Welcome back to DEAD Time. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and sometimes things really do go bump in the night. The paranormal is often portrayed in horror movies for maximum dramatic effect, which doesn’t quite reflect the reality of what it’s like to have a paranormal experience. We watch horror movies about ghosts and demonic possessions because we like to be scared, but don’t you sometimes wonder what paranormal phenomena is like in real life?
To answer that question, this month, I was excited to talk with actress, paranormal investigator, and self-described “rock n rollin’, death defying witch” Susan Slaughter. Susan has starred in several horror movies such as Slay Belles, Bliss, and The Dawn. Susan also gives her expert opinion on videos of unexplained phenomena on Travel Channel’s popular television show Paranormal Caught on Camera and has also appeared on shows like Syfy’s Ghost Hunters International.
Turn off the lights and read on, as Bloody Disgusting chats with Susan Slaughter about the uncanny parallels between acting in genre film and paranormal investigating, séances, finding out James Wan is a fan of her work, and a lot more.
Bloody Disgusting: You just got back from an event in London where you teamed up with artist Daniella Batsheva for an exhibition in a haunted crypt. That sounds very cool! Can you tell me what that experience was like?
Susan Slaughter: The event took place in London in St. Pancras, specifically in the St. Pancras Crypt. It’s a protected historical site of England run by the church of England. It’s a crypt that was built in the mid-1800s that holds over 500 bodies. It’s such a unique space and I think what they’re doing with it is really wonderful. Since the crypt is no longer taking the deceased and they’re no longer holding funerals or memorials there, they decided to open up a space for artists. Daniella and I have been good friends and we collaborated on events and ideas throughout our friendship. She is currently located in Israel and working between Israel and England these days. So does a lot of spooky art and works a lot in the horror genre and alternative lifestyles and does a lot of branding and things with her art. So, she wanted to do a proper art event showcasing specifically stories and lore about the paranormal in England. And what better way to do it than inside of a haunted crypt [laughs]!
So, she asked me if I’d be interested in joining forces with her on that because she wanted me to be there. She was like, “Look, you’ve spent a lot of time investigating places like this.” I think she was happy that I went with her because being the sole showrunner by herself in a crypt for an entire week would have probably been a little too spooky [laughs]. So, I joined with her to do a paranormal lecture there and do a meet and greet for a lot of the people who reach out to me through social media and email. I’m based here in the U.S., and I have a lot of paranormal enthusiasts and fans throughout the UK, so it was an opportunity for me to meet those people who I’m penpalling with all the time. It was the first time I went over to England to do an event.
BD: You’re an actress, a paranormal investigator, and a practicing witch. When did you first become interested in the paranormal, and which came first, acting or paranormal investigating?
SS: Some of my earliest memories of childhood since I was 5 years old involved supernatural encounters. So, as a child, I questioned those experiences. I’d wake up to shadow figures in my room; I saw the spirit of a young man walk through my window; and I would see these light anomalies as a child. It was kind of scary for me growing up with these kinds of experiences. Luckily, I grew up with parental figures who didn’t instill fear towards me. When I saw the light anomalies, my mom would always console me and say, “Oh, those are your angels.” She would always use a biblical reference for my paranormal encounters. When I saw the ghost of a child, my biological father was like, “Oh, seeing things like that run in our family.” So, they told me I had a gift and I had angels and that it was part of being human. When I was about thirteen, my father gave me my first tool to kind of console me, I guess, when I was having experiences at night. He gave me a K2 Meter, so that was my first tool. He said, “The next time you have an encounter, turn on this meter so that you can have proof that what you’re experiencing is real.” So, that was my first introduction into being a paranormal investigator, but to this day I’ve been having paranormal experiences.
I started acting in school; I went to school for acting. So, I started off doing costume design for theater, doing theater productions, stage, lighting, props, all of that stuff. Eventually, I began working onstage as an actor. So, acting has been something I’ve done since middle school. I was always in theater programs, and I went to school for theater production and costume design. I grew up a theater kid, but parallel to that my hobby outside of school and college was paranormal investigating. I was on a team in Miami, Florida, which is where I’m from, called The League of Paranormal Investigators. I was investigating late nights with my paranormal team and going to college during the day, so they were parallel pursuits. Now that I look back on it, I’m grateful for the education I got at university because it sort of groomed me for the future position I had that I didn’t even foresee, which was to do paranormal research in front of an audience.
The acting and the paranormal research merged into me being a paranormal investigator onscreen and on camera. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles to be closer to production when I was working for Syfy channel, I told someone what I went to school for and someone said, “Hey, I know a horror director who would be really interested in casting you in a film.” I ended up doing my first film with the director Spooky Dan Walker, and since then I’ve been working with people like Darren Lynn Bousman and Mike Mendez. Those are just a couple of people who have scooped me up and put me in a few of their features, which has been really fun to do. It kind of brought me back to my path of what I went to school for. It’s like preparing for something that you don’t know what it is, but then it all starts to make sense throughout your life.
