by the Ghost Hunters International team at Port Arthur Penitentiary in Tasmania so strange. Shooting thirty-second exposures outside at night, they captured the image of a man walking across the hill. Why that’s weird? Because a silhouette of a person walking, for thirty seconds across a hill, shouldn’t show up at all — even if it were a living person. But the fact that this figure shows up as a perfect, non-transparent shadow, suggests that, though it appears to be striding, did not move for the entire thirty seconds.

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Though this was indeed captured by a team, it should be a pretty rare occurrence, because everything we know about spirits is that they appear to move at normal speeds, and for the most part, it’s very rare to see a spirit in one place for as long as thirty seconds. They often seem to be fleeting. And so, unless they’re bright or producing light, they’re not going to show up very well on a long exposure, even if it gives you a nice bright photo in the dark.

So if exposures and flash photos are out, how are we supposed to take photos? And if IR illumination is out, how do we shoot video?

Great questions.

Low-Lux Cameras

One alternative is to invest in Low-Lux camera equipment, or light-amplifying night vision. Most cheap night vision cameras are so today because they’re essentially using invisible flashlights to light up a room. It’s the expensive stuff that doesn’t illuminate a room, it amplifies what’s already there. Night vision goggles? There are no little IR illuminators on the sides, they’re amplifying the light that’s already there. Consider the difference between these two IR images.

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Light amplification is great, but it’s also expensive as shit.

Back-Lighting

Your other alternative is back-lighting. Rather than setting up your light right beside your camera, blasting out the room (and, potentially, the spirit), you instead set up your illumination along a back wall in your shot, so that you can see the back of the room, and you have a bright surface to differentiate a shadow or figure moving through your shot, without blasting that figure out with intense, possibly-harmful light.

And the best light to use? Investigators like Barry Fitzgerald suggest that red is the most welcoming for spirits. The same way photographers use red light in dark rooms, because it’s the least intense of the visible light wavelengths. Where UV is very harmful, red is as far as we can get, and doesn’t effect the photographic chemicals. Same goes for our night vision. Red doesn’t  burn into our eyes as badly.

The best way to capture a ghost? Red light, splashed up over a back wall, or light-amplifying equipment. No flash, shutter speeds that aren’t too long, and tripods.

Then, go ahead and see what you might get.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He now leads the weekend public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, he travels the nation lecturing, and he writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and the Paranormal Pop Culture Blog. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide and the book Into a Sky Below, Forever. He’s also a portrait and landscape photographer based of Fort Collins. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Recommended Paranormal Reading

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A fantastic question, and one that I wish I get more often. I answered this one a couple months ago, but thought it might be easier to lay it out in a blog.

Caveats of course come in the sense that there’s still dozens upon dozens of wonderful and mind-bending books on the paranormal that I haven’t gotten to yet. But there are a few that I think would be wonderful if people started getting their hands on.

9781450253567_p0_v1_s260x4201. Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting by David Rountree. 

If there is one book any serious technical investigator of the paranormal should read, it’s this one. Where in today’s paranormal world many teams are largely ignorant to scientific theories, equipment, and genuine methodologies, this book is quintessential reading to help understand not only how the tools you’re using work, but what they’re measuring. Some is over my head. Some is borderline scientistic and narrow-sighted, but overall required reading. There’s a big part of me that wants to suggest to any investigator to not use any piece of technology again until after reading this book.

 

 

images2. Psychic Explorations: A Challenge for Science, Understanding the Nature and Power of Consciousness by Edgar D. Mitchell. 

The paranormal extends SO much farther than simply ghosts. If you want your mind BLOWN when it comes to the paranormal, you absolutely must read this book. A compilation of articles from psi researchers in 1973, this book synthesizes data collected by three generations of psychical researchers, whose conclusions come up again and again that the existence of psychic abilities have been effectively proven to exist, and that the next step is learning more about how they work. Readable. Mind-bending. Wonderful. It’s thoroughly referenced and footnoted, so opportunities for further reading abound. 

(From my reading in this, I’ve got sitting near my headboard my on-deck reading, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by FWH Myers and The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin, which has gotten a wealth of wonderful reader reviews on Amazon.)

