Looking around, it’s astonishing how many TV shows, movies and comics are based on the premise of the Paranormal Investigator. You know the type of show I mean. A cop, or a team of cops, use everyday police work or private investigative techniques to track down a magical beast, monster or space alien. Our world, these shows seem to imply, is ust more vast than you think, and all the beasts and aliens and monsters you’ve heard about in stories are real. Not only are they real, but there’s a complicated series of hidden laws to keep such monsters in check and out of the public eye. This premise has three things we all love. 1) Detectives. 2) Monsters. 3) Vast conspiracy theories to keep ordinary people in the dark.
These kinds of shows also imply that you, I, or anyone could potentially leave their humdrum life, and actually apply for a job as a paranormal investigator. Sure, a lot of the cops in the following list are grizzled, emotionally injured, are simply burnt out on their jobs, but the allure of the rough-hewn monster fighter… well, I’d rather be one of those than the lord of zombie wasteland.
In honor of this kind of show/book/movie/real-life entity, I have compiled the following list of 10 of the best paranormal investigators throughout popular culture. Let’s get paranoid, ready our ghost traps, out silver bullets, our wooden stakes, and our anti-UFO electroguns, and take a stroll through the hidden world of monsters and the cops who arrest them.
10) DYLAN DOG
from “Dylan Dog” comics (1986 – present)
A cult icon if ever their was one, “Dylan Dog” is an obscure Italian supernatural comic from the 1980s. This is the kind of comic that only the most hardcore of comic book fans read. Y’know. The kind who were on the ground floor for bizarro titles like “The Swamp Thing” or “Cerebus.” Dylan Dog is a London-bound ex-cop who now works as a poverty-stricken private investigator to the supernatural world. The myth in this universe is familiar: vampires, zombies and wolf men are all on the loose, and behave like rival gangs. It’s up to a living human being like Mr. Dog to moderate disputes, and make sure none of the monsters are being too public in their stalk-and-kill activities.
Also true to form, Dylan Dog is a wounded human being, trying to live down the memory of a loved one. I know the loss of a loved one can be devastating, but surely it;’s not a surefire way to turn into an embittered alcoholic loner. Dylan also has a goofy sidekick in the form of Groucho Marx. Well, I’m not sure if it’s actually Groucho Marx, or just someone who looks like him. But, seriously, dude. Groucho Marx.
In 2011, a film version of “Dylan Dog” was made in America. It was called “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night,” and it starred the handsome Brandon Routh in the title role. The film transposed the action to New Orleans, and changed a lot of the comics’ premises. Groucho was replaced by a tired pageboy who found himself turned into a zombie. I thought the film was kind of fun, in a silly sort of way, but I know I remain in the minority on that.
9) THE BUREAU FOR PARANORMAL RESEARCH AND DEFENSE
from “Hellboy” comics (1993 – present)
Hellboy is a demon being, birthed by a witch, who was accidentally displaced onto Earth early in life. These days, he has tried to integrate himself in with humans, even though he’s eight feet tall, has giant shorn-down horns on his head, a giant stone hand, and a tail. When you’re a demon being who looks like a monster, I guess the only real job you can get is fighting other demons and monsters alongside a who team of paranormal investigators.
The team is the usual motley crew of characters. There’s the usual retinue of oddball humans, but there’s also a half fish man, a spirit held captive in an encounter suit, and a large homunculus. I see how a fishman could end up on such a team, but I wonder about the origins of the ordinary humans. What sort of life did they lead that they came upon the monsters as part of their everyday interests. Does this mean when I flip through my old Time/Life book about UFOs that I’m really preparing for the coolest job ever? I sure hope so.
In 2004, there was a rather famous feature film adaptation of “Hellboy” starring Ron Perlman in the title role. Hellboy’s origin changed, but director Guillermo Del Toro fought the studios tooth and nail to keep Hellboy looking the same as in the comics, so he’s still bright red, still has the tail, and still bears the big ol’ horns. For a goofy-ass comic book demon-hunting film “Hellboy” is kind of excellent.
8) FRANK BANNISTER
from “The Frighteners” (1996)
Frank Bannister can see ghosts. Ever since he witnessed the death of his wife a few years ago, he’s been able to communicate with the dead. Certain ghosts, you see, don’t bother to pass onto the other side when they die, and remain around us, haunting us in small ways. Frank not only talks to ghosts, but has (somehow) convinced a few dead compatriots to haunt local houses, just so Frank can come in and exorcize them for a hefty fee. It seems to me that if you could communicate with the dead, the last thing you’d think to do is to run a scam. You wouldn’t need to. You still have ghosts. But whatever.
