Paranormal horror The Quiet Ones, which is out Monday 18th August, is based in part on a real life experiment into the powers of the mind in manifesting supernatural phenomena. We got a chance to talk to parapsychologist Stephen Mera on the science behind the scares, real life ghost hunting and horror films accuracy when it comes to paranormal activity.
Love Horror: For those that don’t know can you tell us what a parapsychologist is and what you study?
Stephen Mera: Parapsychology consists of lots of different subjects most of all its anomalistic psychology, it’s a part of psychology that looks at and investigates and researches and carries out experiments in the field of human perception, extra sensory perception and profound human experiences. Those might consist of clairvoyance, mediumship, trans-mediumship, it also involves psychometry, telepathy, telekinesis, all those wonderful things that we tend to see in the paranormal films.
We investigate those thoroughly to find if there are rational explanations and also to advance the subject in psychology and the methods of how we investigate it. We also touch on the investigation research of paranormal phenomena that is often reported.
Love Horror: How did you get into Parapsychology?
Stephen Mera: I got into parapsychology at a young age. I was always interested in the paranormal through my father because I used to read his books when I was young and in 1983 I was that interested in the subject I joined a couple of organisations. I studied psychology and then went on to study anomalistic psychology, metaphysical para-psychology and then onto my degree in parapsychology at university.
You have to do psychology to rationalise the experiences, to work out and find those explanations and to see if the mind is responsible and if it is our perceptions that are altered or something else. I also went into the study of sociology to get a general feel of how the family unit may have traumatic experiences and how they handle them and how they perceive them and how human psychology actually works because there are many rational explanations that we find. On occasion we do find those that don’t reach explanation, when there is no rationality then the extraordinary is the only plausible answer.
Love Horror: How do you go about studying the supernatural using science?
Stephen Mera: (Laughs) Fist of all it’s a lot of paper work, it’s not like what we see on the X-Files or other TV shows because most of the time there out in the field investigating and not really doing any paper work, it’s the other way round for us unfortunately. We have lots and lots of paperwork, we have lots and lots of questions and test procedures. We have to test the physiological side of some people who are having experiences and report them, their normal reactions to certain events. Then we have to test the psychological reactions and these are all put together in research documents to try and find if this person has something going on which would lead to a rational explanation.
Further from that we conduct investigations and experiments under experimental conditions at a certain location to find what explanations there may be to reported phenomena. These have to be bench tested and repeated over and over again to obtain the same result before we would actually suggest that there is conclusive evidence. In paranormal investigation the same sort of thing applies regarding the paper work, the psychological and the physiological background but it also involves environmental analysis in other words investigating the location, which means if that location has anything that would lead people to believe something paranormal is going on there. Finally of course the actual physical active investigation which involves using different types of equipments to find rational explanations or even capture anomalies.
Love Horror: What is the most shocking encounter you have ever had during your studies or experiments?
Stephen Mera: In the 31 years investigating the most extreme experience I have had was poltergeist manifestation that took place in a prefabricated bungalow in Rochdale in 1995/1996 whilst working for Rochdale city council. They came to us with this problem that the tenants where reporting disturbances and when investigating I was thumped in the back and pushed across a room about 4 foot the feeling of which I can only describe as like an electric shook and being punched at the same time, that’s how it felt. At that time I was considered leaving the subject but obviously adrenaline kicked in and questions kicked in and I’m still here today. I have not experienced anything often like that, I have had certain experiences where I have seen possible apparitions and balls of light phenomena and unusually occurrences like audible disturbances and strange odours and things like that, the things you might generally call the things that go bump in the night.
Love Horror: So how did you explain that attack?
Stephen Mera: I couldn’t. We concluded that a phenomena must have been there as there was enough evidence that it was taking place. The fact that they were also experiencing water falling poltergeist type infestations where water would suddenly appear and disappear added to it. The poor family where going through hell and had to be relocated with help from the Rochdale city council to another home and their home was left fallow which means without any electrical input in the building to try and discharge any phenomena that’s going on there. A lot of phenomena does feed off electrical systems or the emotion and vexation of those witnessing phenomena in the environment. After about a year another family moved in and everything was fine for them so the case was closed for the original family and they haven’t had any experiences since.
Love Horror: How many of the scientific tests and techniques used in The Quiet Ones are accurate in real life paranormal investigations?
Stephen Mera: They are actually very accurate in the film in fact that was one of the first things I noticed as I look for the accuracy. The tense frustration that you see in the film regarding the parapsychologist trying to keep the funding for the department to obtain the evidence he requires regarding his long term study, those sort of things do happen on a regular basis. Funding is very much limited, research is very long and expensive and we get frustrated because we are very dedicated. All parapsychologists are very very dedicated people to the subject, so much so that we have this obsession in trying to obtain those answers and we want the evidence.
People always say ‘aren’t parapsychologists sceptics?’ well no they’re not but what you have to question is the reason why we do what we do. We do what we do because we believe that there is something to study and something to obtain. Getting those results is extremely difficult and a very long procedure. I think the accuracy in regarding the experiments carried out in the film are pretty much spot on. There wasn’t as much written documenting of what was going on but I assume that would be going on in the background but the equipment used and the methodology behind them was spot on. Those types of experiments do continue even up till today.
Love Horror: The Quiet Ones is partially based on the Philip experiment, what is your take on what they did and what they discovered?
Stephen Mera: Regarding the Phillip experiment it was quite well known, it took place in September of 1972 in Toronto Canada the main guy that was involved was Dr Owen and him and a team had an idea, could a ghost be manifested through our own means through belief, through prior knowledge, through expectation of experiencing something. They generally put their heads together and thought ‘okay lets create this fictitious ghost’ and they gave him the name Philip Aylesford hence the Phillip Experiment.