BD: You also do events where you hold séances. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
SS: I started veering into Spiritualism recently. I still love investigating but I find that a lot of people do that because they’re trying to prove to others that the supernatural exists. And how I got into investigating to begin with was more to prove to myself what the phenomenon was because of the personal experiences that I had. So, me getting into investigating was never to prove anything to anyone other than myself. So now I feel like I’ve graduated beyond that and now I’m starting to understand more about the spiritual realm, and I wanted to harness it in a more personal way. Now I’m not really trying to prove anything to sceptics or via scientific method anymore. Now I’m trying to harness spirits for other people in a personal and more emotional setting. So yes, I’ve been invited by one of the biggest spiritual conventions in the world called Conscious Life Expo to host séances. It’s something that I started doing with them and now I do with private clients as well.
Essentially with the séance, it’s a little bit of a history lesson of how spiritualism began and the origin of using spirit boards and I try to make it an educational moment for those who come to our séances, but we do utilize all different forms of communication on a spiritual level. Other than, for instance, using a Ouija board, I also try to teach people to scry using a pendulum and pendulum board. The tactics on harnessing your own psychic energy to have that come through you as a vessel during a séance, right? Because I truly believe that we are conduits for the spirit world. So, we can have our energy amplified in a way that manifests the spirit world around us. So, I teach people how to do that in my séances, and people have been very responsive to it. I also have found that I just enjoy a lot more having these spiritual counseling sessions with people; helping them connect with loved ones, or people that they need closure with in the afterworld. It’s more fulfilling to me now than an investigation.
BD: I’ve talked to other people in the paranormal community about the crossover between horror and the paranormal because I think the intersection of horror and the paranormal is really interesting. As someone who has starred in several horror movies and is also a paranormal investigator, what are your thoughts on the connections between horror and the paranormal?
SS: You know, as an actor, I’m going to be honest; it’s pretty unconflicted. I personally love the genre. I love horror. I’ve loved horror my whole life. My personal favorite types of horror are more like sci-fi horror. I like movies that push the boundaries like alien invasion. My least favorite horror subgenre is zombies and honestly paranormal [laughs]. Because with the paranormal horrors it’s so misleading and they are the purveyor of fear of something that I’m trying to bridge the gap between the living and the other side, and so many people fear the paranormal and that’s because of horror films, and how they portray paranormal phenomenon. They demonize it, so I kind of don’t like that about that genre. But I love horror in other aspects.
Give me a Cronenberg film any day. I will take body horror or sci-fi all day long, I love it but then I find myself watching these paranormal films and I cringe [laughs]! This is why it instills such a fear and is very misleading. You know, I just auditioned for a movie playing a possessed person in a horror film only to perpetuate this issue [laughs]. So, it’s conflicting! I have to find myself a little bit and be like that’s why I’m very particular when I get roles that I’m a character in that they don’t put me in the film as Susan Slaughter, you know what I mean? Maybe want me as myself in anything, you’re going to get me. I’m not going to be feeding any type of anything as myself in a disingenuous way. So, if you’re going to cast me, I’m going to be a character. And I’m usually cast as the witch or the villain. I always play the bad guy; I always play the asshole [laughs].
BD: Those are the fun parts!
SS: Exactly! There would be no plot without those characters. So, I find them to be the most fun. So, I do sit, and I do battle with that a little bit. I love horror films but at the same time the average person watching, let’s say if I get cast in this movie as the demonic, possessed person. I’m portraying and perpetuating the fear of the paranormal. Sometimes it’s hard to sit in between that world a little bit, and on top of that another thing that’s really hard for me is that when I am genuinely myself as an investigator, or a spiritualist, people are like, “She’s an actor. She’s not genuine because she’s acting.” It gets a little hairy sometimes. So, I try to sit on the fine line where that message between the truth and my spirituality doesn’t get convoluted with the fact that I’m an actor too. I can be both things, you know? Human beings are multifaceted individuals. It’s a hard thing for me to sit and talk about sometimes because of what I do on both ends of the spectrum.
BD: That’s such an interesting perspective. One of the reasons I wanted to start this column is so that we can talk about the reality of the paranormal versus what you see in horror movies. I hope that these conversations can be educational when I talk to people like you. What you see in a horror movie isn’t what the paranormal is really like.
SS: Right! When the first The Conjuring movie came out, my friend Mike Mendez said, “James Wan really, really would love to meet you. He loves watching the ghost shows.” So, I got invited to the premiere of The Conjuring and I went with Mike, and I met James Wan. I also met Andrea Perron, who is the eldest daughter of the Perron family, who The Conjuring is based on. Little did I know that I was meeting someone I was going to be working with in the future. So, I was sitting at a table after the premiere talking with Andrea and James Wan. He was very honest with me. He told me he did take some liberties with the film, basically to make it entertaining.
As I got to know Andrea, she was telling me more about her experience and some of the most interesting things that happened had nothing to do with the investigation of Ed and Lorraine Warren at their family home. The whole thing was based around Ed and Lorraine Warren and what they thought was going on in the home. The entire Perron family, and I, don’t really agree with the Warren method of investigation [laughs]. A lot of paranormal investigators don’t agree with the Warren’s method because everything is seen through a religious lens. Later on in life, I ended up working with the Perron family investigating the actual home and working with Andrea on other projects. It’s much more vast, the things that have happened to that family, than The Conjuring films and the investigation of Ed and Lorraine Warren ever touched on. So, it’s interesting to see how that has been conveyed and perceived by cinema and the people who watch those movies and it’s one of the biggest horror franchises out there.