It's twilight as Zak Bagans stands outside the old Linda Vista Community Hospital on L.A.'s Eastside and explains how he knows it's haunted, which is why a film crew is inside at this very moment.
The hospital has been the site of various movie and TV shoots, including End of Days, Day of the Dead 2 and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. Tonight, however, it's ghosts, not actors, the cameras are after.
Bagans is the host, a judge and an adviser on Paranormal Challenge, a new reality series that pits teams of paranormal sleuths against each other. By turning ghost hunting into a head-to-head competition, it ups the ante on another reality show, Ghost Adventures, which Bagans also stars in.
"This was one of the most active areas that we've captured evidence, visually," Bagans says of the old Boyle Heights hospital. For his partner, Nick Groff, "This was the most terrifying encounter he has ever had in the four years we've been investigating full-time. We were down on the first floor, which was the [emergency room], and he saw a full-body apparition of a woman patient in a gown, staring right at him.
Nick is a very mellow guy — it takes a lot for this guy to react — and I've never seen somebody more terrified in my life."
So now Bagans has returned. Later this night, two teams of paranormal hunters will enter the hospital to look for unusual activities. They'll be scored on their ability to turn up convincing evidence — hence the name of the show, Paranormal Challenge.
Team A will spend two hours in the former psychiatric ward of the hospital, attempting to capture as much proof of ghostly activity as possible. Team B would be doing the same in the main part of the hospital. At the end of round one, the judges brief the contestants on their progress and the teams switch locations, spending another two hours.
The ghost-hunting equipment then is locked away to ensure there's no tampering with the evidence. All hands return the following morning, and the teams evaluate their findings. The aim is to pick out their two best audio and visual pieces of evidence to prove paranormal activity.
Should either team be able to conjure a hospital patient from beyond the grave, most likely it will take first prize. But assuming the results aren't quite that clear, Paranormal Challenge judges will determine a winner by analyzing each group's approach, as well as its ability to work as a team and to use the history of the location.
So just how is Bagans qualified for all this?
He says a spirit moved him. "It was the worst time of my life. I was living in Detroit, Mich., I saw a full-body apparition of a woman standing in front of my bed that would scream my full name, which is Zachary, seven nights straight.
"I was working a job at AT&T Wireless," he says with an eye roll. "Ten years ago now. But that experience — me looking at her and her looking at me — changed me."
Bagans says a lot of the spirits he encounters are trapped. "I hate saying, 'Let's use a movie' here, but the movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze is very accurate. ... He wants to let his girl know that he's OK, that he can still contact her, but he just doesn't know how to find enough energy to do that.
"I think a lot of spirits don't know how to do that. They need energy. Sometimes when you feel numb or tingly, that spirit is trying to use your energy."
That's one theory, anyway. When it comes to the existence of ghosts or the idea of an afterlife, many theories exist. Another is that there are two kinds of hauntings: intelligent hauntings and residual hauntings. Bagans explains the former as a conscious spirit trying to communicate with you, and the latter as an echo of sorts, which indicates energy that once existed in a particular space.
Bagans also says there's a difference between ghosts and demonic entities. "I had a full-on exorcism performed on me at Bobby Mackey's Music World," he says. "That shocked me."
Of course skeptics abound when it comes to the paranormal, but Bagans doesn't seem concerned with convincing the masses. "There's going to be a day when science is going to prove this," he says.