Wednesday, July 23, 2008


History Channel - Original Air Date: July 23, 2008

Something strange is killing animals on ranches in Texas.  Monster Quest follows the mystery from Puerto Rico to the US, and conducts a battery of tests, looking for answers.  US witnesses describe a cross between a canine and a kangaroo, with razor-sharp fangs.  One rancher notices that something is killing her chickens, but not taking the bodies -- though the birds were emptied of blood.  And, eventually, she finds a road-kill body.  Chupacabras reports originated in Puerto Rico in 1995, but the creatures there were described differently than the Texas creature: in Puerto Rico, the chupacabra is a two-legged gargoyle with red eyes.  In Elmendorf, TX, rancher Devin McNally was losing chickens to chupacabras, up to 30 birds at a time.  McNally noticed a strange creature lurking around, but every time he went to fetch his gun, it would vanish.  So, he left a gun out, for the next time, and when he saw it again, he shot the creature dead.  Photos taken at the time show a strange gray creature with elephant-like skin and sharp teeth about the size of a medium-sized dog. McNally kept the bones, and a molar is sent for analysis.  Meanwhile, the show's experts decide to set a series of traps for the monster.  In Puerto Rico, hair samples are found from a chupacabra "nest."  The hair is also sent for analysis.  Suspicions are that the PR chupacabras may be rhesus monkeys.

Samples from the road-kill chupacabra are sent for analysis, while -- elsewhere on that woman's ranch -- the usual camera traps and a live cage trap are set up.  In 2005, two men found an odd, smoky gray creature under their house and shot it.  Photos show a strange hairless canine with crusty skin and huge teeth.  Some people have suggested that these Texas chupacabras may be dogs, coyotes, or wolves with mange.  One expert, examining photos, says that if it is mange, it's the wost she's ever seen.  The Puerto Rico hair samples turn up to be those of a dog -- perhaps a sick or unknown canine?  The Texas hair sample is also from a dog, and DNA testing proves some hair and (and the tooth) to be from dog, other hairs from coyote.  Skull measurements prove that the Elmendorf canine tooth is too large for a dog, too small for a coyote.  Based on photos and skeleton the expert suggests the animal is coyote, dog, fox, or perhaps coyote-dog hybrid.  The skin samples are, unfortunately, not good enough to test conclusively for mange.  All the traps, scents, animal calls, and cameras yield are a rabbit, some possums, and an armadillo.  A creature that mysteriously scratched a scented fence post goes uncaptured on camera.  Yet another strange, hairless body turns up.  Could this be the thing that scratched the post?  Alas, we may never know.  Though the testing proves that all the samples are from dogs or other canines, the witnesses remain unconvinced.  They insist that what they saw were the strangest animals they had ever seen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Working to Update My Site

Over the last week, I've been working behind the scenes to give my main site a complete make-over, changing it to a more dynamic and easily updated site -- more like my blog, the Uncanny Radio blog, or Howls & Growls. The switch-over should take place fairly soon, though it will take a while for me to import all of the content from the old site (book links, interviews, etc.) to the new one. Keep checking back on my existing blogs for updates. Or why not subscribe to the blog feeds? It's easy. Just follow the subscription link on the blog page! That way, you'll be able to get all my ongoing news without looking for it.

More soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

UFO: The Best Evidence Ever (Caught on Tape)

Fox Reality Channel - Original Air Date: 1997

This review will be long, due to the number of clips in the program.

This show purports to show genuine UFO films showing unknown craft, either military or alien.  It begins with the Phoenix lights, showing the footage that has been proved (in UFOs Over Phoenix) to be military flares.  Despite this, the show presents animations showing the "object" to be over a mile wide.  The show then moves on to a glowing ball of light reportedly over Area 51.  Then there's a very hokey looking tape supposedly showing a UFO changing shape and making "impossible" maneuvers, again from Area 51.  (It looks clearly fake to me -- and the "shape changing" takes place during cuts.)  Then we move onto Gulf Breeze, with photos and videos -- including one which is clearly a bug moving by the camera, and a ball turning into a silver streak that could be a bead of water (or mercury) on glass.  A cylinder-shaped object is more convincing, but is followed by another "Christmas tree" shaped craft Gulf Breeze photo taken by the same witness.  (For me, one filmed encounter could be chance; two seems more likely a hoax.  If it were that easy, how come scientists and news crews can't do it?)

