20 Aug 2011
With a lifelong passion for horror, and between regular stints as an actor, magician, stuntman, FX specialist and director—among other things—Jim O’Rear also frequently dons a writer’s hat. Involved in seemingly every aspect of genre filmmaking, O’Rear has written and sold horror screenplays as well as contributed articles for genre publications and consulted on a variety of horror and paranormal-themed projects. His most recent offering is HOLLYWOOD PARANORMAL FILMS: FACT AND FICTION, published last month.
O’Rear’s newest book (and third publication) explores the facts and fiction behind 10 Hollywood films dealing with hauntings and the supernatural, from classics such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and THE EXORCIST to newer efforts like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. Released by Pennsylvania-based Schiffer Publishing, the book is an interesting blend of occult and film history that should appeal to most horror fans, particularly devotees of ghost-hunting shows. O’Rear is well-suited for this type of writing given his experience on the show HOLLYWOOD GHOST HUNTERS, which brings together genre notables like FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Kane Hodder and LEATHERFACE’s R.A. Mihailoff to do some paranormal investigating of their own. He chalks up the motivation behind his specific film choices in the book to simple personal interest. “These were films and stories I grew up with and felt personally entertained and fascinated by for many years,” he says. “I also tried to focus on films that I thought were very well-done and had a lasting dramatic and emotional impact.” The book is concerned with the true stories that inspired the films and the various portrayals of the supernatural on screen, incorporating documented evidence and behind-the-scenes testimonials to get to the bottom of some of the genre’s best spook-tacular efforts. “The book looks at major elements that make up the actual paranormal cases covered,” O’Rear explains, “and then shows you how those elements and facts were translated, or changed, for the screen. It’s a balanced look at the true facts and the entertainment elements used to tell the stories.”
Researching such cases has apparently been a lifelong interest: “I’ve been a fan of the paranormal all of my life, and have done extensive research, testing and investigating for many years,” O’Rear notes. “So I followed these cases long before Hollywood even thought about making movies out of them. I’ve also run into a lot of the actual people who were personally involved in these events throughout my travels, and have been able to ask them questions personally. Of course, it has also come in handy that I’ve worked many years in the entertainment industry as an actor, stuntman and screenwriter, and have been able to discuss the films with many of the actors and directors involved in making them.” So not only is O’Rear able to provide a genre-insider view, but, almost like a documentary filmmaker, he has spent many years collecting stories and information.
O’Rear’s initial motivation for this project, he says, was that “being a fan of both horror films and paranormal events, I have naturally been drawn to movies that attempt to document true paranormal cases, such as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE EXORCIST and THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, to name a few. What I found, though, was that most Hollywood horror films were misleading the public with their so-called ‘facts.’ Having said that, I have worked in the entertainment industry for over 25 years, and I completely understand the sensationalism and marketing tactics that studios have to employ in order to make money on these kinds of features.
“But, as a paranormal investigator, I get very frustrated when I hear people talking about something they saw in a movie as if it was fact, just because there’s a line at the beginning of the movie that reads, ‘Based on a true story,’ ” he continues. “With HOLLYWOOD PARANORMAL FILMS, I wanted to set the record straight, basically. I wanted the public to know what the facts were in the actual paranormal cases, and I wanted to compare those to the ‘facts’ that Hollywood was offering in its films. I felt that a better understanding of the cases compared to the movies would allow both versions of the stories to be even more entertaining and enlightening to the public.”
O’Rear’s enthusiasm for paranormal research actually began before his interest in genre cinema. His inspiration to become a paranormal investigator lay in a combination of experiences and childhood interests. “It started when I was a child in kindergarten,” he reveals. “I had several paranormal experiences when I was very young which frightened me and, at the same time, fascinated me. I was also learning, very quickly, that a lot of people’s perceptions about reality and the paranormal were extremely misplaced. After a trip to Disney World, all of these pieces started clicking together in my young mind. As I was exiting the Haunted Mansion ride, my thoughts screamed, ‘Wait a minute! People here are making a living out of tricking and fooling people.’ I wondered what was real and what was not…how these elements play differently on people’s perceptions…is the paranormal really paranormal, or is it just the way some people see reality? It set me on a lifelong journey to try to understand and connect with whatever else is out there.”
This obviously strong passion fueled his two non-fiction books and his upcoming show, TENNESSEE GHOSTS, based on his book of the same title—which seems like a natural precursor to HOLLYWOOD PARANORMAL FILMS. Both tomes combine non-fiction and supernatural history, essentially doing what many ghost-hunting shows attempt to do on camera: explore the myths and legends behind local hauntings. Regular FANGORIA contributor Debbie Rochon wrote about her contribution to the show in her Diary of the Deb feature in issues #302 and #303, outlining the shoot (the heat, the swamp, the spooks), but mainly focusing on a major conflict between herself and the other primary actress, Sebrina Siegel. “The ladies take viewers on a trip to the various locations I wrote about in the book,” O’Rear explains, “and interview investigators, tour guides, country music stars and others who have insight into the hauntings that happen there. They also do some of their own investigating inside the Old South Pittsburg Hospital and come back with some great evidence. It’s part documentary and part reality/investigation, focusing on some of the famous, and not so famous, hauntings that make up Tennessee’s paranormal history.
“We were very grateful for the fantastic two-part article Debbie wrote for FANGORIA,” he continues. “I’ve known Debbie for many years, and love her dearly. Her account of the shoot is enlightening, truthful and highly entertaining. As she wrote, it truly was a beast of a shoot in terms of the weather, hours and conditions we had to work under. We knew, when casting the film, that Debbie and Sebrina were going to be polar opposites, which we thought would bring an interesting dynamic to the movie. We didn’t, however, know exactly how drastically opposite these two women were going to be when the camera wasn’t rolling. I had actually forgotten about—or purposely blocked out—a lot of the conflict between those two ladies, but when Debbie’s article came out, my business partner Bryan Wilson and I watched the raw footage again, and we caught a lot of the conflicts Debbie wrote about on tape. Bryan rarely stopped the camera between takes.” Looks like we can expect supernatural terror and some unexpected psychological horror from TENNESSEE GHOSTS.
Meanwhile, HOLLYWOOD PARANORMAL FILMS is available from most on-line retailers and directly from Schiffer Books. You can find out more about O’Rear at his official website.