 

5676823. The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

But the paranormal doesn’t stop at spirits and psychic phenomena. In fact, much of my reading list strays away from ghosts on their own entirely. Because of popular culture right now, we all get the general ideas behind the existence of ghosts. How many of us, after watching the first two seasons of Ghost Hunters can relay the three types of haunting and how EVP is different from disembodied voice? Keel’s Mothman Prophecies is a true achievement in paranormal research. Though I’m a big fan of the Pellington-directed movie, the book is fantastic reading. Diving so deeply into the strange events at point pleasant, Keel can’t help but become a part of the story. Despite breaking one of the first rules of journalism, the book then becomes instantly engaging on a level not purely intellectual, but reads as good as a fiction thriller. Mothman Prophecies brings together UFOlogy, some of the earliest reports of the Men in Black phenomena, poltergeist-type happenings, cryptids, and the titular prophecies. Where one phenomena stops and another begins? That’s the real question below this book.

(Note: Keel also wrote the wonderful Our Haunted Planet, which, while eye-opening as it dissects ancient mythology and the potential reality of gods, aliens, and faeries, is poorly referenced throughout, making many of his lofty claims immediately suspect to the careful reader. Though I’ve only read the opening chapters, it seems that Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia–which is available used for $400 dollars on amazon, or as a free PDF on a quick google search–is a much better presented exploration of similar study).

9780253221810_med4. Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience by Anthony Steinbock

Readers familiar with my areas of research know that in much of college, I focused a lot of study on philosophy of religions (both east and west) as well as an emphasis on mysticism. Mysticism is the practice of having an experience of something divine or transcendent of the world around us. Steinbock’s textbook examines what makes a spiritual experience inherently spiritual and where it crosses with the world around us. Indeed, as paranormal researchers, if we are coming into contact with beings or creatures from a plane truly beyond our own, the similarities in experiences immediately come together. If any researchers are interested in the broader implications of what it means to contact beings from “somewhere beyond”, Steinbock is a must read.

(Mystical experience is broadly classified and broadly researched in a way that much of the paranormal hasn’t. Some other books for reading on the subject include William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. James was one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical research, which is necessarily referenced in Mitchell’s Psychic Explorations book. Funny how they all start linking together again, isn’t it? Also, try Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Beliefand Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience.)

9780060653378 5. Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin

It should be noted that I have a problem with fundamental religious belief (which you’ll understand far more deeply if you pursue the mystical readings), but Martin’s book on possession is one of the best. It very thoroughly documents five case studies on various possessions that he researched. Where many television shows today like to throw around the “demon” word to keep their episodes exciting for the audience at home, the reality of demonic possession is shocking and very different. This book explores not only the exorcisms, but the circumstances surrounding the onset of the possession. This can be difficult to digest for the non-religious reader, as its very fundamentalist. But Martin is a professional and does a fine job of presenting the circumstances with very little bias. Even from the 1970s and with deeply religious background, such topics as transgender individuals are handled gracefully, though certain implications do leave a critical reader a bit wary. Regardless, as a study on the fact of possession, there’s much that cannot be denied, and the presentation here borders on masterpiece.

(If demonology is your thing, there is some fascinating reading on the subject. I also recommend The Dark Sacrament by David Kiely and Christina McKenna and The Rite by Matt Baglio).

41NPF555BTLHonorable Mention: The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by James George Frazer.

The first time I tossed out these books on twitter, I added also that you should read anything that John Tenney recommends. If he told me there was insight in the phone book, I’d take to the phone book with a magnifying glass. At the time, his go-to book to add to the list was The Golden Bough. Because of his recommendation, this fat tome is sitting on my shelf patiently waiting my read. Written around the turn of the 20th century, this book is considered a foundation for modern-day Anthropology, studying how beliefs over time have changed from magic to religion, and from religion to science.

Those are my suggestions, caveats and thoughts and all. I do hope these help. If you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to sound off in the comments down below!

 

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

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Turns out ESP has SCIENTIFIC PROOF

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But Karl. You have no photos in this blog. Your only video is you talking to a camera. Where’s this proof you speak of? Dammit, I’m going back to Facebook.

