Hmmm. Most Haunted is never going to be an easy thing to review, is it? You might love it, you might hate it, you might have once loved it but now hate it…and nobody really knows whether it’s real, faked or a bit of both.
For the purposes of this, I’ll side-step any issues about the show’s integrity and all the questions that go with it, simply concentrating on the disc itself. I’ll also tell you for nothing that, if you do hate Most Haunted, this will do nothing to sway you.
All of that aside, this has a cracking location. The setting for Hell on Earth is the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, a dreadful building which once housed notorious criminals including Willie Sutton and Al Capone. Closed in 1971, the site was never redeveloped and is now a museum offering tours of the cells and housing art installations. It’s the prototypical haunted house, with long corridors, crumbling paintwork and unpleasant stories of hangings and abuse. Compared to some of the dull pubs and stately homes Britain has to offer, it’s not difficult to see why anyone interested in the paranormal would relish going to this place.
The history of the building is surprisingly well-covered, and there is input, not just from a former guard, but also from a former inmate who was put away for murder. His story isn’t revealed, but his matter-of-fact statements about his crime and ‘his’ cell are unsettling. You get the impression there was a lot to go at, and it shows an angle which is sadly lacking from more recent programmes.
Lesley Smith is perfect as the studio-based historian, being a slightly posh-sounding teacher-type for whom technology is just a bit of a gimmick.
Medium David Wells, who seems to have been at the psychic cheeseburgers, is on better form than usual in this, scoring a couple of ‘hits’ and giving Karl Beattie the bollocking of his life when he refuses to engage in protection rituals. Without giving away too much of the plot (for, surely, this part is a plot), he ends up both being attacked and attacking another crew member. Naturally, it all happened in an advert break, but the tape is played back later and it’s hilarious. If you think that Karl and Stuart are simply there for the slapstick entertainment value, consider yourself right.
The main body of the show is standard Most Haunted. Mysterious tapping, materialising objects, mass hysteria and the Ouija (“weejee”) board all feature and the paramedics appear more than once. There are no crazy possessions, which went out with Derek Acorah, but there’s plenty of other dubious activity for those who enjoy the challenge of working out just how much the crew really knows about what’s going on.
Unfortunately, the DVD version is let down badly by extremely poor editing. A seven-hour show has been butchered down to just 88 minutes and, wow, does it show. Just as something’s getting started, it ends abruptly. We start a story, and it ends. And even worse, it’s often ended by the arrival of Paul Ross, who should be stopped from presenting this programme, in fact any programme, immediately. He is beyond terrible, seeming so emotionally detached from the proceedings that you wonder what he would do if there was a real emergency. Nothing ever gets going and there is no suspense at all.
But the most unforgivable thing is the lack of extras. The potential here for extra footage, behind-the-scenes documentaries and extra analysis is enormous, and there is absolutely nothing. Surely they reviewed the footage, drew conclusions, called upon a few outside opinions? Well, if they did, you won’t get to know about it. Madness.
As a result, I would question the value of this disc beyond completing the set. It has no reply value: no orbs to gawp at, no scares to re-live and nothing that requires a second viewing to understand. Given the potential for another Pendle Hill, it’s a real disappointment.
I don’t know how much say Antix had over the content of this, but they really need to take a long, hard think before releasing the next one – or it might not be worth it.
Most Haunted: A Living Hell On Earth is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.