A film from Ecuador (1995) seems to show a flying object with rotating lights, like a "glowing chandelier."  (One expert opines that it could be a miniature.)  In 1990, a Brazilian craft seems to flash strange patterns in the sky.  In 1990, formations of UFOs were photographed above an East German nuclear plant. Despite multiple angles, it's still impossible to figure out what the objects are (they look like flares).  But if they were there for hours, why isn't there better film?  A Mexican film seems to show a UFO following a formation of jets.  A similar helicopter sighting looks more like a bright star and video error to me.  The show then shows some NASA footage, including 1969 moon landing "orbs" -- which NASA (rightly) contends are reflections.  See the recent review of NASA on UFO Hunters, which also debunked the next clip in this show, for more info.

Next, we see the debunked crop circle formation video (Is It Real? Crop Circles), and a supposed landing in West Carlton, Canada reported by "Guardian."  As usual, the show's "expert" thinks the landing is not a hoax; an RCMP spokesman believes it is merely a helicopter.  At least the show's experts figure out the crop circle film to be a hoax.  Another Gulf Breeze film seems to me to show a reflection, though "experts" claim it is a disc that accelerated at amazing speed.  Following this, a Miami film shows a glowing UFO, but despite the expert's opinion that this is real, this film is clearly a fake done with reflections.  A Juarez Mexico film UFO seems saucer shaped, but displays similar lights to aircraft -- which, indeed is what they prove to be: blimps, as is a similar film from NY.

We move on to the mass sightings in 1991 Mexico.  These films, though intriguing, have been proven to be stars or other normal objects distorted by camera artifacts -- but not by this show, which declares them all real.  Another Mexican video hound specializes in photographing UFOs near airplanes, apparently generating fear in pilots -- but not enough interest for Mexican authorities to follow the photographer and find out how he has so many sightings.  Is a video of 24 lights in formation trying to send us a message?  (Is the message that the objects are birds?)  The show then goes on to trash the Air Force's "final report" on Roswell and all other government UFO cover-ups.  Amazingly, the show then ends with Jonathan Frakes (the narrator) pleading that people not make hoaxes for profit, to gain attention, or for kicks.  Yet, with shows like this egging them on, hoaxers are getting better all the time.

This show is an exemplar of what is wrong with the "science" of UFO investigation; too many people with no knowledge of optics or stagecraft who, in the words of the X-Files, "want to believe."  As a result, we get a lot of bogus tapes quickly declared genuine -- and then never refuted.  Until the UFO-hunting community is willing to declare a fake a fake, they have no chance of ever being taken seriously by science.  And it should be no surprise when science asks these so-called researchers, "Is this the best you've got?"  If you want to see pretty UFO pictures, this is the show for you.  But don't believe one second of it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

MONSTER QUEST: The Black Beast of Exmoor

History Channel - Original Air Date: 7/8/08

What is the beast stalking the lands near Exmoor, England?  Witnesses describe a large, black, feline creature.  But there are no large cats currently native to England.  The Scottish Wildcat is "only" four feet long, and it's range is limited to Scotland.  But, in 2007 alone there were more than 2000 sightings of the beast.  Can the creature be an escaped pets?  Large cats were legal to own in Britain until 1976, and releasing them was not illegal until 1981.  Livestock losses in the 1980s became so serious that the government sent in troops -- but there were no cats captured or killed.  A recent kill, though, reveals telltale marks of cat predation -- prey killed at the neck, rather than dragged down as dogs or wolves would do.