Unfortunately, that up above is the way too many of us would-be “ghost hunters” do think. We operate under pop definitions of “proof.” Our “proof” is a distillation of a personal experience. We think that because we’ve experienced something (a certain kind of proof in its own right–but not one without its own flaws), that if we can recreate that experience for others, we have proof. Unfortunately, recreation seems to stop at video, audio, and photography.

In the scientific world, “proof” is different. Proof is an experiment, rigidly designed so that it can be recreated by anyone. Proof is a statistical, mathematical reference. It’s an argument based on a series of facts distilled from an experiment. Proof is then presented in scientific journals. When other scientists read them (skeptical or otherwise), they recreate the experiment, and report back in other scientific journals. If the results are consistent enough, this indicates that the scientists are on to something. If the results are consistent for seven decades, there comes a point where the phenomenon is, in a scientific sense, “proven.”

Is there room for error here? Is there room for misinterpretation? Absolutely. It’s in early stages. And problems arise when too much theorizing happens without enough facts. But after several decades of scientific study, scientists familiar with the researchers do confidently say:

ESP HAPPENS. What it is yet, they don’t know. How it works, they don’t know. Further experimentation is required.

So, before giving you an overview of what experiments were done, the reports published, the recreated experiments and the modifications, I wanted to give you an oversight from the scientists (no, really. Real life scientists with degrees and University funding and everything) who have interacted directly with the research from this past century. If you want to read the legitimate “proof”, start here first, and then begin to reference the bibliography.

“Telepathy, for example, had been extensively studied and documented for a century. The work of J.B. Rhine, Rene Warcollier, S.G. Soal, and many others, including the astounding experiment between Harold Sherman and Sir Hubert Wilkins in the Arctic, could leave no doubt about its existence.” -Edgar Mitchell

Psychic research officially began nearly a century ago, in 1882, when the Society for Psychical Research was founded in London. Three years later, the American Society for Psychical Research was organized in the United States.

“The subject of the societies’ concern can be broadly classified as Extrasensory Perception (ESP, psychokinesis (PK), and survival phenomena (theta). Collectively, they are referred to as psi, the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet and the first letter in the Greek word for “psyche”, meaning “mind” or “soul.”  -Mitchell

“ESP is a psychic event in which information is transmitted through channels outside the known sensory channels, either in waking consciousness, trance, or dreams.” Mitchell

“PK is a psychic event in which objects or organisms are physically moved or affected without direct contact or use of any known force that would allow a conventional explanation. PK includes teleportation, materialization and de-materialization, levitation, psychic surgery and psychic healing, thought photography, and out of the body projection.

Theta are events due to the agency of supposed discarnate personalities. Theta include the phenomena of mediumship, ghosts and hauntings, apparitions and poltergeists, spirit photography, spirit possession, and reincarnation.” -Mitchell

“There appears to be a continuum along which we may place occult, psychic, paranormal, and mystic phenomena–a continuum of consciousness. But it is not easy to draw lines of demarcation between them.” Mitchell.

I mean, where does one end and the other begin? Are spirits actual spirits, or are they projections of our minds into someone else’s mind? Do spirits manifest by appearing in our brains psychically, accounting for why sometimes only one or a handful of people “see” them? Look at PK versus clairvoyance. Do you know what is about to happen, or do we create it? On the flip side, do we create something happening, or just know what’s going to happen?

Now, on the scientific side,

Mitchell points out that science is made up of two components: objectivity and materialism. Objectivity being that the human being should have no necessary relationship with the world around it. Materialism in that everything fundamental to science is made up of matter.

So, according to Mitchell:

“Psychic research is leading to an extraordinarily challenging conclusion: science’s basic image of man and the universe must be revised… Science will have to divest itself not only of some deeply cherished “facts” but also of its philosophic foundations — the whole intellectual outlook upon which our present civilization is based.”

This isn’t an attack on science. It’s not a revolution, it’s a revelation. This IS science. Science is constantly updating to new facts, new realizations. This one has been pushed to the side for long enough because it doesn’t fit the framework. As soon as it becomes credible, we may see a shift more radical than any discovery in the past couple hundred years.

“The only possible bias for rejecting the evidence of psychic research is prejudice and diehard stubbornness born of insecurity.” -Mitchell

S.G. Soal of London University writes:

“It would be interesting to meet the psychiatrist or psychologist who has perused every page of the 49 volumes of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, and who remains a skeptic. It is no coincidence that those most skeptical of ESP research are almost invariable those who are the least acquainted with the facts.”