Peter Jackson’s 1996 film is a train wreck. The pacing is chaotic, the premise is scattered, and the ultimate story is hard to follow. But I love it. I watched “The Frighteners” in college countless times. For some reason, it became one of my standby films for about two years, and would watch it in between classes. It’s most certainly a guilty pleasure of mine. I think a lot of the appeal comes from Danny Elfman’s spooky score, and the presence of Jeffrey Combs (as the skittish rival paranormal investigator FBI agent) in full-tilt wacko mode.
Peter Jackson made some of the best cult movies of the cult circuit back in the early 1990s, all of which were rife with awesome practical effects. “The Frighteners” marks his first plunge into the world of CGI, and it kind of shows. Most every effect is made with computers, and Jackson is trying out stuff for the first time. A large part of me misses the practical cult film auteur. Well, success to him anyway.
7) DR. LESH, RYAN, MARTY AND TANGINA BARRONS
from: “Poltergeist” (1982)
I’ve written in the pages of Geekscape before about how THAT FUCKING CLOWN from Tobe Hooper’s 1982 film “Poltergeist” ruined hundreds and hundreds of childhoods. Here was a PG-rated film that kid were taken to see, that featured a guy tearing his face off, a tree eating a boy, a swim with zombie skeletons, a few monster creatures, and a killer clown doll. Good job, Tobe. Good job, Spielberg. Your film warped our brains forever.
I remember seeing the film as a kid. I think I was about 8 years old. I remember seeing the scenes with the poltergeists and the weird groaning noises and the eerie living TV set, and thinking that the world was all chaos. Luckily for me, to maintain some semblance of order, a group of paranormal investigators from UC Irvine were called in to make sense of things. It turns out they didn’t know how to directly eliminate the ghosts, but they were more prepared. I felt safe for a bit. Well, until that one guy tore his face off.
And then there’s Tangina Barrons played by diminutive actress Zelda Rubenstein, who is, when looked at in a certain way, one of the more iconic horror movie symbols of a generation. Her little voice and wise words set the template for many future psychics. Ever notice how movie psychics are never large tough men? We can thank Zelda Rubenstein for that.
6) DEAN and SAM WINCHESTER
from: “Supernatural” (2005 – 2009)
I like these guys because they’re not so much cops or private investigators as they are mere interested parties. As tradition dictates, they are both wounded and derelict PI-types who have been burned by monsters in the past (they lost their mom to a demon), and are now wandering the country looking for bad guys to destroy, and ultimately to find the secret of their mom’s death.
Dean and Sam are filthy meatheads. They wear leather jackets, aren’t very bright, and listen to nothing but gutbucket heavy metal. In addition to being thick0skinned, these guys are thick-skulled. Luckily for them (and for the audience) they’re also funny and compelling guys, whose experience in the face of monsters and ghosts translates as a work ethic. So long as they’re willing to work hard to accomplish a goal, I’ll be interested. What’s more, the two were very self-aware; they would often comment on how horrific or ridiculous their plight was. They may not have had much brains, but they at least has street smarts. Provided those streets had demons in ’em.
I have seen precious few episodes of the show, but I certainly should be watching more. The show has a powerful, powerful cult in the world, and the “Supernatural” panels at Comic Con tend to fetch hundreds of fans. The series has even been translated into a Japanese-style manga. How is it?
5) JOHN CONSTATINE
from various Vertigo comics (1985 – present)
This guy has cropped up everywhere. Based on the look of Sting in “Quadrophenia,” John Constantine was a sorcerer who had sort of dipped from high magic into a low world of cigarettes, fast cars, and desperate needs to pay rent. He is embittered, cynical, and, in true Hume-ian fashion, has little regard for the institutions of Heaven and Hell. Rather than follow a faith run by a domineering God or a churlish Satan, John chooses to help out humans caught in between. Well, only when it helps him. He’s not really a hero. He’s a lover of physical pleasure, is bisexual (yes!), and smoke very heavily.
John Constantine has appeared most frequently in his comic book series called “Hellblazer” (originally supposed to be called “Hellraiser,” until Clive Barker threatened to sue) which started in 1989. It, like some other comics, does seem to touch briefly on the world of the DC superhero canon, but mostly remains in its own paranormal universe, where John does battle with ghosts and demons, all while uncovering mysteries, and having open dialogues with God and Satan. It’s one of those comics that, when you’re 14 years old, feels hugely illicit (as it contain swear words, questions of religion, and nudity). I noticed that a lot of kids who read “Hellblazer” also read “Heavy Metal” and “Fangoria.”
In 2005, a feature film called “Constantine” was made, and featured Keanu Reeves as the title character. Some premises from the comic were kept in tact. The film was slick and kind of fun, but ultimately dismissable. It certainly didn’t contain any of the hard-edged weirdness from the comics, although I liked Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, and Peter Stormare as Lucifer.
