If you want to talk about ghosts, then who are you gonna call? You should probably call Dan Aykroyd. His fascination with the paranormal started in childhood. He channelled that fascination into a particularly well-known movie about ghosts. Yes, it was a comedy. But Aykroyd’s interest in the paranormal is no laughing matter.
He explores his curiosity about ghosts and ghost stories as the narrator of the new television show Hotel Paranormal, airing on T+E. The 10-part documentary series, produced by Toronto-based Saloon Media, a Blue Ant Media company, features stories about people who claim to have encountered ghosts and otherworldly phenomena in hotels. The Globe and Mail’s Dave McGinn spoke to Aykroyd by phone about his family history in the occult, why he wanted to be part of the documentary and why he hopes it helps turn scientists into believers.
Is it true your great-grandfather was a spiritualist who held seances?
He did. There’s a book called History of Ghosts. My dad wrote it. It’s about mediumship and his interest in it. He was the reviewer of all the psychic acts who came through town. He was associated with the Lily Dale community in New York, where today you can go and get a reading from a registered psychic. He passed it on to his son and my dad, Peter. They wanted to know what’s going on here. How is levitation possible? How is ectoplasm possible? They wanted to do inquiry. They passed it on to me and then I took it and turned it in to a ludic exploitation of it with Ghostbusters.
Have you had input in the new Ghostbusters that’s set to come out next year?
I gave Jason [Reitman, who is directing the movie] my view on how I thought the writing could be maybe pointed up a bit here and there. I gave my advice and counsel. I was mostly in agreement with Ivan and Jason with what should be in the movie. There was really no dispute or anything. It’s his story and his take and he’s made it his own. It’s really, really good.
I’m excited to take my kids to see it.
They should see the first two before and the movie with Melissa McCarthy, too. It was a very nice parallel universe and very well done.
Why did you want to be a part of this new show?
I love the T+E treatment of these subjects because they are sympathetic to what these people have gone through. They kind of bust through a little skepticism. Why would these people say they had these experiences that were so hard on them? The evidence, anecdotal and depicted, as well as the actual iPhone and camera footage of the psychokinetic events associated with the material, is very convincing. Hopefully someone out there, multiple people in the scientific community, will start to make inquiry now into what’s going on.
You’re a true believer.
I’ve been told spectacular ghost stories by people who know that I’m going to take them seriously. I’m not going to laugh at them. I look at these experiences and I go, ‘Boy, you really tell me a vivid story that I can believe.’ The T+E show is chock full of this stuff. It’s fun, entertaining, scary. And it gives one pause. Not every experience with the paranormal is pleasant, and there are many that are not.
Is there one story from the show that has really stuck with you?
The guy in New Mexico, in a hotel there. He had to have religious intervention in the end. A demonic entity clung to him. It’s so beautifully depicted.
What continues to interest you about the paranormal?
I think who it happens to. People who are vulnerable, who have been brought down by life stresses, who have been weakened. They need conviction in life or they’re missing something. A state of psychic compromised immunity, you could call it. That’s what I love about the T+E approach to it. They treat the cases very sympathetically because they know these people have been through a war-like trauma in some cases.
What are your hopes for the show?
I hope people can come forward and not be laughed at. With the sympathy and compassion the producers and the whole tone of the show has, I think people will come forward either public or privately and tell their stories. I think it’s going to bust through a lot of skepticism. I think even the hard-core skeptics are going to go, 'Well, that’s a pretty convincing story.’ And I hope that scientific inquiry on the order of what used to happen at some of the universities in the States begins to occur again. We’ve got to get academia and science interested in it. The invisible world is out there. It’s at work. How does it work? We need scientists to come on-board.
The world broadcast premiere of Hotel Paranormal airs Friday, May 15 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, exclusively on T+E.
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