While investigating the Vulcan Hotel in 2010, I noticed this article from The Press (Friday July 10th, 1987, p.17), so I took a couple of quick photos of it. The haunting of Room 1 of the historic hotel in St Bathans is discussed, but notably there is no mention of "The Rose". This raises a few questions, which I will address in a future blog post.
I have included two versions of the newspaper article here; text only (in three sections), and one combined photo showing the whole article with photos and graphic (but it is hard to read the text).
We receive many photos that look something like these two sent in from Big Springs, Kentucky, by Faith Frederick in June, 2019. (Thank you for letting us show them here, Faith.) We've found that the camera lens design of later-model cellphones makes them particularly prone to this type of lens flare, when the sun or other bright, intense light shines directly into the lens. The same effect occurs in other types of digital cameras, too, in both still photos and videos. It makes little or no difference if the flash fires, except that sometimes direct flash reflections can cause flare.
The green colour of these flare orbs, somewhat ironically, comes from the microscopically-thin anti-flare coating on the camera lens. (But if this coating were absent, flare would wash out almost the entire image.) Also, the light source doesn't have to be visible in the photo to cause flare, but the flare tends to be more dramatic when it is.
If you don't want lens flare in your photos, try shielding the camera lens from the sun or other bright light with your hand, casting a shadow over the front of the camera. If the sun is visible right in your shot, like in these examples, you won't be able to cut out the flare. If you're shooting with a DSLR camera and you have a lens hood (lens shade) then use it! But do not look at the sun through the optical viewfinder as it may permanently damage your eyesight.
In both photos above we've reduced the overall size of the original photo, but the insets that show a close-ups of the flare orbs are at 100% scale). Flare orbs are nothing more than a secondary image of the sun, filtered by the lens coating and reflected from internal lens surfaces before forming part of the captured image. Other flare effects can be seen here but they're over a broader area and are less defined. There is nothing paranormal about these orbs - they are purely optical effects.
Most but not all orbs in photos can be recognised as either lens flare or near-camera reflections. Still, when we are analysing photos we take care to look closely at each individual image. We don't want to write off possibly paranormal photos by applying broad assumptions without fully checking at a case-by-case level. This would be armchair-skepticism, a lazy practice we make an effort to avoid in photo analysis as well as all other aspects of paranormal investigation.
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I know this media coverage comes across a little more touchy-feely than usual, since we have a reputation as more science-oriented and somewhat skeptical paranormal investigators. It was a Monday evening when we did the investigation, and I'd just come from work where I'd been for 10 or 11 hours straight. It was quite challenging to then switch to doing a paranormal investigation in front of a journo and a video camera operator, but we did it!
What I would like to say is we normally employ what's called a 'blended method' in our investigations, which combines scientific measurement of the environment and the testing of hypotheses, with an intuitive/sensitive approach - trying to psychically pick up what might be present and give every opportunity for any subtle (or sometimes unsubtle!) communications to come through. The video shows more the intuitive end of things. (Nothing came through while we were there, this time, but we have had some eventful investigations at the Fever Hospital in the past.)
The problem with the more objective, scientific approach to investigation is that the focus is on the equipment - the tools of the trade - and trying to record and measure everything, which doesn't leave you open enough if anything possibly paranormal does occur. The frontal lobes of the brain are in charge because of the focus on logical thinking. Thus, the mind isn't best prepared for other, intangible things, so they're unlikely be noticed. (This has been my experience, having approached many investigations from a leaning one way or the other.)
On the other hand, a purely intuitive/sensitive approach is only so much use. If anything happens, you really want some kind of recording of it, or at least some measurements of the location's characteristics to see if there were any changes at the time of the perceived event. Without this, it's pure anecdote, we don't learn anything much new and and few will believe what supposedly happened.
This 'blended method' is favoured by many of the better and more experienced investigation teams working today. The best approach seems to be having some team members concentrate on the technical stuff - filming, measuring and recording everything, while others are allowed to fully focus their senses on the location and any of its historical presences that may try to make themselves known. Any thoughts?
"it's Wellington, it's scary"
- Sgt Maaka
The current New Zealand Listener, a long-running magazine aimed at middle-class, left-leaning baby boomers such as me, has a page of readers' letters on TV and Radio - 'Talkback' - in which Wellington Paranormal has come up several times (amid complaints about grammar and pronunciation in the media, and Coronation Street broadcast hours). My rough count of Love It / Hate It letters, until this issue, has been about 50/50, but William Wright's earlier scathing letter prompted three people to write in support of the TV comedy, so the count is now a bit in WP's favour.