4) THE S.C.S.P.R.
From real life, yo.
Wait. These guy aren’t from a comic. These guys are real. You’d be surprised how many real-life paranormal researchers there are out there. I encourage them. I have faith that someday we’ll find a way to scientifically document a ghost. Then where will we be? Visit their website here. http://www.scspr.org/
3) THE DARKHOLD REDEEMERS
From: “Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins” (1992, 93)
So we’ve had two “Ghost Rider” movies, a “Daredevil” movie and three “Blade” movies. You can count “The Punisher” in there if you like. All we need is a “Morbius” feature film and a “Darkhold” feature film, and we can have an “Avengers”-like movie mashup of Marvel’s Midnight Sons. Who;s with me on this? Anyone? Anyone who was a comics-reading proto-Goth in the early 1990s? Am I the only one?
So dig this: There is an evil book in the world, containing spells of sin and indulgence. It is written in an unknown language that is so powerfully written, anyone can read it. An evil dwarf has been appearing to people, and handing them single pages of this book, called The Darkhold, which causes them to transform or become monsters or unleash demons or simple make them commit suicide. Spooky. Trying to track down all the pages of The Darkhold is a psychic, a Wiccan, and an ex-FBI agent. This is an excellent premise for a film or TV show. How this title has not yet been tapped is beyond me.
In the Marvel universe, The Darkhold has a long and rich history of doing evil. It’s been said that The Darkhold, penned by an Elder God, is responsible for making the first vampire, the first werewolf, Morgan le Fay, and even played a role in the Marvel Zombies universe. Here is a book of sin which essentially acts as Pandora’s box. It unleashes sin into the world. A literal struggle against evil. And we have a trio of Gothy investigators on its tail.
2) AGT. FOX MULDER and AGT. DANA SCULLY
From: “The X-Files” (1993 – 2002)
Fox Mulder is a loose cannon who has scared his superiors. To contain is paranoid personality, he has been put in charge of the FBI’s files of dubious veracity. The bigfoots, the aliens, the monsters which are all filed under the letter “X” in the FBI vault. Fox Mulder is handsome and charming, but still has the nickname of “spooky” for his, shall we say, outre interests. He’s also a porn addict. He’s also been wounded by aliens in the past, as they once kidnapped his little sister. Joining Mulder is a neophyte doctor in the FBI Dana Scully, who is 100% skeptical of everything Mulder says. In an interesting theological flip, it’s Mulder who doesn’t believe in God, and Scully who is a devout Catholic.
“The X-Files” was more popular than we remember. I have many happy memories of stalking through the X-Files with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson one a weekly basis for several years. Going back and watching the show, you find that the post Cold War stuff doesn’t really hold up, and a lot of the paranoia feels very much of its time. But in terms of quality, the show is amazing, and the monster-of-the-week approach is still a great way to make a series. The truth is out there. And we need to do battle with black oil, wicked alien assassins, vampires and El Chupacabras until we find it.
There were two feature films spun off of “The X-Files,” and since the series was so very focused on canon, you need to have seen the show to really get what was going on in the films. The idea of “The X-files” canon was actually not considered by the shows’ creator until Gillian Anderson had to leave temporarily due to a pregnancy. Scully was subsequently abducted by aliens, and the gigantic story arc was begun. I always liked the monster-of-the-week episodes better, though.
1) CARL KOLCHAK
From: “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” (1974, ’75)
Carl Kolchak, in terms of pop culture paranormal investigators, preceded them all. As played by Darren McGavin in the 1970s TV movies, and later a short-lived series, Kolchak was a Chicago-based newspaper reporter whose investigative acumen was such that he was able to uncover the existence of monsters in his hometown. Like Mulder after him, Kolchak simply had an interest in the bizarre and the supernatural, and bothered to do his homework. As I said: It’s nice to know that a healthy interest in weird-ass crap can get you involved in the real thing someday.
Kolchak was flip and casual, and seemed to accept the weirdness around him with a great amount of casual aplomb. Luckily for Kolchak, he has an editor who was willing to entertain Kolchak’s investigative habits in the form of Tony, a heard-breathing barrel-shaped guy. Gotta love those beefy 1970s physiques.
Kolchak earnes the number one spot on this list for his sheer precedent. All the paranormal investigator comics, books, movies and TV shows of the modern age all seem to point back to Kolchak. He was “The X-Files.” He was “Ghostbusters.” Kolchak is a lynchpin of pop culture. Pay some attention.
Witney Seibold is living in… oh no… OH NO… A VAMPIRE!