H.J. Eysenck, head of the Department of Psychology at Maudsley Hosptial in London, answers the charge of fraud like this:

“Unless there is a gigantic conspiracy involving 30 University departments all over the world, and several hundred highly respected scientists in various fields, many of them originally hostile to the claims of the psychic researchers, the only conclusion the unbiased observer can come to must be that there are people who obtain knowledge existing either in other people’s minds, or in the outer world, by means yet unknown to science.”

Dr. Montague Ullman of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY:

“If the only answer to the vast amount of solid experimental evidence is incompetence or fraud on a global scale by men with credentials equal to those of their scientific peers, working in academic surroundings, and whose work extends historically in time over at least three generations, then the adherents of this position would seem to have adopted a stance that is even more difficult to defend than the psi hypothesis. In fact, it would seem to represent a last ditch stand–in short, the bankruptcy of the critical effort.”

New Scientist Magazine did a questionaire on parapsychology in 1973. It’s first conclusion reported that

“parapsychology is clearly counted as being exceedingly interesting and relevant by a very large number of today’s working scientists.”

25% of the respondents held ESP to be an established fact, with another 42% declaring it a likely possibility.

“This positive attitude was based, in about 40% of the sample, on reading reports in scientific books and journals. Moreso came from a majority whose convictions arose from personal experience. There was a strong undercurrent among respondents that too much time was being spent proving the existence of ESP, when the real need was to “get on with finding out how it works.”

By that same note, Gerald Feinberg points out:

“I believe it would be appropriate for researchers to emphasize detailed studied of psychic phenomena rather than to concentrate on further efforts whose primary purpose is to convince others that the phenomena exists.”

This Advice is good for paranormal researchers too. Stop trying to “prove it”, start trying to figure out what is going on.

As you try to figure out what’s going on, you might just stumble across some real science on your way.

As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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John Tenney Talks Patience. And Fishing.

New Vlog this week! Today we’re featuring paranormal researcher John EL Tenney, who’s amassed nearly thirty years experience in the field, documenting and studying everything from conspiracies to PSI. Staying consistent with the vlog’s theme toward misconceptions and new ways of thinking about ghost hunting, today we’re angling at patience. And fishing.

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Ghosts and Flares and Mists and Photos

Following last week’s blog about Orbs and photography, I want to use this week to talk some about other issues in photography, primarily camera flares, mists, and the importance of paying attention.

So what is a lens flare?

Most of you guys are familiar with lens flares if you’ve seen the movie Star Trek by JJ Abrams. It’s called “anamorphic lens flare” because it’s a lens flare on an anamorphic wide screen lens, so it’s very wide and very dramatic. He uses it because he loves this idea of the future being so bright that the light can’t be contained outside of the lens.

Lens flare though is when your camera is set up and you have a really bright light source either in the shot, or just outside of it. The light then strikes your camera lens and it’s redirected into your camera, giving you glare and often illuminating odd-looking artifacts.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 1.25.29 PMIf it’s off the side of your shot, you will see evidence of this object in the photo even if the object is not in your shot.

You might sometimes get dusty looking elements, a washed out effect, and sometimes a mirroring of the lens, in which you see curves and orb-like shapes.

The first thing you want to do then if you get one of these bright glowing oddly-shaped objects, is to look for bright objects just off to the side of the shot. Lens flare is not always a crazy disruptive streak of light. Sometimes it’s only a  haze, bad contrast, or strange orb anomalies.

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What else shows up in pictures aside from flares?

Mists. And the easiest way to experience a false mist is to be taking pictures outside in the winter. You’ll be holding your camera in front of your face, or near your face, and your breath is illuminated in the flash.

Most people claim to not remember seeing their breath while taking pictures. Which can be true. Normally we don’t look immediately in front of our cameras when using a flash, and the flash can sometimes illuminate vapors more brightly than whatever ambient lighting is around at the time (the way that afternoon sun illuminates the dust floating through your living room).