My personal leaning is generally in favour, too. I've enjoyed the series, but I don't think it's quite earned its place among the classics of New Zealand TV comedy. Let's see if tonight's episode can help boost WP in that direction. And I'm keen to see if they use the footage* they shot at Inverlochy House, because they haven't so far.
*Footage - a word strangely surviving in a time when moving images are recorded directly to hard drive. 'Megabytage', perhaps?
At the start, in this episode's only bit of suburb-baiting, Khandallah gets another mention, a shooting no less. Earlier this year I witnessed a fist fight between two men in the middle of the road in the Khandallah Village shops, so my leafy suburb is not as tame and boring as it's cracked up to be. Anyway, in the meantime the Police team have taken a suspected zombie into custody, and arresting officers Laupepe and Donovan get the dread disease. So it's all on.
Shortly, in a patrol car on the streets of Wellington:
O'Leary: What about her over there in the black tee shirt?
Minogue: Is she a zombie?
O'Leary: No, she's just a lesbian.
Minogue: You always seem to be able to pick them, O'Leary. I can never tell.
Later - another running gag - O'Leary and Minogue have yet another young Maori woman in the back seat of the patrol car; this time she becomes zombiefied. And it gets better, or worse - whatever your take on all this is. Having the police turn into zombies was a brilliant idea (though one that originated a year ago). But zombies are as much yesterday's thing as ghost hunting and the paranormal in general; we've all had way too much exposure to it on TV and elsewhere, and, inevitably, interest has flagged. So WP has to have a different take - something a bit special - to make it worth the watch. (Old hat: Wellington's Zombie Apocalypse Plan hasn't been updated since 2011.)
Ad break: cue another promo for Sensing Murder. TV2 must think there's an audience overlap here. Maybe there is; SM would be hilarious if it wasn't so f**king tragic.
Back to WP: more hilarity and mayhem, a clever ending, and that's it. No fanfare, and no Inverlochy House, dammit. That scene must've hit the Cutting Room floor.
The episodes are too short (21 minutes 24 seconds, this one) and so is the series. I'm left wanting more. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are probably hoping TVNZ feel the same. They must've had great fun making this series. So, did Wellington Paranormal rate well enough to merit a second series? I hope so, and I guess so do Listener letter-writers Hamish Barwick of Gisbourne, Jan Thorburn of Auckland, Peggy Fittes of Wanganui, and several others. And if there is to be one, as a long serving paranormal investigator based in Wellington, I'm putting my hand up for a cameo.
Thank you O'Leary, Minogue, Maaka and the rest of the cast and crew, and Taika and Jemaine. And TVNZ2 for putting this show on. It's been a blast. And maybe also a boost for interest in the paranormal.
Episode 6 of Wellington Paranormal, and the previous 5 episodes, are available to view on TVNZ2 On Demand.
Five episodes down, one to go. This is a tough one to review, perhaps made tougher by the fact it's my birthday and the evening's been a tad indulgent.
In the patrol car:
Minogue: [pulls out Taser] You're always saying don't tase stuff. [Accidentally Tasers himself.]
O'Leary: Oh. God, this is the fourth time you've done that.
Nothing like a running gag. Another is Sgt Maaka's fake security upgrades for the paranormal office's secret door. This time it's fingerprint recognition.
So tonight it's vampires, and once again we're in the Hutt Valley - this time Taita. (Cue quiet pun on 'tighter' with the handcuffs when they first arrest the vampire character, Nick - played superbly by Cori Gonzalez-Macuer.) Maybe it's something about the water flowing through and under the broad river valley that somehow concentrates paranormal energy. Or maybe the Hutt's just a bit weird. Whatever, there's a lot of quiet humour in this episode. Like the group of hooded vampires carrying flaming torches, circling their potential victim - a naked man tied to a pole - in the middle of a Lower Hutt park:
Minogue: "What's going on here? You guys having a drink, are ya?
Nick: I guess you could say that.
O'leary: What's with the cloaks?
Nick: It's, um, role playing. Like a Dungeons and Dragons thing.
Minogue: This must be a different version, is it?
Nicki: Yeah, it's the Lower Hutt version.
Then there's Nick's talk to camera, once arrested for the second time, about being discriminated against for being a brown vampire, not a white vampire. See Taika Waititi's "New Zealand is racist as f**k."
But I really don't get the ensuing five-minute interlude with the numerous clowns in the Fiat Bambina. This irrelevant, unfunny scene chewed up a large chunk of an episode that wasn't hanging together too well to begin with, so maybe the time could've been better spent advancing the thin and struggling vampire story. Likewise the haunted plastic bag sequence, which was great but didn't much help the plot. Hell, vampires are native territory for the 'What we do in the shadows' team, so why not make more of it? We had barely a glimpse of Alexandr - see poster above - which was annoying.