They took a month or so to decide not just who this person was but how he looked, how he acted, his whole life, where he grew up, where he worked and how he died creating a whole story line, What was really interesting is under some experiments carried out very much like you see in films with séances that type of mediumship they believed that they managed to communicate with this apparition, with this ghost that they had created. Now although there were no physical apparitions seen with their eyes they did have communication as there where rapping sounds in fact at one time the table shuddered so much it shot across the room towards one of the investigators. All of this was very well documented about the experiments conducted and they believed there was enough conclusive evidence to suggest if people believe strongly enough in something paranormal that something paranormal could manifest.
That is the tangible thing behind that experiment that parapsychology looks at do we have some control over the physical and non-physical things in our environment? Can we manifest things if we believe them strongly enough? It goes on the principles of say stigmata where people are so religious that they experience the wounds of Christ in their palms through sincerely believing and being devout Catholics. That belief causes a metaphysical and a physiological condition to take place in the body so that the wound appear and they bleed. That shows that the mind governs over the physical world and the physical body. What was really interesting was during tests I did when we told them that Christ was more than likely nailed through the wrists instead of the palm the phenomena moved which generates more evidence to point to the fact that it is them, their power and their belief have somehow created this just as people can do exactly the same thing in paranormal and supernatural cases and this is what the Phillip experiment was looking at.
Love Horror: What do horror films always get wrong about the paranormal?
Stephen Mera: (Laughs) A lot of films get it wrong regarding the paranormal and the kind of phenomena taking place. Through doing research we know that there are three different types of haunting that takes place there is locational haunting, trans locational haunting and residual haunting. Residual hauntings is just a recording of events playing back that people witness and they don’t interact with them they just see them on occasion like seeing a ghost walk through a wall where there once was a door. The ghosts aren’t aware of them and there is no interaction going on. In the other cases interaction does take place. Sometimes it is associated to somebody who has died in a location hence locational haunting and sometimes there is no evidence to suggest why a house would be haunted say in a brand new build in an area where nothing has ever been built before which is haunted by say an apparition of a second world war solider which has no connection to the building or area as far as we know and this is a trans locational haunting.
Apart from that we have a poltergeist infestation, a poltergeist is a whole different kettle of fish, like how Steven Spielberg presented his information in the film Poltergeist he really did carry out a lot of research into that film to get it spot on about what they do. They are big performers poltergeist phenomena, they act up in the day as much as the night, they want to be seen, they want things to be experienced whereas haunting’s usually subdued, it usually takes place at night and they are very infrequent and non-severe and there is a significant difference.
The problem is when you watch films on the paranormal they tend to get these things mixed up although we understand it is just simply the lack of knowledge about the subject. Also when events suddenly go from quite subdued to something extreme we know that phenomena don’t tend to do that. It tends to be a gradual increase as opposed to a sudden jump in disturbances. Only really people studying in the subject would understand that there is a pattern of events in the paranormal and supernatural field of disturbances. People making films aren’t usually aware of the details but it’s easy for us to spot them as parapsychologists.
Love Horror: Of all the horror films you have seen which is the most realistic to what you have investigated or what you believe is out there?
Stephen Mera: The most realistic film I have seen on the subject of the paranormal is a TV movie believe it or not known as The Haunted. It was a true case based around the family known as the Smurl family in Pennsylvania which suffered some terrible disturbances in their home. The film is absolutely accurate to a tee. It was created for TV and it is one of the best paranormal films I have witnessed for its accuracy.
Unfortunately you get these Hollywood type films coming out like The Conjuring and they all tend to say they are based on a true story. I know about the case The Conjuring is based on and I know about the people who investigated it and the stuff that they actually got through documentation and unfortunately very little of it is actually true. Where do you draw the line between how much correct and precise information you have to place in a film for it to be titled ‘Based on a True Story.’ It does affect people because anybody believes something’s true if they are told it is and they get a bigger fright out of it because they identify with what those people are going through even more if they believe it’s true and it connects the viewer with the movie in a better way. I can understand the methods behind doing it but most of the time the information of how phenomena works and how they investigate it is usually incorrect.
Love Horror: So is The Haunted your favourite horror film then?
Stephen Mera: Well I enjoyed watching it for its accuracy but actually entertainment wise I would say The Conjuring which I watched not long ago. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. It is devised to keep you scared and on edge and that’s what the film does. It keeps on the psychology of your mind and keeps you rooted in the film. I also really enjoyed The Quiet Ones because of the factual side. It’s more in the field of how parapsychology works as opposed to this is just what is taking place. Most films on the paranormal are just about someone experiencing the phenomenon whereas The Quiet Ones is more about the proceedings and how parapsychology works and that to me was very appealing as a parapsychologist and a paranormal investigator.
Love Horror: Finally what would you say to any non-believers out there?
Stephen Mera: I would say that’s fantastic, it’s great because we do need non-believers. We need people out there that don’t believe because if everyone believed I would be out of a job (Laughs) The thing is we do need people like that but what we don’t need is sceptics, people who no matter how much information or evidence they are presented with they are not willing to except it.
Anybody out there who hasn’t experienced anything and doesn’t believe such phenomena exists that’s great because I accept the fact that if you haven’t experienced it and haven’t witnessed it for yourself I wouldn’t tell you to believe in it. Don’t believe in anything you haven’t experienced in life yourself. Once you do experience it I am sure your mind will change because people have to go through things themselves in order to understand them.
Love Horror: Stephen thank you so much for your time and your fascinating insights.
The Quiet Ones is out Monday 18th August