Over the past couple years, the History Channel started showing specials dealing with particularly haunting subjects. In 2007 we were treated with the first collection that dealt with hauntings, vampires, witches, and ghosts. It was released on DVD about a month before Halloween that year and you can actually check out my review of that first volume here. About two months before Halloween in 2008, the second volume was released on DVD and it dealt with zombies, haunted houses, and even Frankenstein. My review for the second set can be read here. I felt it only appropriate that the trend of my reviewing this series continue and besides, I wanted to. My only concern is that the first two volumes came out close to Halloween and this one was being released…in January?
Disc One: Bloodlines The Dracula Family Tree
Dracula is perhaps the most well known vampire in history and it’s an incredibly intriguing subject to look at who just may be related to the master of mastication. Volume one of Haunted Histories dove into the subject of vampire secrets and even touched a little bit on Dracula and his sordid history. But it did not even scratch the surface of looking at his family lineage and those he may have been closest to. Two professors from Boston take it upon themselves to search through centuries of history and learn more about the life Dracula lived and how he personally affected many people so long after his death and into even the present times of today.
Trips to Transylvania and speaking to many of those involved in the church and surrounding areas where Dracula’s castle stands are just a few of the great things that this documentary provides. Old drawings and maps give a nice visual idea as to how things looked and the lengths Dracula may have traveled to in order to extend his reigns of terror. One of the more interesting conversations is that of a priest who discusses the possibilities of where Dracula’s body may actually lie and how certain gravesites have been altered and even moved over the years in order to keep the sanctity of the church intact. It’s strange but just mesmerizing the attention such a figure gets when so many people of the world claim him to be fake.
Disc Two: Exorcism Driving Out The Devil
Alrighty so by now if you’re watching this then you’ve probably seen The Exorcist or some other type of film dealing with demonic possession and such things. Well be prepared to go back in time and learn all about those who get possessed by demons and the devil and how these types of situations are dealt with. A number of different classes of people are interviewed in this documentary so that every side can be heard from and see how differently the opinions on exorcism can skew. It is interesting that some religions don’t even believe in such things because they don’t think such evil can take over a human being if they truly believe.
Footage and images of exorcisms are shown along with a lot more interviews from some who have actually been involved in them before. Minister Bob Larson has been involved in close to thirty or more exorcisms and knows more about them then possibly anyone else. Seeing him work is just amazing but as scary and demented as it may sound, I would love to see him in action and experience one of the exorcisms first hand just so that it can be done right before my very eyes.
The exorcism is a true work of art and if done correctly, it should be seen as such. For those that believe, a person that can do a successful exorcism is a Godsend and can save their lives and their families. So many don’t believe in demonic possession and in my opinion, that’s a mistake. By watching the footage shown in this documentary then you’ll see that not believing or taking such things lightly could be costly for anyone involved.
Disc Three: Witch Hunt
Volume one in this series devoted an entire disc already to the “Salem Witch Trials” so I was a tad concerned when seeing this subject popping up again already. In a nutshell, this release goes into the same information that volume one did because it’s kind of hard to make the witch trials sound any different then what they exactly are. Salem is most famously known for its witch trials back in the 1600’s as villagers would go on serious hunts for those they suspected of being witches. Once caught, these women (and sometimes men) would be put through insane tests and questioning to find out the truth and to determine whether they were witches or not. It didn’t really matter what the truth was because the townspeople took the laws into their own hands and the suspects usually ended up dead thanks to torturous methods anyway.
“Witch Hunt” leaves out some of the facts and information that the “Salem Witch Trials” went into great detail of, but does a nice job of explaining why Salem was the so-called chosen spot for all this activity. While watching this documentary, a truly weird comparison came to mind and it’s that older times in Salem during all of these witch hunts reminds a lot of high school. A rumor is started and it quickly spreads around the village (halls of school). People start believing whatever they hear because they’re scared of what a witch could do to them (don’t want to become unpopular). Before you know it, the accused ends up being shunned by everyone and eventually being put on the spot and imprisoned or killed (ostracized).