It’s important to also remember that seeing your breath does not necessarily only occur in freezing temperatures. Sometimes, with the help of additional environmental factors, it can appear on a humid day with temperatures as high as forty or fifty degrees. Cold is important because what you’re seeing is condensation of water vapor as you breathe out. If it’s cold enough, it turns the vapor into a more dense form, and you see breath.

But this segues into the third part, which is observation.

This is a hard topic to discuss with people who are enthusiastic about their ghost photo. Why?

Because everyone thinks that they’re very observant.

I see a fair amount of photos that people have taken with figures in the background. Oftentimes this is from my stomping grounds, the Stanley Hotel, in which folks on a tour will capture of a photo of something eerie.

My problem is that I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how controlled the situation was. I don’t know for sure if that room was indeed locked down and if the photographer was as alone as they thought they were. Without a video setup or having been there myself, it’s too hard to make that call.

Oftentimes though this is seen in reflections. Most people will be taking a picture of a shiny surface and later find a figure in the background of the reflection. What’s challenging here is that most times, you don’t pay attention to what’s in the reflection itself. You pay attention to what’s in the space between you and the reflecting surface.

But think too about the time it takes to snap three photos, the delay between each photo, and then the time it takes before you study the photo. By the time most people have found a strange figure, zoomed in, and realized it is significant, when they look up again, if that person who was in the photo was on the move, often times they’re gone. Mysteriously vanishing.

And further still, we think observation and experience is the best form of evidence. However, what’s interesting is that it’s actually  not.

I worked for the cops for a couple years in their explorer program, and we studied this idea about the unreliability of witness testimony. In fact, if you want to run the same experiment that we did, put a bunch of friends in a room together. Have one person walk into your group and say something to you briefly. Then, after they go, give a few minutes delay, and ask everyone in the room to (first without talking) record what they remember the person to be wearing and what the person looked like. Emphasis on colors of clothes, hair cut, types of clothes.

It’s incredible the amount of radically different answers you will get.

In fact, it’s interesting to consider how unreliable this testimony is in court, despite how high we hold it qualitatively.

Look even at some of your childhood memories. Compare them to old photos.

Try this.

So be as observant as possible if you’re trying to actually capture a ghost. Such “evidence” should not be presented lightly. And it shouldn’t be acquired lightly either.

That’s all I got this week! Thoughts? Leave them in the comments down below, AND, as always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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CRAZY GHOST PHOTOGRAPHY!

First of all, what are orbs? Orbs are theorized to be concentrated pinpoints of energy that have manifested intensely enough to present as a small ball of light, or as a small pocket of matter.

Often confused, orbs are not evidence of–nor even indicative of paranormal activity. Energy orbs are just that, balls of energy floating around in the air.

Scientists have been concerned with balls of energy for many years now, including ball lighting–which is a phenomena naturally occurring but so rare that scientists have a hard time studying it. They’ve managed to reproduce the phenomena in a laboratory, but whether or not the process is anything similar to what happens in nature is still a mystery.

However, some people believe that in the same way that we track anomalous and often-times communicative sources of “energy” on a ghost hunt, these balls of energy may well have something to do with ghostly activity.

But if we’re gonna talk about orbs, we first need to break down some photography.

First of all, DEPTH OF FIELD. What is it? Depth of field is the depth that your camera keeps objects in focus.

This varies depending on the lens. A narrow depth of field creates very blurry backgrounds, where the object in focus is only a very shallow part of the image.

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With a deep depth of field, objects in the foreground are mostly in focus, while objects in the far background are also mostly in focus.

Also FLASH. Okay, we all know what a flash is: an intense burst of light from your camera to illuminate the room. But also keep in mind that holding a flashlight or other bright light source (including those invisible to the naked eye, like IR illuminators) are all in essence the same thing.

Now, the common explanation in paranormal research is that supposed “orbs” that appear on camera are actually dust particles. The dust is illuminated by the flash on your camera, and then, because your camera has focused on something deeper in the frame, farther away, the dust that is close to your camera lens is out of focus, forming a pretty sphere.

Consider this video here, in which out of focus lights turn to pretty, perfect circles with sometimes strange little squiggles or swirls inside.

