DEMON HOUSE: Watch At Your Own Risk!
Demon House has a crawling sense of escalating paranoia, with witness accounts and medical testimonials, Zak Bagans presents a documentary that will have you believing this just might have happened.
The new documentary Demon House opens with a disclaimer:
The following documentary may not be suitable for all audiences. This film shows real people, places and events involving alleged demonic possession. Demonologists believe that demons can attach themselves to you through other people, objects, and electronic devices.
View at your own risk.
The Glory Days of William Castle
You mean it’s catching? Watching the movie can get you possessed by demons? This should get the attention of even the most hardened cynic. It will certainly scare a few people away, but otherwise should definitely sell some tickets. To those of us old enough to remember schlockmeister William Castle, it evokes the glory days of low budget, horror exploitation picture promotion: the $10,000 life insurance policy against death by fright issued to everyone who bought a ticket to Macabre, or the the seats wired to deliver electric shocks in theaters showing The Tingler – those were the days!
The viewer can be forgiven for initially assuming that the disclaimer that opens Demon House is a gimmick along the same lines: Don’t blame us if you get possessed by demons. The thing is, by the time you’ve finished watching Zak Bagans’ documentary, you might not be quite so comfortable assuming it’s only a movie.
Director and on-screen narrator Zak Bagans, executive producer of the Travel Channel’s series Ghost Adventures, was already no stranger to the paranormal. It had been his bread and butter for years. Then he heard about the story of Indiana mother Latoya Ammons who reported that she and her three children had been possessed by demons. Bagans actually bought the titular house Ammons and her children had lived in, which used to stand in Gary, Indiana. More than just haunted, this house apparently housed some two hundred demons.
As to the house itself, viewers anticipating the second coming of Collinwood or the Bates House are going to be disappointed. The house is not distinctive, and Bagans’ technique will be familiar to anyone who’s watched a ghost-hunting show on cable TV. There’s a lot of night vision footage shot in the house, while the viewer waits for something to happen. Demons are apparently camera-shy, however, and although Bagans discusses a nightmare of a twelve-foot tall “goat man” demon which he and others involved in the production have had, the goat man himself only appears in re-enacted scenes.
Bagans did get a fair amount of footage of people, particularly his crew, and even Bagans himself, acting oddly in the house, but to a great degree you have to take his word for what’s happening. If this were one of the plethora of spook movies so popular lately – The Conjuring, Ouija, Insidious – we’d have shots of actors in special effects contact lenses or with digitally exaggerated open mouths.
Onscreen looks more like Paranormal Activity than Blair Witch Project
Nothing like that here. There’s a lot of screen time that feels like a Paranormal Activity movie, only without a shrouded figure that’s suddenly there when the lights come back on. We are generally left to take Bagans’ word for what we are seeing or hearing, or what is indistinctly heard, disembodied voices that resonate in the house itself are saying. Ironically, perhaps, the movie, clearly shot by a professional crew, is completely devoid of the seasickness-inducing handheld camerawork of a Blair Witch Project mockumentary.
Still, they say this is “the next Amityville,” the most authenticated case of possession in American history. Whether or not that is true, this one does seem more real than many reported hauntings or possession cases that are notable for their complete lack of proof or witnesses.
Not your typical Child Services case
What makes Demon House unusual is the people who were willing to go on the record. Demons, spirit possession, haunted houses come up in Department of Child Services cases less often than you might think. But local authorities did step in to investigate the claims made by Latoya Ammons – what they found surprised even veteran investigators. Over the course of investigations that included police questioning, hospital visits and psychiatric evaluations, authorities confirmed there was something genuinely weird, even sinister, about the Ammons case.
The family complained of possession by demons, which they said involved hearing voices, seeing wet footprints in their house where no one had walked and even levitation. Ammons had already consulted local churches and psychics, and poured olive oil on her children’s hands and feet at the recommendation of one local pastor. You’d expect a doctor to diagnose hallucinations or delusions in a situation like this, which is exactly what the Ammons’ family physician initially did. According to a Department of Child Services report, however, medical staff at the physician’s office reported witnessing one of the children being lifted and thrown against the wall without anyone touching him.
The case got even more spectacular when, according to hospital personnel who witnessed it, one of the sons walked up the wall backwards and flipped over and landed on his feet. This is not the sort of thing that medical personnel or social workers are usually comfortable talking about.
Medical mysteries bedeviled filmmakers afterwards
The candor with which these professionals are willing to discuss what they’ve seen is why Demon House is hard to dismiss. So is the litany of disasters that seems to have befallen many of the participants who have spent much time in the house. Dick Powell’s 1956 movie The Conqueror (in which John Wayne actually played Genghis Khan – seriously) unknowingly shot on an atom bomb test site, and most of the cast and crew died of various forms of cancer. Bagans says his movie is “cursed.” That’s hardly reassuring, but the fact is the chain of health problems and accidents can hardly be ignored. Father Mike Maginot, who tried to exorcise the house, had a life-threatening onset of multiple organ failures. Bagans himself sustained permanent eye damage. One of the crew members had a type of breakdown, some of which is captured on camera. Others who spent time in the house simply had mysterious accidents later. No one, apparently, has any explanation for these medical mysteries, but they appear to be documented, and that doesn’t hurt the movie’s credibility.
Spoiler alert: Bagans had the house demolished after production. He claims the police report that people still sneak onto the property at night to hold black masses.
Conclusion: Demon House
Demon House doesn’t have the “gotcha” moments that would certainly punctuate a scripted spook movie, but it does have a crawling sense of escalating paranoia. Only the hardest core skeptics will easily dismiss the parade of witness statements. None of these people, other than Bagans himself, is selling anything.
When it’s all said and done, you may not have any greater understanding of the paranormal, but you may be less likely to just say That can’t happen. Bagans has presented a document that suggests that maybe, just maybe, it did.
What do you think? Is Demon House the real thing? Or just horror hokum? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Demon House will be released in the United States on March 16, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.