The History Channel assembles a team, including a big cat rescue expert, and ventures out.  Because of Britain's strict gun laws, they will be depending on their wits and experience to keep them save.  One expert believes the creature to be merely local legend.  But there are pictures and even some video seeming to show a big cat.  And there are hair and scat samples for testing, too.  The team sets up the ubiquitous History Channel camera traps, and a scent lure as well.  There are lots of eyewitnesses, but are they reliable?  One expert sets up an experiment to test eyewitnesses size, color, and shape.  They use cut-outs ranging from the size of domestic cats to the size of a puma or cougar.  They test the cut-outs at 50', 100', and 150' away with a 5-second glimpse.  The test subjects do well at judging the size and shape of cat -- suggesting that people may really be seeing large cats.

But the show's big cat expert thinks the video is of a domestic cat, and the large paw print belongs to a dog.  Experts split on the film of a dear carcass with puncture wounds.  The scat and hair samples are not from a big cat, either.  The camera trap turns up only a badger.  Even the scars on a mauled teenager are unconvincing. Despite the sightings, there is still no poof of a mystery cat in England.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

MONSTER QUEST: Ohio Grassman

History Channel - Original Air Date: 6/20/08

In Ohio, eyewitnesses continue to report a strange, bogey-man like creature known as the grassman.  Sightings of the creature date back to the 1860s, when a man and his daughter claimed to be attacked by the creature.  The creature may, in fact, be bigfoot by another name.  A mysterious skull found in the wilderness proves to be that of a baboon -- possibly escaped from captivity.  But a baboon doesn't resemble a seven-foot-tall grassman.  A woman claims to have seen the monster in her yard, and an investigator claims to have found an igloo-like grass hut, or nest, on February 19, 1995.  Investigators bring in small surveillance helicopters to survey a park in the "sasquatch triangle."  At night, they intend to use a thermal camera to try and find the grassman. (Why not use real helicopters?)  A man named Keating has a tape that may show a grassman in the background; the tape is given to an expert for analysis.  A 2002 print of a hand may be of grassman, and another expert is called.  Investigator Cook puts up a fake bigfoot decoy to try and lure a real one out of the woods.  Then he does some wood knocking in an attempt to signal the creature.  When the knocking fails, he tries bigfoot calls, but that fails, too.  In 2007, though, he thinks he captured a bigfoot cry on tape.  That cry, too, goes off to an expert, but the expert reaches no conclusion as to what made the sound.  While winter camping, a couple saw a sinister creature lurking just beyond the light of their campfire.  A truck driver also had a compelling sighting.

The hand print expert concludes the cast is of a non-human primate similar to (or possibly belonging to) a gorilla; it is not a fake.  The video doesn't have enough information to reveal what the moving figure in the background is.  An attempt to recreate the woven "nest" reveals it would have take a long time to build.  The camera traps and decoy find nothing.  Nor does the helicopter catch the elusive creature.  After another expensive snipe hunt for bigfoot (I think this is at least the 4th bigfoot show in the series), perhaps MQ would consider a longer, more concerted expedition.  Otherwise, I fear that their continuing efforts are doomed to get the same disappointing results.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


SciFi Channel -- Original Air Date: 7/9/08

GHI starts it's new season by going to New Zealand to investigate Larnach, a huge castle-like manor with a tragic history.  The team, Rob, Andy, Donna, Barry, Brian, and now Dustin, too, set up the usual panoply of Ghost Hunters equipment and get to work.  (Missing is the woman, whose name slips my mind, who always seemed uneasy last season.) Immediately, the team starts hearing voices, seeing shadows, and feeling cold spots.  Heating a table (to mimic sunlight), they discover the wood smells sweet and the fabric like smoke -- debunking some reported "ghostly" smells.  They then try to provoke paranormal activity by playing music -- which reports suggest may have a connection to the haunting.  Since Barry is in charge of that, they seem to get whispery results.  (Barry is good with noises and shadows.)  Brian and Dustin debunk a "push" down the steps, by discovering one step has a lip that could trip the unwary.  After that, Brian (as usual) starts to see shadowy figures.  The ballroom seems to have rattling dishes and strange EMF spikes.  Andy finds sub-floor wiring that explains the EMF.  One of the team's many cameras seems to pick up a figure in the ballroom.  A light in the basement turns itself on -- but they discover that to be a motion detector.