These little squiggles are the product of the out of focus object. Play with the focus on your cameras. This very easily becomes the MATRIXING effect, also called PAREIDOLIA. Our human brain is trained to recognize facial features as part of our psychological development. So when you think you see a face because you’re zoomed in to the pixels, it’s not a ghost. The “orb” is a perfect sphere because it’s out of focus. Even if that was a spirit manifesting, they’re not going to manifest so that the more out of focus your camera is, the more in focus they are. If the “orb” was far enough away that your camera could focus on it AND see a face within it, everyone in the room would be aware of that orb.

The key is also this: Most orbs, if they are self-contained energy, would be characterized by their PRODUCTION of light, and the brightest point would be the center, radiating light OUTWARD, and in best case scenarios, casting that light onto another nearby object.

Most dust particles captured in photography are REFLECTING light. You can clearly see an outer edge is illuminated, or the orb is for the most part simply transparent.

House_Dust_Orbs

This is oftentimes witnessed on video camera too. Video usually utilizes a powerful light source, the IR light, that investigators use often. Think of it as a constant flash. Anything drifts in front of the lens, you have an orb. Often because this light is so powerful and direct in an otherwise dark room, insects and floating particulates, when they hit the light beam, are brightly illuminated, and move in odd patterns.

Sometimes they’re close enough to the camera to see wings. Sometimes they’re far and small enough they seem only like a small dot.

Why are they sometimes in colors? I was told that if they were purple, it’s my uncle. Oftentimes, the flash illuminates the room and bounces off the dust particle. If the particle looks red, it’s usually because there was something red in the room that the flash bounced from, and this is what illuminated the dust.

This can also be due to water particles, insects, and dust. All of which are around us constantly. If you show me a picture of an orb from a dusty tunnel, old attic, or outside during a snowstorm, I’m obviously going to rule it out.

If you show me an orb from anywhere else, let’s face it, I’m gonna rule that out too. Dust is everywhere.

HOWEVER. Let’s play some devil’s advocate here.

Orb’s DO seem to be a recurring phenomena. I’ve seen then with my own eyes in a dark room. Often they seem to be a trick of my eyes, those semi-supernova-esque type appearances that oddly enough are often validated by other people in the room. I’ve seen them under chairs, near people’s bodies, floating by the ceiling and along the floor.

I’ve never seen one photographed.

However, there is something to be said too for the idea that if a spirit concentrates its manifestation to an individual point, perhaps it can come through as MATTER in a very tiny space. In which case, wouldn’t it look just like a dust orb on camera?

Certainly so. If that’s what’s happening, if matter is actually forming before your camera, close enough to the lens to be out of focus and illuminated by the flash, maybe it is indeed a ghost. My problem is that if it in all likelihood is a piece of dust or moisture or bug(which are all EVERYWHERE), what are the chances you’ve captured proof positive of a ghost?

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In my opinion? Slim. Very slim.

Other ways to try to capture orbs then would be such:

Set up an experiment in which you put two cameras a few feet from each other, on tripods. Using the flash on both, and rigging a remote to set both off at the same time, an orb should appear in both of the photos if it is indeed deeper in the room.

However, this also supplies problems. In a dusty room, you might get two separate orbs in the photos. So, I’d trust using an SLR camera with no flash or bright light source close to the camera, and a lens hood.

If you get an orb in one of those photos, check to see if it seems to be producing light or reflecting light. If reflecting, where is it coming from?

But that’s all I’ve got this week. Disagree? Agree? Let me know more down in the comment section down below!

As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Let’s Talk Provoking

I want to talk to you guys today about provoking spirits on a ghost hunt.

This always seems to be a popular topic to be asked about up at the Stanley on our ghost hunts and so I want to clarify it for many of the rest of you too:

Firstly, what is provocation?

Provocation is antagonizing a spirit on a ghost hunt in order to illicit an emotional reaction from them in a way that might manifest something happening. Technically speaking, it’s an incentive for the spirit to do something, albeit a not very nice one.

Most investigators will throw around insults in order to stir up such a reaction.

Usually the reaction is violent. It always makes me laugh on ghost hunts when someone gets super pissed off when a spirit attacks them after provocation.

Some investigators will draw lines about this. TAPS used the framework that they only provoke if it’s a negative entity with a history of attacking people

Provocation usually successfully brings such an entity out… but the results are usually less conclusive in seeing what the true nature of the spirit is. If you want to see if a spirit is violent and malevolent by nature, don’t insult it first. I can think of a number of living people not malevolent in nature who would react violently to such antagonism.