It’s horrible the way these people were treated and it is showcased almost perfectly here because you can understand every single side of it. Things then weren’t like they are today and people can do research or realize automatically if something just seems insane or ludicrous. Back then people were so ignorant, by no fault of their own, to everything that they almost had no choice but to believe the rumors or face possible pain or death from witches. Then you have the accused that can’t even argue their sides because no-one is willing to believe them. Every aspect of the witch hunts/trials screams “lose-lose situations” for all of those involved.
Disc Four: Exorcising The Devil
In what seems to be the second part of disc two’s “Driving Out The Devil;” this documentary is more centered on the Catholic religion and how they deal with demonic possessions and how their exorcisms are handled. While that and other religious rites are looked at here; the main focus is on the young boy that the novel and 1973 film, The Exorcist. Being a huge fan of the film helps here because some clips are shown and it is discussed a good bit in relation to how the novel was written, but it’s not essential to have read it or seen the flick before.
Filling out the rest of this documentary (which is the shortest of all five) is more the scientific perspective of exorcisms as opposed to the spiritual and religious sides shown in the first part. Something that bothers me most here is not how anything is presented but the hypocrisy demonstrated by those who are in the scientific field and are said not to believe in religious ways. Why would someone who thinks there is a scientific and logical explanation for everything, even attempt to perform an exorcism when it deals with demons and devils that shouldn’t even exist by their accounts and beliefs? Weird, but it still makes for some really cool stuff and disturbing visuals in ways of possessions. Even though it doesn’t really matter; I would have liked both the second disc and this one put together for one long feature.
Disc Five: Voodoo Secrets
Well, here we have yet another topic we’ve seen before as “Voodoo Rituals” made an appearance in the second volume of this series. While that disc focused on some of the things that go on in voodoo rites; this DVD starts off with delivering the origins of voodoo from African theology and how it coincided and butted heads with other religions. Starting in villages and making its way into slaves’ quarters, voodoo has traveled almost the entire span of the globe and changed very little over time. The only thing that has been altered is the way the rituals are performed but that is to be expected from person to person.
As the documentary continues though, it delves back into the rituals but there is a bit of a difference here because the graphic nature is taken to new levels. Not everyone may be able to stomach some of the footage shown here because it depicts animal sacrifices among numerous other things that aren’t all pink bunnies and rainbows. During all this, a lot of information is given forth from experts, historians, and professors that reveals a lot that even I didn’t know about voodoo. Born and raised in New Orleans, I can’t help but know a lot about voodoo even if I hadn’t studied up and researched it before. You just overhear things and are bound to wander into a voodoo shop at some point or another. This documentary opened up a lot of new doors and makes me want to open up a lot more books to learn more about these new methods described and history explained.
The episodes are shown in Full Frame format and look really good. The recreations (of which there are thankfully few) are shown in good light with bright colors making them some of the better looking segments. Interview portions also look good, but not like there could be much bad about them in the first place. Old footage and photographs sometimes come about with a washed look to them, but that is to be expected with their age.
The episodes are heard in Stereo Sound and more then do an adequate job for this series. Everything can be heard clearly and nicely without any hiss or volume problems.
Having this set released in January while the History Channel had been doing it as a Fall/Halloween type thing for the past two years had me a bit skeptical. Were they doing it because it wasn’t as good a collection as the previous releases or maybe because they simply wanted to see if the attraction would be there away from the season of the witch? After receiving it and seeing what the topics would be for each disc, I grew a little more concerned because some of them set off alarms due to knowing what was on the other sets as well. Needless to say thanks to my review, but they were not really rehashes of information we’ve gotten before and they added a lot more to what we already learned. The History Channel has done it again and could put out more and more of these collections every year or every couple months and I’d love to keep reviewing them because they are heavy on the facts and very light on the cheese. Each documentary has a great bit of seriousness to it so that laughter is kept to a bare minimum or totally nonexistent while the tension and respect for these subjects is in full force. So the special features are also nonexistent making this a barebones set, but you’re still getting more then your money’s worth with the main attraction. Thumbs up and kudos on another great release
A&E Home Video presents Haunted Histories Collection. Starring: Various. Running time: 320 minutes on 5 discs. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: January 20, 2009. Available at Amazon.com