Overall, this episode - directed by Jemaine Clement - was even more undercooked than episode 1. Best scenes not already mentioned; the goths in Taita Cemetery (the ghosts/goths confusion) and the momentarily-scary reprise of the haunted plastic bag at the end. This episode was weak and disjointed compared to the last three, each of which showed signs of improvement and promise for the series. So back to square one, guys, like a game of snakes and ladders.
Let's see what next week's episode - the series final - has in store, and if it can lift the game overall with a strong finish. What paranormal theme haven't they done yet? Oh, yes, of course: zombies...
Episode 5 of Wellington Paranormal is already available for viewing on TVNZ On Demand - at least if you're in New Zealand. Earlier episodes are possibly available in your home country by now, legitimately or otherwise.
Although New Zealand has a respectable range of cryptofauna - that is; either animals that are natural but are either thought extinct (moa, etc) or are seen where they're not supposed to be (moose in Fiordland, panthers in Canterbury), or ones that are mythical or supernatural (Goatman, Moehau) - encounters with wolves, natural or otherwise, are pretty thin on the ground here.
The nearest thing I could turn up (with the help of the good folk at New Zealand Cryptids) is this reported encounter of a dog-like, giant biped in the Akatarawa Hills, in the upper Hutt Valley, north of Wellington. So it's fitting, I guess, that tonight's episode of Wellington Paranormal uses Lower Hutt - possibly within the Dog Man's territory - as the location for what is maybe some kind of lycanthrope encounter.
O'Leary: Sir, is there anything you can tell us about this dog?
Pizza delivery guy: Ah, yeah. The dog, it was wearing jeans!
Love the blurry infrared-camera chase through the bush after the werewolf. They pick up a young Maori woman, a victim, they think, and nek minit she's sitting in the middle of the back seat of the cop car. Last time this happened, the young woman was demonically possessed. This time, on the trip back to the Hutt, she's transforming into a werewolf. Things are suddenly looking grim.
O'Leary: Pull over! Pull over!
Minogue: I can't, we're on an overpass.
Once they get Sheena back to the Hutt Valley, and she works out that her ex, Dion - also a werewolf - was responsible for her being infected with werewolfy-ness (an STD, apparently), what ensues is horrific, horrendous and hilarious. Or just a pretty average night in the Lower Hutt suburb of Naenae, depending on your point of view. Suddenly the credits roll, and we wish the show were longer.
But seriously, for a moment. OK, maybe this is a little picky in the context of a comedy, but I'm not altogether comfortable with the Police characters agreeing to leave what is effectively a domestic violence incident till the next morning, when it's calmed down - the inference being that this is a legitimate response when confronting actual domestic violence between a man and a woman. Both Police characters are portrayed as a bit dim, but this particular piece of humour stumbles over a boundary, in my opinion anyway.
Having grown up in the Wellington suburb of Khandallah and walked along Woodmancote Road (see End Note) many times on the way to school, the park, or the swimming pool, I'd passed this substantial brick house many times as a child, and sometimes peered through the slatted fence of the school playground into its vast back garden and tennis court. Little did I know back then that it was haunted. (Wellington Paranormal is a documentary, right, like Police Ten-7? Oh if only it were so.)
As they mock New Zealand's rural communities (see Episode 2 review), city dwellers Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi also love to mock suburbia. In Episode 1 it was hinted that the sedate (read deadly boring) Wellington suburbs of Kilbirnie and Hataitai contained Satan-worshipping cults, and now we learn that gentrified, leafy Khandallah is a hotbed of ... ghosts!
This episode's Briefing Room joke (about Prince) was, as usual, lame - an unpromising opening, as was the initial scene sending up Spiritual Medium Chloe Patterson - who's been temporarily inducted into the team to help out on this investigation, one which Sgt Maaka suspects may involve poltergeists. I get that tired Dad-jokes are part of the WP recipe but we've heard the small-medium-large joke too many times already (or maybe that's just the company I keep). Thankfully it gets better once the team leaves the Police Station. Episode writer Nick Ward and director Jackie van Beek are a sharp combination.
Medium Chloe (well played by photographer Andi Crown) is drawn to enter the large brick house that Minogue and O'Leary have just parked their patrol car in front of. "Yeah, I'm really picking up a strong presence," she says as she feels the vibe of the place. And very soon, after a short mediumistic ritual in the front room, the impossible happens. Didn't you always want to see how a spiritual medium might react if she - for once in her fraudulent and/or deluded life - encountered an actual spirit?
