Many, if not all, paranormal-oriented reality shows suffer from miserably silly reenactments. Somehow, this is resolved in Paranormal Witness, which is frequently superior to any Paranormal Activity film. In fact, the reenactments are conversely the strong point of the series, which has featured some solid acting and robust direction.
Fans of Insidious and the like should be pleased. The show presents a story rather than pursuing evidence, interwoven with interviews of the allegedly haunted. But regardless of your belief or skepticism, the tales themselves involve some pretty entertaining horror. Here’s how IMDb users rated the best and worst of this effective sleeper hit.
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10 Worst: The Bad Man – 7.2
Countless episodes involve a family that’s moved to a new setting. Many times, they fail to leave because of extreme, probably implausible skepticism, or financial difficulties. In this case, it’s the former. But the validity of these stories, and thus the show itself, is always in question. So, the more implausible the case, the less that fans will respond.
The aura of realism is a powerful hook. But this time around, the family contends with a purportedly real-life Freddy Krueger. The big twist of the episode is that an alleged child molester was killed by a group of vigilantes. And, supposedly, that’s the man haunting the family now. Worse, the acting is pretty wooden, and the ghostly encounters aren’t very compelling.
9 Best: The Real Conjuring – 8.5
The Conjuring is one of the most successful horror movies of all time, spawning a sequel and several spin-offs. James Wan did bring a level of authenticity to the supernatural, with some creative and immersive camerawork. But with all of this attention, the reputation of the haunted Perron family’s word is on the line.
And overall, the show depicts events in a far more fantastical light. Which is strange, since any movie adaptation often takes liberties to exaggerate, for effect. One can’t help but compare this episode to the movie. But it still has some decent acting, direction, and interviews with the Perrons. Hearing this story directly from the family themselves is very satisfying for fans of the hit film.
8 Worst: From H.E.L.L. – 7.1
If there is one horror trope that has long overstayed its welcome, it’s the Ouija board. The Exorcist may have used it to superb effect, but it’s far too rote to use anymore. There’s an entire franchise built on it, but it practically lays blame on the protagonists for subsequent horrors.
In this episode, another family moves to a new home. This time, it’s in Houston, Texas. The terror itself isn’t especially interesting, with rote jump scares like an abrupt face. There’s some extensive possession, and the family resorts to a pseudo witch doctor. It all spells formula, and the overall tone feels quite unlike the convincing, startling stories fans are accustomed to.
7 Best: The Innocent – 8.6
What’s interesting about this episode, is that the story is technically pretty formulaic. Many movies and general stories about ghosts are hinged on a unique history. Secrets of the past, which must be unearthed to find peace. It’s the intrigue of that mystery, and the execution of the horror, that determines if the story will be entertaining. And this one certainly is.
Two newlyweds discover a boy is haunting their home in Wisconsin. The horror is refreshingly nuanced, focusing on eerie circumstances rather than jump scares. The family element is presented in a relatable way, rather than feeling exploitative. And the resolution of the mystery is both moving and fascinating.
6 Worst: The Lost Boy – 7.1
As one might be able to tell from the title, this episode features a lot of child acting. That can be fairly tough to plod through, since they’re only kids, after all. Unfortunately, it’s still pretty aggravating when the show is interested in scaring you. This story involves a young couple who intentionally purchase an allegedly haunted Victorian house in Massachusetts.
The price was simply too good of a deal. But when the hauntings begin, the couple have a total change of heart about their skepticism. And yet, it’s the neighbors that end up moving away first. After ignoring the ghostly rumors, the protagonists are now totally accepting of a ghost boy. It’s just a tad much, making it impossible to root for these people. Further, the scares aren’t very creative.
5 Best: The Exorcist – 8.6
Before The Conjuring, there was another reigning champ in ghostly horror—The Exorcist. It also spawned multiple sequels, and eventually, a terrific television adaptation. The film was a superb balance between the traumatic corruption of an innocent family, and religious battles.
For once, the paranormal was detailed in a graphic, disturbingly grounded manner. It certainly generated a lot of archetypes for future horror films. It also captured the imagination of horror fans everywhere, and the prospect of revealing an actual exorcist’s schooling is truly inviting. Also, the religious angle of the paranormal is often the most accessible for people, since religion is so commonplace. Scenes of horror are directed well, and the acting is on point, both of which are crucial to a story this fantastic.
4 Worst: The Contract – 7.0
This is one of the most utterly ridiculous horror stories just about anywhere. The mere premise that a young man entered a pact with the devil through a computer game is inane. Episodes like this are a major reason why discussing the paranormal is socially taboo. But even worse, this story also delves into the religious aspect of everything.
That is always going to escalate the tone. Those who take their religion seriously will be frustrated; those who don’t follow those beliefs will feel impatient. Ultimately, everything is over the top, from beginning to end. It is a totally unlikable episode, with the only horror invoked by the acting.
3 Best: Through the Eyes of a Killer – 8.7
True crime is all the rage these days, with countless streaming documentaries and podcasts. But through the prism of Paranormal Witness, psychic phenomena is incorporated. In New Jersey, a woman uses her alleged psychic abilities to aid police in capturing a serial killer. It’s certainly an interesting aside from the usual, but a familiar trope nonetheless.
Also, there’s an extraordinarily silly recurring image of the killer baring his teeth like an animal. But the emotional experiences of the psychic are pretty intriguing, and her descriptions of the killer’s actions impossibly accurate. Rather than ghostly scares, this examines the psychic phenomena in an interesting, unique way. And the case itself invites supplemental research for those who enjoy true crime.
2 Worst: The Wolf Pack – 6.5
This is probably the specific episode that spurred American Horror Story to mock the entire conceit of Paranormal Witness. For those who were trusting the show to find compelling eyewitness stories about the paranormal, it’s unforgivably damaging. Certainly, the validity of the stories is thrown by the wayside.
The series had predominantly remained within one paranormal spectrum—the existence of ghosts. From time to time, it dabbled in extraterrestrials. But now, the show sinks into a rote werewolf story, of all things. This experimental episode is a total letdown. There are absolutely no scares, and you just feel silly watching it.
1 Best: Fox Hollow Farm – 8.7
This superb episode is steeped in the true crimes of infamous Indiana serial killer Herbert Baumeister. His former residence is sold for such a cheap price, a family can’t help but take advantage of the deal. What at first appears to be the indications of intruders, is eventually revealed to be alleged paranormal activity. Both from the ghosts of the killer’s victims, and worse, from Baumeister himself.
The amount of actual footage is very disturbing, and the interviews are captivating. The re-enactments feature convincing acting and effects. Using audio from a purportedly authentic EVP is also a good touch. The combination of a frightening truth with a terrifying haunting really flaunts the sense of realism that makes this show so effective.