Writer/director Tony Cadwell’s intriguing Balsam: A Paranormal Investigation documents a ghost hunt conducted at a southern hotel by a team led by Kane Hodder. Hodder is a celebrity in the horror sphere as he played Jason in the final four Friday the 13th movies. Despite being the lowest-grossing entries in the franchise, Hodder has made a career on the horror convention circuit as fans want an autograph from Jason.
As a fan of the actor’s last turn in the mask (Jason X), I was interested to see him at work as a paranormal investigator. Here Hodder is tackling the historic Grand Old Lady Hotel, which is nestled in the smokey mountains in Balsam, North Carolina. The hotel has had a long history of unexplained occurrences, with many workers fleeing. Speculation is the hauntings started with murdered Native American families and then added layers as the ghost attacks increased. In haunted house terms, this hotel is a mountain, not a hill. And Hodder and the rest of his crew of ghosthunters, including friendly witch Amanda Hannah, Mark A. Richardson. and Maeve Ybanez, are ready to climb.
Balsam: A Paranormal Investigation starts with some very spooky footage of doors opening by themselves. While I understand that this isn’t a horror movie but a documentary capturing unexplained phenomena, it helps to start with some good ghost gravy. For 48 hours, the team searches for signs of specters. A ghost communication tool called an Ovilus is put to extensive use. It takes impulses on the ghost wave and converts them into words, allowing the investigators a limited form of communication. Often, the device is silent, but in certain places where the most activity is said to have happened, it’ll activate. What the ghosts say through the Ovilus is beyond cryptic, sounding a lot of times like R.E.M. lyrics. When Hannah is strapped to a spirit box in a sensory deprivation room, the Ovilus starts to deliver some creepy replies to what she’s relaying.
“…documents a ghost hunt conducted at a southern hotel by a team led by Kane Hodder.”
None of this prepares the crew for the closed-off section of the hotel, where a malevolent force named Henry is located. There is a locked storeroom where the harmful spirit is bound by black stones placed over the doors. The hotel owner doesn’t want the team in there, as people have been hurt by Henry before. Hodder wants to go in, but is that a good idea?
What is refreshing about Hodder’s style of paranormal investigation is his refusal to speculate about the meanings of the occurrences he documents. Instead of building theories of these beyond random events, he tirelessly hunts down more. It is obvious what Caldwell shows here isn’t bullshit, as it would be so easy to start flinging yourself around screaming a ghost got ahold of you on the camera. It is remarkable how many unexplained happenings crop up in such a short time.
Balsam: A Paranormal Investigation is a gold mine for enthusiasts of the paranormal and occult. For the more causal watcher, it is still quite engaging, as no one overhypes the events as definitive proof of the existence of specters. For any fan of the Friday the 13th series, craving some more Hodder goodness, then the documentary delivers in a big way, whether you believe in ghosts or not.
"…a gold mine for enthusiasts of the paranormal and occult."