Gotta love that TVNZ2 slips a promo for the 2018 series of Sensing Murder into the ad break.
Then there's the apparition under a crocheted blanket. "Guess it's a 70s ghost," Officer Minogue utters before fleeing.
And at last, 'Cheeseface' is explained. Spoiler alert - 1970s again - he's the ghost of a party guest who drowned in a cheese fondue, his face impaled with the sticks. And it continues in this vein, making a grand spoof on the hedonistic excesses of the 1970s. This episode is a little light on scares but totally heavy on humour. Observe what's written on the elastic of Sgt Maaka's undies as he awkwardly reverses in through the window, and that he later collapses into what else but a La-Z-Boy recliner-rocker chair.
This all brings up an early-70s memory of my older sister's 21st birthday party in our Khandallah house, when I was about 9. Some of the guests and much of our house's decor looked pretty similar to the ghostly 70s party depicted here, including the radiogram record player combo that put out a whopping 3W per channel. Ours certainly wouldn't have drawn the attention of Noise Control, had it existed back then.
Aside from setting a probable world record for repetition of the word 'toilet' in a 23-minute TV programme, 'Things that do the bump in the night' is the best Wellington Paranormal episode so far, certainly the funniest. If the series continues to improve, maybe then they're onto something. A second series, perhaps?
Added Jan. 2020: this house was sold for over $4million - see Stuff article Jan 4 2020
Worldwide interest in the paranormal is mainly centred on events and locations in the Northern Hemisphere, in countries far older than New Zealand. Despite this, we have a rich history that encompasses the paranormal in microcosm: there are stories and examples of paranormal events of every major type here, such as the now world-famous phantom waka of Lake Tarawera, witnessed by dozens in 1886, and one of the first mass-reported UFO incidents - the 1909 Zeppelin scare. The Kaikoura Lights UFO sightings and footage of 1978 attracted much international attention, so it's hardly surprising we have an early, fascinating example of crop circles - Puketutu in 1969-70, before the term was even coined. Here's another NZ crop circle-type incidence.
One of the more elaborate crop circle hoaxes was staged near Winton, Southland in 1998. The Circlemakes team flew all the way here from the UK, probably because there would be almost no one present to witness the hoax or ask awkward questions. (See this crop circle debunked.)
Opening the "Extraterresticals" episode, the security of the Wellington Police's hidden paranormal office has been upgraded to include voice recognition, or so Sgt Maaka would try to have his crack paranormal investigation team of Officers O'Leary and Minogue believe. "If you reckon it was weird on the streets of Wellington," Sgt Maaka says, after using a paper plate, a sausage and a lettuce leaf to demonstrate how a failed alien abduction of a cow might result in said cow being stranded atop a tree, "It's far weirder out in the country."
Weird indeed, and chaotic, a little scary, a little hilarious, and a bit dodgy. If Episode 1 channelled The Exorcist, this one channels Alien, with a seasoning of Doctor Who, maybe Lost in Space, and of course the X Files again - notably Home - the inbred hicks episode. The look-alike aliens/farmers - Buzza, Muzza, Sharon, et al, in their blue Swanndris, are reminiscent of the "blue-shirted freaks" - the human form of the aliens - in Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (shot at Makara Beach, on the west coast of Wellington). And like Jackson, Waititi and Clement reckon farmers to be fair game to take the piss out of. Fair 'nuff.
On encountering Buzza, Minogue *says to O'Leary,"I don't trust this guy, the way he speaks in that monotone. It's disconcerting."
"That's how farmers talk, Minogue. Have some respect."
And like any episode of Police Ten 7, the studio technician responsible for pixelating out faces and genitalia is required to work overtime, particularly when the extraterresticals appear in their true form.
Jemaine Clement said Episode 2 would be funnier, and I concur. OK, it ain't perfect; some of it falls flatter than intended, but that's part of the charm. I look forward to next week's show, set (fictionally, if not actually) in my home suburb of Khandallah. Yes, that hotbed suburb of paranormal chaos and demon worship, Khan-dall-ah. Bring it on!
A few minutes into Kim Hill's 30th June Radio NZ interview with Jemaine Clement, Hill says, "...You may have packed all the jokes into the first episode." Clement replies, "No, I think the later episodes are funnier. The first episode's the one where we're trying to find the tone of it. And I think the later ones are the ones, to me, that I think I enjoy more. Also we spent more time on the first one to try to get it right, to find that tone, you know - how funny it should be, how scary it should be."
