Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena (1976)

Director: Robert Guenette

Starring: Raymond Burr

Tagline: The most incredible displays of psychic power ever filmed.

More Info: IMDB

Plot: Documentary exploring such phenomena as astral projection, telekinesis, telepathy, voices from beyond the grave, ghosts/spirits, etc.

My Rating: 5/10

Would I watch it again? with alcohol and a room full of skeptics to collectively rip it apart and figure out how they're performing their ruses.

#7 on Dusk to Dawn Drive-In Trash-o-Rama Show Vol. 1 (part of the TRAILER TRASH PROJECT)

1970s saw a boon in UFO and supernatural documentaries. It pretty much started with the 1970 doc, CHARIOTS OF THE GODS. Later came others about Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP and so on, culminating in the Leonard Nimoy TV series, IN SEARCH OF...(1976). I remember being enthralled with the latter, watching it religiously week after week. Hell, even Shatner narrated one called MYSTERIES OF THE GODS the same year as Nimoy's show.

See...when you're a kid you'll believe all kinds of things. Some grow out if it. I did. As an atheist and skeptic, I approach subjects like these with caution. I don't believe that UFOs have landed here and taken humans hostage for anal exams. I don't believe we can predict the future. I don't believe in Bigfoot. I don't believe in Beatles. I just believe in me. Oh, wait. Isn't that a song or something?

Famous phony psychic, Jean Dixon, believes that our destinies are interlocked with the movements of the planets. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I require hard proof. Anecdotal stories don't hold much water. My uncle's account of having his butt tickled in the middle of the night by some creature that looks like Celine Dion doesn't cut it for me. Nor does my Mother's account of my predicting the rise and fall of Hitler and the cancellation of the TV show HEROES when I was 4. Just because I had a dream the night someone close to me died doesn't mean doodly squat. I am a firm believer in coincidences. It's funny how we choose to ignore the millions of non-coincidences throughout each day, yet when something freaky happens we tend to think it's some divine providence or psychic intrusion. I'll stick with "it's just a coincidence".

Having said that, I'm naturally dispositioned to not like this, right? Someone, upon finding out how I really feel about all of this, once asked me how I could watch movies or read fiction that dealt with these kinds of subjects without getting angry. Really? Look, THE SIXTH SENSE creeps me out. I know ghosts aren't real but it's a well-told story and I don't have to believe in it to be affected by it. You know, you use your 'suspension of disbelief'. So I threw back, "You like STAR WARS, right?", yep. "Do you believe any of it?". Nope. Well there you go.

Those born under the sign of Sagittarius are impulsive... Frank Sinatra.

But a documentary is different as it's presenting its subject with facts, making a case for it one way or the other. Make no mistake about this one. They believe it. Sure Raymond Burr mentions skeptics but he quickly dismisses any claim that a non-believer may have by saying, "We've explored outer space. We've studied this Earth from pole to pole, but only now are we beginning to understand the strange and mysterious powers said to exist in all of us; powers known as ESP or Extra Sensory Perception, or simply psychic powers from the Greek word psychicos [sp?] which means 'of the soul'...spiritual. We've all heard of these powers, of men who can bend metal with the powers of their minds, of thoughts mentally transferred through the air, of thoughts even being photographed. We've heard of spirits walking, of ghost talking. We've heard of prophets of telling the future, of psychic investigators solving crimes, of people's spirits traveling out of their bodies, of re-incarnation. We've heard about these things and SOME have been skeptical; skeptical but tantalized, intrigued by the possibilities. In this motion picture we're going to examine these possibilities. Our camera teams have traveled around the world, collecting the evidence. Great efforts have been made to scrutinize this evidence, to ASSURE authenticity. We're going to examine, first hand, that these phenomena are FACT or fiction."

