[show=theocculterers size=large]Embedda-Scare-A-Thon getting too intense for you? Don’t worry, today’s installment doesn’t aim to terrify.
Parodying Ghost Hunters and other paranormal series isn’t very fresh — Bumps in the Night has been doing it since last February on Strike TV, and more recently Blair Witch Project co-creator Ed Sanchez released his own spin on the idea.
But that didn’t stop web series pioneer Hayden Black (Goodnight Burbank, Abigail’s Teen Diary) from putting together The Occulterers, a limited-run Babelgum series about a bumbling team of paranormal investigators exploring a castle haunted by Count Vampire (Camden Toy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The concept of a vampire who haunts things might seem a little ridiculous. But it’s not the worst thing about this series.
Black is considered a pioneer because he was one of the first in this space to prove it’s possible to produce sustainable and popular content that’s truly meant for the web, and we’re looking forward to his sci-fi comedy musical The Cabonauts. But The Occulterers was created, sold, cast, written, shot and edited in about three weeks, according to the site Podcasting News, and that short time frame sadly shows. Characters are underdeveloped; jokes are unpolished; episode pacing is flabby; and the production, flatly shot against a poorly integrated green screen, isn’t up to par with either Black’s previous work or current web standards.
In Occulterers, Black takes a supporting role as a Belgian psychic (who’s inexplicably wearing a kilt), and James C. Leary as Kevin is a compelling, if slightly dopey, male lead. Bimbo-ish Chelsea (Amy Kline) is alarmingly pointless, yet she’s also given much of the exposition, presumably because hearing it delivered by a ditz will make it funny.
In one of the show’s more meta moments, Kevin admits that Chelsea was brought onto add some sex appeal to The Occulterers after Jennica (Ellen Sandweiss from The Evil Dead), a female scientist over the age of 40, started experiencing hot flashes. (Any feminism points earned by including a female scientist over the age of 40 as a character were lost thanks to that joke.)
Each episode of Occulterers is accompanied by a mock “live feed” from the castle, which viewers are encouraged to watch so that they might discover — and Tweet about — spooky goings-on. The live feed seems a bit lame at conception, as you’re essentially being invited to watch an hour of a still background with only occasional interruptions, but as I write this I’m letting it play in the background, and while the sound effects are a bit derivative of those scary tapes you play at Halloween parties, they’re pretty effective (especially if you’ve recently seen Paranormal Activity).
Babelgum is throwing a lot of promotion behind the show, and providing shout-outs to Twitter responders in the actual episodes is pretty novel. Also, Los Angeles residents can participate in two separate flash mob events taking place this week, where participants who say their Twitter name to the camera will be in the next season of The Occulterers — which will run, one presumes, in the lead-up to next year’s Halloween. I’ll look forward to it. Because hopefully, with more time to develop and write this concept, there’ll be some real comedy involved.
Scare-o-meter: 2 — Technically, as a comedy Occulterers isn’t aiming for any scares. But points given for the creepy ambiance of the live feed segments.