Having just watched the first episode, I hope the above quote is correct. The low-key Kiwi style of humour established in Flight of the Conchords and carried into What We Do in the Shadows, where it contrasted nicely with the bizarre events, has been maintained. The characters and situation have now been set up, and the theme of the first episode is demonic possession. So, from the Episode 2 promo showing crop circles, we can guess successive episodes will each concentrate on one of the major themes of the paranormal. Expect one of each on UFOs, ghosts, the undead, lycanthropes, maybe some type of cult, or something around cryptozoology. Dying to find out where Cheeseface fits in.
I loved the Wellington Police Station's secret, concealed Paranormal Office. Funnily enough, Strange Occurrences has a similar office, just a little smaller. I'm currently relocating it, otherwise I'd post a piccy to prove the claim.
Like anything well-promoted these days, there have been many trailers for Wellington Paranormal. Your average horror movie can have a trailer of maybe seven minutes, so by the time you get to the movie you've already seen most of the best bits, and many of the jump-scares loose their jump; you're just waiting for the billed scene to arrive. Such is the case with Wellington Paranormal. It's a half-hour commercial slot so the show has around 23 minutes of content between ad breaks. We've already seen much of it before its broadcast debut.
WP is shot in the style of a Police reality show, a la Police Ten 7. There were so many references to other movies and TV series it would be tedious to name them, but X-Files was prominent, and (in this episode) The Exorcist movie. I get the copious vomiting, but it reminded me more of Peter Jackson's first feature film, Bad Taste, in which the alien character Robert (played by Jackson) vomits continuously into a huge bowl to provide a meal for his fellow aliens. (Having a stomach bug today, watching this YouTube clip of it is doing me no good at all.)
Watching WP with my wife Denise (also an experienced paranormal investigator), our first mutual LOL moment was the Cuba Mall Bucket Fountain scene. This is near the end of the episode. I remember encountering the CMBF as a child, when it had just been erected. You do stand there entranced until the big bucket at the bottom eventually tips. Although Cuba St can feel pretty scary at times, it never occurred to me there was anything sinister about the Bucket Fountain. Until now. You can bet people will be seen counting the buckets to see if there actually are 13 of them. (The CMBF even has its own Wikipedia page, and was probably the most photographed sculpture in the Capital until Neil Dawson's fern sculpture, suspended above Civic Square, knocked it off its perch.)
Enough of this aside. I can say with confidence that the ending of this episode is much better thought out and executed than the ending of the recent movie Hereditary. But I wonder if the ineptitude of the Police characters will remain constant throughout the series, or if they will develop. If they don't develop, it's going to get frustrating as the humour milked from their collective incompetence runs thin. Still, I can't wait till next Wednesday night.
11th July 2018 - this evening the first episode of Wellington Paranormal will go to air on TVNZ2, at 8.30pm. Due to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's international followings, there is likely to be considerable interest beyond our shores. And here in New Zealand, considering the amount of promotion the series has had; few here cannot have heard about it. (BTW, it's been branded a mockumentary, not a documentary as some seem to think.)
Years have gone by since TVNZ infamously rejected Brett McKenzie & Jemaine Clement's pilot script for a TV series of 'Flight of the Conchords' (an already-successful musical group), and, as we know, two series were produced in the USA, the first airing on HBO mid-2007, and the show became an international hit. Perhaps that earlier failure to recognise comedy gold is partially behind the investment and publicity Wellington Paranormal has received. Of course, Waititi's involvement has got to be the trump card in sealing the deal, since most things he's directed since and including the 2004 short film Two Cars, One Night have had the touch of brilliance, and - more important - relevance.
Whether Wellington Paranormal turns out to be relevant (the public appetite for TV programmes about ghosts and paranormal investigation began to decline about five years ago) remains to be seen. Likely that while raising laughs, WP will have something to say about contemporary society, much as did Waititi's films Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Being a born-and-bred Wellingtonian, I've watched many TV series and movies over the years that have featured or explored the capital city's darker side or underbelly, for example Inside Straight (TVNZ, 1984) and Shark in the Park (TVNZ c.1989). Both TV series centred around crime, the former from the criminal perspective, the latter from the police's. The 1985 movie Mr Wrong - Gaylene Preston's tale about a haunted car - springs to mind (yeah, I'm old), as does the 2001 movie Stickmen, and of course What we do in the shadows - the vampire movie that spawned Wellington Paranormal as a spinoff. Viewing these as a local, it's always been fun to play 'spot the location'. Wellington Paranormal should keep me well amused in this regard, especially since at least one of the filming locations has been the subject of multiple paranormal investigations by the Strange Occurrences team and guests over recent years.
Anyway, there's the background. I'm planning to review the first episode tonight, so let's see how it goes. Will post tonight if I'm up to it, but currently feeling a bit peeky with a stomach bug so may just hit the sack at 9pm.
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.