Haunted Collector

Haunted Collector debuts tonight on SyFy at 9 p.m. Eastern.

On some level, you have to admire a guy like John Zaffis, the “eminent paranormal researcher and world-renowned demonologist”  at the center of the new SyFy reality series Haunted Collector.  By all appearances, this is a man who’s managed to make a pretty nice career for himself by performing completely nonsensical and worthless services, and that can’t be easy.  Goodness knows I’ve tried.  The founder of the Paranormal Research Society of New England and owner/operator of the Museum of the Paranormal in Stratford, Connecticut, Zaffis has appeared in documentaries, talk shows and other supernatural-themed reality programs, and now he’s finally ready for his close-up.

If you’ve seen SyFy’s Ghost Hunters or any of its spinoffs, the format of Haunted Collector will not be unfamiliar to you.  Zaffis and his team of ghostbusters (including son Chris, daughter Aimee, psychic investigator Beth, and tech specialist Brian) respond to calls from ordinary citizens who find themselves bedeviled by poltergeists, creepy-crawlies, and things that go bump in the night.  Armed with gadgets designed to impress the gullible rubes who think Grampa Joe is still hanging around the attic and banging on the heat pipes, Zaffis and company sweep the haunted area, conduct surveillance, and generally poke around until they find the source of the paranormal activity.

Team Zaffis tackles two cases in the pilot airing tonight.  The first takes them to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where a woman named Jill Wilder is having a problem with her rental house. It seems four of her last six tenants have moved out due to fears that the place was haunted, which is an excuse I’ll have to remember next time I’m trying to get my security deposit back.  Certainly their unease with the house has nothing to do with the creepy clown cookie jar or the even creepier antique doll Wilder keeps on the premises.  “I thought maybe the tenants would enjoy it,” she tells Zaffis.  Well, who wouldn’t want to wake up in the dead of night to find the Bride of Chucky staring from across the room?

Zaffis and his team break out the high-tech gear — electromagnetic detectors, infrared cameras, thermal imaging, digital voice recorders — and sweep the premises.  Although Zaffis and Beth are convinced they hear a ghostly voice on one of their recordings, the real discovery comes from investigating the source of a “cold spot” under the kitchen floor.  A bit of digging under the house turns up a box containing a mud-caked British-made revolver, which may have been buried by a previous owner, or simply washed up during a hurricane.  Although there is much speculation about this weapon — that it may have been used in a homicide, or in an unsolved local bank robbery in 1961 — Zaffis admits there’s really no way of knowing where it came from.  (Unless, of course, it was planted by the camera crew, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this matter, at least.)  Still, if malevolent energy had to pick an object to imbue with its diabolic essence, it seems like this would be it (although I’d still keep an eye on that cookie jar), so Linda asks Zaffis to remove the gun from the premises, and it becomes the latest exhibit in the Museum of the Paranormal.

The second case of the episode takes the team to the Deep River Library, where strange noises are scaring off the kids, according to librarian Ann. Despite the presence of such items of interest as a 19th century commode, a cast iron stove built low to the ground, and the complete works of Dean Koontz, the team eventually settles on an old manual typewriter that’s set off the EMF detectors as the source of the disturbance. Given the overwhelming evidence, Ann is satisfied that her troubles are over, little suspecting that she’s simply giving the kids a reason to come up with another excuse to avoid the library.

It should be clear by now that I think Zaffis and company are a bunch of exploitative phonies, yet I’m not sure how much that should bother me in the context of a reality show like this. Landlady Jill did seem genuinely disturbed by the discovery of the gun and the alleged recording of a ghostly voice, and I didn’t much care for the self-serving way the show set up her fear of losing the house unless Zaffis heroically ghostbusted it.  On the other hand, maybe she just wanted to be on TV.  Anytime you report a haunting these days, you’ve got to figure there’s at least a 75% chance of a SyFy camera crew showing up at your door.  

No, what really bugs me about Haunted Collector is how deadly boring it is. The post-production crew pulls every trick out of the Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity playbook in a desperate attempt to goose up the tension: smash cuts to black-and-white footage, “fuzzy reception” video effects, sudden camera moves or loud noises, and plenty of green-tinted night-vision.  None of this can conceal the fact that there’s nothing much happening here besides people watching monitors of empty rooms, wandering hallways with handheld gadgets, or asking questions like “Is this your typewriter?” or “Did you die here?” and then listening to dead silence.  If the Zaffis crew had an ounce of charisma among them, the lack of action wouldn’t matter so much, but so far they’re a pretty dull bunch.  Even hardcore fans of paranormal reality TV will have a hard time finding anything substantial to latch onto here.


Stray observations:

  • Bald, bearded and bespectacled, John Zaffis has a professorial appearance that must comfort his clients. But then he opens his mouth, and suddenly he’s Uncle Junior. “I believe dis typewriter may be causing the unusual activity in the liberry.”
  • Do you really need a team of five to conduct these investigations? Does everybody get paid? Are they certified in some way? These are the questions that go unanswered.
  • If you believe in this stuff, it seems to me you have to believe the Museum of the Paranormal is a bad idea. Every time Zaffis adds a new object to the collection, isn’t the place becoming even more haunted? Trust me, these things are going to team up and form a super-legion of spooky items.  And the cookie jar will lead them.

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