Dustin Pari for example, you might remember him provoking the elemental at Leap Castle in Ireland. He was picked up and thrown down for his verbal assault and he never provoked again.

Ghost Adventures uses the philosophy of putting as much energy as they can into the environment around them and, being as they’re often in dark places with dark histories, they often provoke these seemingly violent negative figures.

Does provoking work?

Yes. Fifty percent of the time. It usually stirs up spirits who are happy to fight. And annoys the ones who don’t want your bullshit.

Problems with provocation:

One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with provocation is this sense of entitlement from people. They pay to go on a ghost hunt, or they visit a haunted place and go out of their way to have an experience, and then they think that means they deserve it. News flash: ghosts are people too. And most spirits aren’t on the payroll for a location. They’re there for personal reasons. You treating them like shit because you think you deserve an experience really poorly reflects on your sense of place in the world.

Another problem is that you don’t know who you’re talking to. Just because reports might have a violent encounter or an ugly history doesn’t mean the spirit is evil or negative. Violent spirits often are violent for a reason. Go figure. If you listen to what they have to say, you’re often going to be surprised. How many living people do you know who had a sad, decidedly human story at the heart of their anger?

Problem three is that good spirits are often provoked. Like our spirit Lucy at the Stanley, who died young when she ran away from home. Provoking her would earn you the status of biggest douchebag ever. And would get you very little activity. She hangs out with us because she enjoys it.

Conclusion:

Give spirits as much respect as you think they deserve, and then be prepared for the consequences.

Many people believe that everyone deserves equal amounts of respect, no matter what their history. Loving everyone because hate is bad, no matter who you’re hating. Other people believe that there are some darker spirits out there, you don’t treat them well, and you might get some good results…. and entertaining television anyway.

Just be prepared when you get a smack to the face.

But that’s all I’ve got this week. As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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American Horror Story Season 4 and Season 5 Brainstorm!

News broke this last week that the new season of American Horror Story was going to be subtitled Coven. (For those of you folks who’ve been googling season 4, Coven is in fact the 3rd season of AHS and premieres in the fall of 2013). This follows on the heels of the news that was announced, at the end of last season, that the season would be taking place primarily in the deep south, much of it being filmed in New Orleans.

This has me excited, because I love to wonder about the themes, settings, and frights that this show will be supplying next.

It’s these things that makes the show brilliant: their handling of social and political and philosophical themes; their refreshing new storylines and sets each season; and the gritty horror that they bring to television.

So, following my blogs last season, in which I wondered at the themes and the developments in Asylum, I’m now broadening my scope. I’m thinking ahead to seasons 4 and 5 (which would air in the falls of 2014 and 2015. But of course, in the world of television, future seasons are never sure until they’re ordered. But I like to dream, and American Horror Story killed it with the ratings for its first two seasons, giving FX some steam to compete with other cable biggies a la Walking Dead).

In the first season, we covered the Murder House story. The marketing color was RED. American GOTHIC. The themes explored were drawing from decades of recent Americana. Murder. Abortion. Adultery. Divorce. Sex. School shootings. Drugs. And a healthy dose of ghosts to boot.

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In the second season, we covered the Asylum story. The marketing color was WHITE. The themes ranged from religion, to science. Gay rights. Women’s rights. The masculine and the feminine. Mother issues. Medicine. Mental illness. Abortion. Nature versus nurture. Inherent evil. Nazis. Human experimentation. Alien abduction.

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In the third season, we only know that it’s the Coven story. Which says to most of us: witches. And, shooting in the deep south, I can only guess at marketing colors: GREEN. (Update: Now that season three is in the wind, we see there was a tinge of green and a bit of hot pink, this being a season of feminism themes, amongst others) And I can only imagine themes and topics. Racism, I’d imagine? The mingling of “American” ideals with French and African? Magic. Producers have hinted at lots of sex and more comedy. Hoodoo? Voodoo? Vampires? Segregation?

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So now I’m looking past season three and into four and five. The uncharted, un-talked-about, not-even-rumored, here-be-dragons territory.

(I’m not even forecasting here. I’m just spit-balling).

