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?
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.