Phantom menaces

Another Hole in the Head unleashes multiple malevolent ghosts. Plus: our guide to the film fest's horror highlights

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HoleHead includes some OK faux-docs -- and locally-filmed vampire amnesia mystery Apocrypha

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Does anyone actually believe Ghost Adventures is real? Including its hosts? For the uninitiated, this is the Travel Channel show that locks a trio of doucheba — er, paranormal investigators inside an allegedly haunted location overnight, leaving them with an arsenal of high-tech gadgets to record any paranormal happenings.

Inevitably, these goings-on include supernatural "voices" captured by one of their doohickeys (the voice always sounds exactly like garbled static, but is subtitled into meaning — usually a variation of "Get out!") Main host Zak Bagans employs obnoxious tactics to goad the spirits into responding. Did you see that one where he decided he needed to bare his telegenically pumped-up chest to provoke the phantom that hated tattoos? It was fully necessary, people. For science. Also, it was 24-karat unintentional comedy gold.

Ghost Adventures and similar shows (main ingredient: shaky, sickly-green night vision) are ripe for parody, but they're also au courant. As anyone with a pair of eyes and a thirst for blood can attest, there's been a trend in "I am filming myself at all times" horror since ye olden days of The Blair Witch Project (1999), sure to be buoyed along for another decade-plus thanks to the monster success of 2007's Paranormal Activity. (Last year's The Last Exorcism being a prime example.) If these films are fake-real, then shows like Ghost Adventures, which follow regular people through actual abandoned prisons, sanitariums, and the like, are real-fake.

Which brings us to Grave Encounters, a fake-real movie that does a number on Zak Bagans types and delivers some pretty decent scares in the process. (Don't be put off by the directors' corny nom de screen, "the Vicious Brothers." Although, dudes — really?) The film, which closes out the 2011 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, is introduced by a slick production-company type who assures us that what we are about to see is undoctored video from a ghost-hunting reality show. Seems the crew of Grave Encounters, including lead investigator Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), have vanished from the crumbling confines of their latest filming location, a decrepit mental hospital with a sinister past.

With this Blair Witch-y setup, the found footage rolls, including outtakes that let us know Lance and company are skeptics not above manipulating circumstances to get the shots they need. The faux-show apes Ghost Adventures' title sequence, low-angle shots, and jumpy editing. There's even a slightly unhinged caretaker on hand to lock the Grave Encounters folks in for the night. And this wouldn't be a horror movie (as opposed to a highly questionable reality show) if creepy critters didn't end up coming out to play. It's not a spoiler to disclose that once doors start slamming by themselves, full-scale shit-hitting-fannage (shades of 2001's excellent Session 9) is not far behind.

In a similar vein, but with a more succinct running time and more likeable characters, is Haunted Changi, one of HoleHead's opening-night films. A group of young filmmakers (portrayed by actors who have the same names as their characters) set out to make a documentary about Singapore's Old Changi Hospital, a vacant structure troubled by the lingering fragments of World War II-era prisoners of war and their decapitation-happy Japanese captors. Plus, the occasional vampire. Old Changi Hospital is apparently a bona fide ghost-hunting hotspot, which makes the fake-real Haunted Changi a little more real than it probably ought to be.

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