The words in BOLD indicate Burr's strong emphasis. You can clearly see their position. OK. I've got no problem with that as there are tons of people out there who believe in these things. I once did myself many many years ago. So before you point fingers and say I'm a cynic I want to show you I'm not because I REALLY do want to believe in these things. I would REALLY like to see that Bigfoot does exist, that we've been visited by aliens all along and that I can use "The Force" to move shit across the room. By the way, as a kid having his world changed forever by STAR WARS in '77, I tried for years to use The Force to get the TV remote from the coffee table after seeing Luke do the same with his lightsaber in EMPIRE. True story. Don't laugh because you've tried it, too.

This "documentary" examines each of the phenomena outlined in Burr's opening monologue, showing footage or re-enactments for all of them. If you're on the fence about believing in such things, this will likely sway you. They cover A LOT of ground in 93 minutes, some of it very compelling. It looks real, they say it's real, they've supposedly got hundreds and thousands of people saying it's real so it must be, right? I spent the first half hour having a ball trying to figure out their tricks and finding gaping holes in their logic. Much of it is fairly obvious and almost insulting in their delivery. I'm willing to bet that even the most die-hard believer would find one of these things hard to swallow.

The great escape artist and magician Harry Houdini is mentioned. They talk of how he attended seances around the world, hoping to contact the spirit of his dead mother. He failed, however, and vowed after his own death that he would make every effort to communicate a message from the other side. What they failed to mention was that after realizing he'd been duped and this seance business was a load of horseshit, he spent the rest of his life exposing these fakers and cheats for who they really were. Where the hell was that important piece of information? They make him out to be a dyed-in-the-wool believer. In truth, he was anything but.

Here's an example of their 'proof' that we all have some psychic ability. A tester holds up two cards, one being the 2 of hearts. He asks Burr to psychically choose that card. Now obviously there's a 50/50 chance that he will choose the right card but to make sure, the tester glances to the card in his right hand AS HE SAYS, "Now I know which one of these is the 2 of hearts."!!!!!!!!!!!! Burr chooses the correct hand. Surprise! I'm not making this up, folks. This is where I started wondering if this whole picture was a joke. We're just 15 minutes into it. But it gets better. After Burr picks the right card and the tester reveals it, he says, "Most of you, uh, sensed that this was the 2 of hearts, I'm sure." I'm speechless.

This is just one of 5 tests that Burr is subjected to, passing 3 of them.

The other tests?

Two of these fish were dead at the time these photos were taken. Can you guess which fish was alive by reading the tester's thoughts?

If you chose the middle one as Burr did, congratulations. You are psychic.

One of these two cars is red and the other is blue. Can you tell which one is red? Burr couldn't. He chose the second car. Wah, wah, wahhhhhhh.

Now let's see how you do on this next one, he says. One of these women is the mother of the young boy. Can you sense which of the women it is?

Oh, I don't know...could it be the woman with the same hair and shirt color as the child? Burr chooses the one in the red shirt. He was right.

Which of these three young men is hang gliding for the first time?

Burr picks the first one. No, the tester says, it's the one in the rear. (That line gave me a chuckle, knowing Burr's, ahem, recreational activities.)

So are you getting the idea on what level they're on? After the first half hour my attention span waned and I found myself waiting for this to die. A lot of it is the typical stuff we're familiar with like telekinesis and psychic detectives. There were some things that I'd never heard of like the guy who could taste what other people were eating!?!?!?!

Then there's the guy who could take photographs of the images in his mind!?!?!?!?! I'll at least give him bonus points for his taking people's gullibility to a new level.

Look, there are a lot of reasons why people make outrageous claims like being able to find water with a stick, reading minds, making predictions or that their colon can predict earthquakes. One reason could be for the attention; another, blatant trickery to make money. Or, they could actually believe they possess that special gift, giving their existence a greater importance. Who doesn't want to feel important in this vast universe in which we live?

Could it be a coincidence that, after millions of years of evolution, our species has evolved to the point of understanding much that surrounds us and, while not knowing all the answers, we find that, in time, everything will be explainable through concrete, rational and natural means? There are those who find comfort living in a world of fantasy and magic. You see, I believe in coincidences; they, on the other hand, do not.

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