Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Demon House": A Compelling and Haunting Documentary

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Zak Bagans' The Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, where among the haunted treasures is kept the final remains of the notorious Demon House, where one of the most controversial and widely-publicized paranormal cases of the last few decades took place in Gary, Indiana from 2011 to 2014. In the museum you can see the actual basement stairs of the Demon House, as featured in the documentary, under which is the original soil from where certain items were buried under the stairs and uncovered, and these items are also preserved in the museum. When you approach the room containing these items, the door is shut with a crucifix above the door to "contain the evil within." We are warned by the tour guide to enter at our own risk, if we choose, knowing that those who had lingered in the house in the past, including Zak himself, had suffered physically and/or mentally. Everyone in my group entered the room, and one young man even had to leave because he started to get a painful headache. The reason this museum has the last remains of the Demon House, is because Zak himself had purchased it to investigate it, but when things went wrong and took a turn for the worse, he decided to tear it down in January 2016 hoping that it would never bring harm to anyone again - though he couldn't resist saving some items for his museum.

While at the museum I learned that the following week Zak's documentary about the Demon House was going to be released in theaters nationwide in limited locations. The documentary is aptly called Demon House, and even though it was widely released to be viewed through streaming and On Demand two weeks ago, I decided to wait and see it at a midnight showing at a local theater in a room that is allegedly haunted, hoping also to see audience reactions. The documentary begins with a history of the Ammons haunting case at the Demon House, when an alleged haunting and demonic possession occurred in this Gary, Indiana home in 2011. Latoya Ammons, her mother, Rosa Campbell, and her three children claimed this paranormal activity occurred in their residence. It then continues to document what happened in the house after the Ammons family left and when Zak purchased it in 2014, until he tore it down in 2016.

What made this case so compelling? The credibility of the people who reported witnessing demonic and paranormal activity of a most frightening kind. Back in December 2014 Latoya Ammons reported that both she and her three children had been possessed by demons. This report immediately led to the Department of Child Services stepping in to investigate along with the police and many medical professionals. These weren’t loonies or Internet trolls. These were real, reputable people in positions of public safety and service.

So many bizarre, and frankly impossible, things were reported from disembodied growling and barking to odd wet footprints left around their home where no one had ever walked. There were instances of levitation, and according to the Child Services report, children were being picked up and hurled into walls without anyone touching them. But the worst was yet to come. The story exploded when the medical staff at a local Indiana hospital reported that one of Ammons’ sons “walked up the wall backwards” and “flipped over and landed on his feet.”

“Twenty years, and I’ve never heard anything like that in my life,” said Dr. Geoffrey Onyeukwu, the family physician who evaluated Ammons and her three children. “I was scared myself when I walked into the room.”

Shortly after all of the media attention, the story hit the radar of “Ghost Adventures” host and creator Zak Bagans, who immediately bought the house to investigate it. Would this place yield the kind of evidence that Bagans and his crew had sought after for so long? After seeing Demon House, I think it’s safe to say he got a lot more than he bargained for.

Throughout the film Demon House explores a variety of possibilities. Could it have all been a hoax? Was it mass hysteria? What makes Bagans and company so successful at what they do is that they go out of the way to try to disprove as many claims of the paranormal as possible, leaving us just with the unexplained. With Demon House Bagans is not looking to convince anyone of the existence of ghosts or demons. It’s just an account of what happened before, during, and after he owned the structure which has drawn so much attention.

Let me be clear… This is in NO WAY a spin-off 90-minute episode of “Ghost Adventures,” in which the guys use a number of devices and tons of night vision and/or full-spectrum cameras to tell their stories and collect evidence. Instead, Demon House utilizes the people who were affected by the case to convey just how insanely scary the events surrounding this building actually are. Was there possession? Is it haunted? Was the house used for nefarious purposes? Every time you think that things cannot get any stranger, the story keeps building and the tension keeps mounting. Throughout the film Bagans is both in and very much out of his element. He displays as much a roller coaster of emotions as there is a roller coaster of events. His usual precise and well-thought-out demeanor, though as present as it is in his Travel Channel series, is rattled quite a few times. There are many moments in which even he is like, “Okay, what in the world is going on here?” This wasn’t an investigation that lasted one evening and was then assembled into a 43-minute series; this is one that went on for months, taking an intense toll on all of its participants.

Demon House will leave you with a lot of questions about the existence of both the normal and the paranormal. It’s a masterfully created and seriously frightening account of what can happen when things just end up getting far out of control… when events occur that supersede rational human comprehension and reason. It’s one of the single most compelling documentaries on the existence of the supernatural that I’ve ever witnessed. Whether or not The Ammons House was haunted or is the portal to hell is still very much debatable. As always, there will be people who believe and those who do not. However, the effect that it has had on just about everyone who has ever walked through its doors is undeniable.

Demon House can be streamed online or purchased On Demand, or you can catch it in select theaters nationwide.