Love him or hate him, Zak Bagans like any street magician can put on a great show, he even has a museum in Las Vegas. That tells you a little about where his brand fits in and the celebrity he gives off.
But Bagans is no magician, in fact, he probably would hate that analogy. Still, it’s hard to look at his hulking frame, Tapout-style clothing, flat-ironed hair and artificially tinted skin and not think of any famous modern Vegas magician.
Bagans is a reality TV ghost hunter. His show Ghost Adventures has become a cult favorite, and despite its potboiler framework, Bagans was the first to antagonize spirits via extreme male posturing.
Perhaps his biggest piece of richly hyped Vegas-style entertainment to date has played out over the past three years when the paranormal researcher bought a house in Indiana which he then had demolished two years later.
It was a media sensation, and a great example of how Bagans can grab ahold of a zeitgeist he created and keep them wanting more.
His latest film Demon House is a documentary about that house in Indiana and why he bought it sight unseen only to destroy it later on.
This film brings Bagans back to his documentary roots which started with a stand-alone film called “Ghost Adventures” back in 2004. That movie was the basis for his highly successful TV show of the same name on the Travel Channel.
Your first hint that Bagans is more Walt Dismal than Walt Disney, is in the form of an ominous disclaimer at the beginning of Demon House that says if you watch it you are putting yourself in danger because the demons depicted within can attach themselves to humans “through other people, objects, and electronic devices.” That latter part is as effective a gimmick as anything P.T. Barnum could have dreamed up or even William Castle for that matter.
Demon House begins with a dream. A vision Bagans has one night of coming face-to-face with a demon. He enters a door and there before him is a tall goat-headed figure emitting “black smoke” which in the dream Bagans says he inhales.
Shortly after that, Bagans discovers there is a house in Gary, Indiana which claims a local family is being “Tormented by Demons” in what they deem a “Hell House.”
Bagans for whatever reason buys the house “sight unseen” and thus begins the great paranormal hype construct of Demon House.
But don’t sell this documentary short, it has plenty of things to keep you intrigued, creeped-out, and offers the most personal look at Bagans to date.
Having bought the house, Bagans receives a warning from a psychic friend saying there is a demonic presence in the house which scores about “8 out of 10” on the demonic scale. The wink-free text begins: “Hey bro hope you’re alright and not possessed already…” That’s quite a greeting.
Zak regrets not taking his friend’s advice to “be careful.” Driven by the need to learn more about the house leads Zak to the former leasees who have since moved out and want nothing to do with the media attention their story has recently generated.
Bagans persists and finds out where they live, but none of them want to see him because they fear the ghost hunter is polluted with the evil of the house.
Luckily one family member is willing to go on-camera, at the risk of being banished by his kin for shaking the documentarian’s hand.
There are tales of swarms of flies gathering in the house during the dead of winter, the local church telling the family to leave and mediums espousing over 200 demons are also on the lease gives the small A-frame quite the local reputation.
The family member recounts how the children suddenly became affected and acted out violently. These allegations generated curiosity and concern from child protective services, and one case worker’s life would change forever in her documented eyewitness account.
In fact, everyone who enters this house leaves with a curse. Some experience bad luck, illness and in some cases death. Thus the warning at the beginning of this film which covers the filmmakers’ asses should you decide to watch and boulder falls on you.
It’s all very bleak and filmed in a washed-out bluish hue culminating into the reason why Bagans would have the house destroyed.
Go Pros abound in Demon House, a true sign that Bagans is at the helm. Also, his signature re-enactments have children actors growling in demonic death rattles and flying up walls in a hospital room, all witnessed by staff and one CPS official.
Underneath it all, there is a scary story here, whether you believe it’s supernatural or not. Bagans, of course, has his own beliefs and this film is geared toward them which ultimately lead to the fate of the residence.
I think this is the first film in which I truly got to know the filmmaker. Despite his over-the-top celebrity, handsome exterior, and bad boy attitude, Zak is extremely private about his personal life. Demon House gives him a bit of curb appeal.
He even questions whether his investigation is a wild goose chase, the result of mass hysteria or just a hoax. A visit from a former tenant who brings her children feels a little bit like fame seeking, but this starts Zak on his own investigation in which he states, “shit got crazy.”
Bagans is completely vulnerable in Demon House. He’s got to be; he just bought a house for $35,000 in a highly publicized transaction and literally destroys it onscreen.
Those who follow him know he’s had trouble with spirits in the past. This time it gets really bad, not only for him but his team members who suffer personality changes and seemingly mindless physical outbursts.
Demon House at its foundation is a good old-fashioned ghost story. It barely goes any further than any one of Bagans’ reality television episodes, but what it does bring is a highly personal journal of the ghost hunter himself, his perseverance and a smoothing over of his rough exterior that exists behind that “sunglasses at night” persona.
Dismissing Bagans as a showman is really easy. He knows how to edit a good ghost story, he knows what works, he knows when to pull back and when to aggressively move ahead: it makes for great entertainment.
The Knight of night-vision, Bagans is the greatest showman of the supernatural. His floor plan in Demon House includes everything his fans love about his shows, including some aggressive behavior, camera-captured anomalies, EVPs and a dark basement.
But there is also a personal touch to this film that may evoke empathy for Zak and his plight to solve the mysteries of the supernatural, and like any superhero destroys the evil before it can wreak more havoc.
Demon House isn’t going to make a believer out of anyone who isn’t already one, but it will serve as a curiosity for those following the lifelong adventure of a paranormal Ahab looking to face his demonic Moby Dick.
Demon House will be released in select theaters and on VOD services in the US this Friday, March 16, 2018.