Reviewing the evidence, the team has audio of plates mysteriously rattling and other glassware tinkling, with no obvious cause.  Their new visible/IR/UV camera was set up in the ballroom, and a still photo of the set up seems to show a mysterious face.  (Though it looks pretty hazy and unconvincing to me.)  As the team tries to reveal the evidence, the castle's fire alarm goes off.  It has gone off mysteriously before -- coincidental with important dates for the house.  Because of their personal experiences and the evidence, the team declares Larnach Castle haunted.

At the start of it's second season, this show continues to amuse.  Though it does have several team members who are prone to hearing things and seeing shadows, it also has some of TAPS best debunkers in Andy, Dustin, and Rob.

Monday, July 7, 2008


History Channel - Original Air Date 7/2/08

Are rats growing larger and more aggressive?  Some people claim to have seen rats as big as cats -- 24 inches more more long.  Prehistoric fossils show that rodents were once much larger -- one in Uruguay was as large as a small car.  Monster Quest goes looking for modern giant rats in -- Where else? -- New York City, interviewing eyewitnesses and using "rat cams" to track their prey.  The largest rat on record is only (!) a foot long, though a picture from the West Coast purports to show a 2 foot monster.  Unfortunately, the photo lacks scale, so who knows how big it actually was?  In 1972, a garbage strike set packs of rats loose in the NYC streets.  An attack on a woman prompted police and exterminators to take out that huge colony over the course of a week, in which "bags" of rats were hauled out of a large pit the creatures called home.  Homeless people sheltering in the train tunnels beneath the city have some scary tales as well.  One claims to have seen a rat as big as a medium-sized dog, and tales from WWI indicate killer rats preyed on fallen soldiers.  In the city, an exterminator turns up a black & white hybrid rat -- from escaped domestic stock.  The search for the giant rat proves less successful -- the rat spy wriggles free from rat cam, and the expert hunter doesn't find any giants, either.  One expert opines that people fear rats, and New Yorkers exaggerate the size of their local rodents -- in NYC, even the rats have to be bigger and better than anywhere else.

Truth or Scare: Wolfman

Discovery Kids - Original Air Date: 2001

This episode looks at the facts and science behind the tradition of werewolves.  The show  focuses on the case of Gilles Garnier, a 16th century "lycanthrope," though it also mentions the famous Mexican circus performers who resemble werewolves because of a rare genetic condition.  The program mentions several other historical werewolf cases, and looks for rational explanations.  Mental illness seems a likely culprit, though why people choose to believe themselves wolves rather than other animals remains unclear.  Ergot (rye fungus) poisoning producing hallucinations also seems a likely culprit, as does brain malfunction due to malnutrition.  In the end, the show shies away from any supernatural explanation of the cases.  No mention is made of modern werewolf or manwolf sightings.  (And there is no appearance, for once, by Uncanny Radio's own Linda Godfrey.  More's the pitty.)

New Editions of Sullivan & Rabe Books

This summer, Walkabout Publishing will be producing new editions of books by Stephen D. Sullivan & Jean Rabe:

Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms (anthology edited by Sullivan & Rabe)
This and That and Tales About Cats by Jean Rabe
Luck o' the Irish by Stephen D. Sullivan

The books will be completely re-typeset and reformatted, and at least two of them are expected to have lower cover prices than the previous edition.  All three books should be out before Labor Day, 2008.

Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms is the first book in the popular Blue Kingdoms anthology series.  This and That and Tales About Cats is a collection of Rabe's short stories.  Luck o' the Irish is a hard-boiled modern fantasy set in Las Vegas.

Visit Walkabout Publishing.