We watched (and fact-checked) the new Ghostbusters movie with real-life ghost busters
Metaphysical investigators Rachel Cross and Susan Wheller don’t wear coordinated jumpsuits. They don’t have quirky catchphrases. And, with a dozen years of investigations under their belts, they can confidently say, “There’s never any slime involved.” So, when it comes to things that go bump in the night, there’s little in common between the two members of Durham’s Paranormal Seekers and the new on-screen Ghostbusters squad. We took them to the premiere of the new flick and asked them to compare it to their day-to-day work, fact-check the film and reveal the truth about paranormal snooping.
First of all, what did you think of the movie?
Cross: For a movie made on this side of the millennium, I’d give it about an eight out of 10. For the younger generation that doesn’t know about the first Ghostbusters, it’s pretty accurate to the original.
Wheller: It was good. I was expecting a continuation of the original story, but it was just the same movie with ladies. I wish the storyline had tied the original characters into the plot. Although, there was that bust of Harold Ramis at the beginning…
Cross: And when did Slimer get a girlfriend?
If you had to summarize the movie in one sentence…
Cross: Four women running around the streets of New York with nuclear weapons on their back, “killing” ghosts.
Which is, I’m sure, the perfect description of a regular day on the job for you. What does your day-to-day look like?
Cross: People let us know about their “experiences” and we go in and investigate. Doesn’t matter what it is: a house, a museum, a public place. Today, we had an email from someone saying, “My animals are starting to fight uncontrollably and it’s really weird. We’ve seen shadows and heard voices but there’s nothing there. Can you help us?”
Wheller: I’ll usually make the initial call. I ask nicely, “Does anyone in the house take drugs?” If you’ve watched the first Ghostbusters, it’s the same way Annie Potts screens people: “Have you ever used Ouija boards? Ever been a Wiccan or dipped into witchcraft? Satanic worship?” You have to be really careful how you say that, because you don’t want to offend them. But you have to find out what level they’re on.
How often does that sort of thing come up?
Cross: People tell you that they’re Wiccan or that they’ve done this and that all the time. They know the craft, so if they’re asking for our help, then obviously something is really wrong. We’re not doing it.
Wheller: We just refer them to someone else or tell them, “You know all those things that you’re doing? Just maybe don’t do that again.”
What sort of equipment do you use if you do go check it out?
Cross: We have audio recorders, video cameras and digital cameras. We have an infrared camera that one of our member’s husbands allows us to use—let’s just say that my truck is worth only slightly more than the IR camera. We use K2 Meters and Mel Meters, which are tri-functional devices that measure electromagnetic energy and the temperature; it’s a little circular device with an antenna and four lights, and if something break its field, the lights go off and it screams.
No proton packs, then?
Cross: I wish! I only wish I had a proton pack. Right now, we have about $5,000 in equipment. If we got all the things we wanted, it would cost at least another $5,000.
Wheller: Like the hearse. I’ve wanted to buy a hearse so bad! No, seriously, I’ve gone to look at getting one for the group.
If you discover a ghost, how do you communicate with it?
Cross: A ghost or a spirit was a human being once, so you have to address them that way. You’re not going to step into a room and say, “Yo, dead person, talk to me!” We use something called the Ovilus, which is like a little computer. It’s got a 5,000-word database inside. It measures the energy and electromagnetic waves around it and assigns it a number—for example, seven. Each number is associated with a word in the database, like “Bob.”
Wheller: Sometimes it’s so spot on, it’s scary. We went to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s house, and we were in the office and asked, “What was the name of the character in your famous books?” The Ovilus said, “Anne.” What colour were the gables? It said, “Green.” It was so…appropriate!
Have you had any other run-ins with ghosts like that?
Wheller: The previous owners of the house across my street went away for a while and had their floors done. When they came back, the contractors said, “Who’s the old guy who was watching us the whole time we were here?” Another time, we had a public investigation in Port Perry, and this girl in her early 20s came with her mom and her grandmother. They made her come, and she was all, ‘I just came because I felt obligated. I don’t believe in any of this stuff.’ So she’s just sitting there and, all of a sudden, she starts losing it. She’s freaking out because she’s feeling hands around her neck. I had to leave the house with her. She was a non-believer when she got there, but after that, she wouldn’t go back in. She was done.
Cross: Two weeks ago, we were investigating in Niagara. We were using the Ghost Box, a little radio that sweeps through stations very quickly, like one millisecond per station, so you get white noise. You ask questions, and a spirit or a ghost manipulates the noise and speaks a word. Something in the room didn’t like one of our team members, Colin. It liked the women in the room—it may have been a male spirit—and we were asking, “Do you like Colin?” No. “Do you want Colin to leave?” Yeah. Colin got upset, and after a while, he said, “Fine, I’m leaving,” And we heard this voice, clear as day, go, Great!
So the ghost would have been a fan of the all-female cast. What did you think?
Cross: Our group is mostly women.
Wheller: Even if all the investigators on TV are guys.
Cross: Other investigators we know are largely men as well. Maybe that’s why they don’t like us? I liked that the movie showed that women can do it too.
What other parts of the movie felt true to what you do?
Wheller: The spinny thing that Melissa McCarthy’s character uses to detect ghosts is just like a Mel Meter, just a fancier version—maybe in case they want to do merchandising down the road.
Any parts that felt way off?
Cross: Well, a typical investigation takes anywhere between five and eight hours. It does not have to be in the middle of the night; it doesn’t even have to be in the evening. Then we review the videos and go through audio footage. I hand-write every single piece of audio from our recordings, and then I write a story—not a report, not a legal document—in third person.
So the movie left out those hours of glamorous transcribing?
Wheller: If the movies were like reality, they’d be really boring. You’re also not going to see ladies in Victorian dresses—that’s incredibly rare. And you’re not going to get really great evidence every time.
Cross: Ghosts are not performing circus monkeys. They’re not going to dance in front of the camera for you.
How about the jumpsuits? What clothes do you wear?
Cross: Clothes? Well, we need pockets.
Wheller: Pockets, yes! Well, I bought a tool belt—it’s hard to hang onto everything—but I haven’t actually used it yet.
An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect surname for Susan Wheller. It also mistakenly said the house across the street from Wheller's was the site of a public investigation.