So what’s left on the plate? The core of this show is explicitly American horror, in the sense of both location and theme. And so brainstorming future settings that hold quintessentially American horror roots is interesting. I’ve only come up with two, but my excitement to see the team’s handling of them is palpable.

I want to see season four hit the coast. I’m a sucker for coastal everything. Lighthouses. Water. Storms. Lovecraftian horror. The kind of sea-eroded history. The moodiness of such an atmosphere. Can you see it?

American-Horror-Story-Season-4-Promo-bannerPromos with only a fat phallic tentacle on a couple storm-beaten rocks? (Oh, you know it would be phallic too. Did you SEE the promo posters for Asylum?) An exploration of the mystery of the sea? A throwback historically to the old sailors, both in discovering America and also fishing. HEAVY draws on Lovecraft, if particularly the Shadow Over Innsmouth? Can you imagine? Cult-like worship of strange sea-creatures within the town? Half-man, half-animal hybrids? Perhaps some splicing/cloning scientific play with that?

Play on seclusion and religion and what makes up a homestead. Safety. Security. Especially in the times we live in. Themes perhaps of that question of security versus freedom.

And then into season five. I have a bias. I think every wonderful show on television only has five good seasons in it. It’s the best amount of time to complete a thorough arc before getting into redundant territory.

And what better way to wrap American Horror Story than a return to America’s roots? The midwest and the colonial east. Cornfields. Small towns. Colonial roots and revolution.

American-Horror-Story-Season-5-Promo-BannerAmericana at its heart. Late summer. Autumn. The harvest. Calling upon the classic horror themes we’ve seen season to season during the heart of Halloween. The imminent fears of the long winter. Questions of simple living, American values. Questions of population growth and food in the modern times but also in the past. Throw back to the land itself. Throw back to Native Americans and the disputes with them. Curses. Genocide. Animals and nature and scarecrows guarding the fields.

A sprinkling of Shyamalan with the Village. Some Hawthorne! Dark Romanticism. A bit of Young Goodman Brown. Some twisted Puritan values. Some Washington Irving, a bit of Ichabod Crane and headless horsemen.

The final iconic monster as something Native American. The revelation coming in that it’s not really a monster. Like all monsters, it’s misunderstood. And it’s usually only as monstrous as we make it.

What better way to wrap up the show than with a final look at the heart of America: where it all came from. How it was founded. The sins in the soil.

But I want to know what YOU guys think. Would that be a satisfying wrap to one of the smartest shows on television? Are there more choice selections of classic horrific Americana that I’m forgetting? What do you want to see in the upcoming seasons? Let me know in the comments section down below!

Update (Feb 6, 2014)

Murphy is still skating as to what in particular season 4 will be called, though I suspect we’ll be hearing about it in the next month or two. He’s already hinted that season four will be over many time periods, but mostly in the 50’s, it’ll be as comedic as season four (though five will be something very much out of left field, he says), and a bit gothic. Folks are having fun with the carnival/circus idea, but I quite like the Freakshow art that appeared in a quick google search. Freakshow is certainly a topic that would be VERY much American Horror Story’s alley, and would touch upon the gothic, but he’s already said fans haven’t nailed it yet, and that the circus idea was baseless.

In lieu of the updates, I wanted to update this post, since it still gets a lot of traffic (almost seventy comments? You guys are AWESOME. And some GREAT ideas that I’d completely overlooked).

I should point out that though there are at times a greenish tinge, AHS seems to have deviated from the color schemes I guessed about above. It seems the black, white, and red will always be their base, with a touch of extra color that might connect with the theme, the way green reflected the south and the witches. That obviously would influence my marketing brainstorms up above a bit.

I still love the ideas of a coastal, Lovecraftian AHS, as well as a midwestern corn-fields and autumnal feel, so I wanted to add some applicable titles and extra promo photo mockups, particularly since I’ve gotten a bit more deft at the photoshop in the year since I posted this bad boy. Enjoy, rock on, and hope to see you on the other side of season four!

(Seasons one through three courtesy and property of FX. Of course, the American Horror Story and FXs logos are copyright FX):

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AHS S2

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As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and photographer. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. I’m also a conceptual and portrait photographer working out of Northern Colorado. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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