[Header image courtesy of Syfy]
Season 5, episode 1: “Voodoo Preacher”
Written by Dimitri Doganis
Directed by Russell Eatough
The episode opens with a spooky typewriter and a vaguely depressed looking figure in the background. We are informed that Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, once tried to write a true crime novel that was never published (presumably on the subject of this show). No, guys, really. Harper Lee, what are YOU doing in a ghost show?
There follows a vaguely racist montage of black people dancing in an artfully blurry setting. Is it church? A cult ritual? Who knows? Not us! Context is for losers.
Finally, the episode gets to the actual subjects of the story. Jenny, a journalist, is leaving the “big” city of Auburn, Alabama, (population 58,000, I am just saying) to move closer to her husband’s new job. Jenny, her husband Hunter, her daughter Grayson, and the dog (Betty-Lou) head out to rural Rockford, Alabama.
Jenny blogs about her experiences moving to a more rural location. This is her first mistake — ghosts love the Internet. Just look at that little Snapchat ghost emoji.
When they arrive at the new location, Jenny is impressed that Hunter has found an amazing house that is somehow in their price range. She hadn’t seen the house before they moved in because reasons, I guess. There are fields as far as the eye can see and absolutely no neighbors in sight. (Second mistake: always live close enough for someone to hear your screams).
Jenny explains that the house can definitely use some fixing up. She is not wrong. There is splotchy blue paint everywhere. It looks like a tacky Jackson Pollock has painted over the walls, window frames, and light switches, the whole shebang. Jenny wonders aloud what she is getting into.
Jenny, I’m gonna guess you are probably getting into a fairly serious relationship with the employees who work in the paint section of your local Home Depot. It’s just a feeling I have.
The previous owners have clearly left in a hurry. It looks like the mirrors have been ripped off the walls in the bathrooms. There are drop cloths, dust, and debris scattered artfully throughout the house. Bugs crawl on the unfinished floors … OMINOUSLY. The attic entrance is completely taped over with blue tape (the same color as the walls) almost as though someone hadn’t wanted it to be opened. Jenny and her husband open it because they have never seen a horror movie before. Never open the thing, dear readers. Never open the thing. After poking her head in, Jenny hopefully opines that perhaps the tape was there because the attic is filthy. More like filthy with ghosts, amirite?
Hunter feels bad leaving Jenny by herself when he starts his new job, because children and dogs don’t count as beings. Since the house feels eerily silent during the day, Jenny enjoys playing classical music on the house’s swell intercom system. This seems like it definitely won’t come up again later.
One night, while Hunter is working late and Grayson is asleep, Jenny suddenly gets the feeling something is watching her. She tries to retreat to her bedroom with the dog, but Betty-Lou keeps running back downstairs. As she is trying to fall asleep, Jenny hears something scurrying outside of her window (almost like a cat, but bigger). Although the house has a motion activated light system, whatever is out there doesn’t trip the lights. Although unnerved, Jenny decides NOT to open the window because seriously, why would you?
Jenny and Hunter both have children from previous marriages: Buddy and Faith, respectively. They are excited for their kids’ first visit, and happily welcome them to their new home. Jenny and Buddy are getting ready for bath time, and Hunter is showing Faith her new room (which she is very excited about). Buddy abruptly stops what he is doing in the bathroom and starts fixating on one point in the mirror. He sees something in there and starts screaming, just as a sudden army of cockroaches invades Faith’s room.
Both parents are super bummed that fun family moment ended in a lot of screaming.
A few days later, as Jenny is doing dishes in the kitchen, she gets the feeling that someone is standing behind her. Knowing she is alone, she shakes it off, but suddenly the intercom system starts playing death metal at full volume. She can’t get the system to turn off, and calls Hunter in a panic. Eventually, she has to reach her fingers behind the control panel and rip the wiring out of the wall.
Now that it is quieter, she starts hearing a creaking noise from right above her head. Still on the phone with Hunter, she tells him she is scared there might be someone in the house. Armed with a giant wooden knitting needle (?????), Jennie ventures upstairs to protect her daughter (seriously though, she was in a kitchen surrounded by large knives, why did she pick the knitting needle???). There is nothing in Grayson’s room, so Jenny follows the creaking down the hallway, where she rips open the closet to find … a whole lot of nothing! Surprise!
Jennie is now certain the house is haunted. Hunter is unconvinced. Feeling isolated, Jennie invites her friend Kim over to visit. Feeling that her time with Randy the paint guy has really paid off, Jenny shows Kim photos of the unaltered house, so she can get that full “before and after” effect. Kim informs her that the paint splattered all over the house was “haint blue”, which is used to ward off evil voodoo spirits. After explaining to Kim that their house appears to have hella ghosts, the pair decide to Sherlock it up and do some research on who had previously owned the home.
Super sleuths Jenny and Kim discover that there was a family named Maxwell that had owned the land back in the 1840s. They find that a preacher named William Maxwell was linked to some unsolved murders in the area in the 1970s. (Hence the Harper Lee true crime tie in!) There were five deaths, and the Reverend had taken out insurance on every one of them. At one of the funerals, the victim’s uncle shot the Reverend. The Reverend was rumored to be a practitioner of voodoo. (Hence the vaguely racist dancing montage!)
Later, back at the house, the phone rings and Betty-Lou whines because she is smart and has a healthy amount of fear. Jenny goes to answer it, but, at the top of the staircase, Jenny is shoved forward and falls down the stairs. When she looks to see what has pushed her, nothing is there. She is, understandably, very shaken by this experience. When Hunter returns home, Jennie bursts into tears, and Hunter decides he believes her.
Still looking for answers, Jenny turns to the Google. She discovers bug infestations are common to voodoo curses and mirrors are considered doors for the dead. She also learns of a voodoo spirit known as a Boo Hag that will steal your life energy at night and then move into the attic. Jennie sees pictures of disturbing voodoo sacrifices with blood everywhere.
Meanwhile, their dog, Betty-Lou, has gone missing. Hunter, looking for Betty-Lou in the dark, finds a sparkle rainbow party! Just kidding, he finds his dog’s eviscerated corpse. Awww.
Betty-Lou had been ripped open, and her heart had been removed. Jennie questions whether her dog’s death had been some sort of voodoo sacrifice. That night, after both Grayson and Hunter are asleep, Jennie is tired and lays down too. She hears a scurrying sound, and through the darkness, can see a shape approaching the bed. She tries to get Hunter’s attention, but can’t move a muscle as the thing starts sucking her breath away. When the creature abruptly disappears, she instinctively knows that it is going after Grayson. Jennie takes off down the hall (sans knitting needle this time) just as Grayson starts screaming.
The family leaves as soon as they can, and Harper Lee never finishes her novel.
… Because ghosts, I guess?
Overall, this was a good kickoff for the new season. It definitely fell more on the “hilarious” side of things rather than the “terrifying” side, largely because of some ridiculous special effects (like the Darth Maul look-alike looming outside the window). There were certain disappointments, however. I felt like their opening montage definitely leaned a little too close to racist stereotypes for comfort, and I do expect better from this show. Plus, the entire Harper Lee tie-in seemed vague and not particularly well integrated. That being said, the balance of unintentional humor with occasional gripping horror is part of what makes Paranormal Witness such a great show. I’ll be curious to see if they up their spooky game in future episodes.
Paranormal Witness runs on Syfy on Wednesdays at 10/9 Central, and is available to view on Syfy’s website.
Be sure to check out our other coverage on Syfy programming here.