It’s a dreary, rainy night. A man in a dark coat and hat, carrying a briefcase, approaches a house, pausing as he’s silhouetted in the hazy light from a street lamp before approaching the front door — he’s about to help the occupant with a terrifying problem.
That scene — an homage to the 1973 horror movie “The Exorcist” — marks the debut of “SurrealEstate,” a Canadian-made series about a team of real estate agents who specialize in haunted houses, coming to CTV Sci-Fi Channel Friday. And it’s not the only TV series with a ghostly bent that’s come knocking this summer.
“Wellington Paranormal,” a CW spinoff of the “What We Do in the Shadows” vampire movie from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, features a couple of earnest but clueless New Zealand cops investigating supernatural phenomena, among them a houseful of groovy ghosts. The T+E series “Hotel Paranormal,” about haunted hostelries, just debuted its second season, with “Ghostbuster” and believer Dan Aykroyd doing the narration. And although it’s not available in Canada yet, buzz is building for Ryan Murphy’s new FX anthology series “American Horror Stories,” which is said to feature “a stand-alone ghost story” in each episode.
Later this year, CBS will debut the aptly named “Ghosts,” a remake of a British comedy about a couple who inherits an old mansion and its unruly phantom tenants.
Ghost stories, of course, are nothing new.
“It’s been a part of mankind since the beginning of history and (in) all cultures,” says Aykroyd. “I think the things that have more power than we can see in our human realm, things in the invisible world, have always fascinated us, because it’s entertaining and it’s thrilling.”
Canadian actor Tim Rozon (“Schitt’s Creek,” “Wynonna Earp”) — who plays Luke Roman, a specialist in “metaphysically engaged properties,” in “SurrealEstate” — speculates that human interest in another dimension is about wanting to believe there’s something after death.
If you had asked Rozon whether he believed in ghosts before he started working on “SurrealEstate” he would have answered “100 per cent nonbelief.”
But then guest stars on the Syfy drama, produced in St. John’s, N.L., by Toronto’s Blue Ice Pictures and Newfoundland’s Take the Shot Productions, reported an otherworldly presence in the Victorian mansion turned hotel where they were staying.
“I personally didn’t experience anything the entire time I was filming ‘SurrealEstate,’ but I would say 90 per cent or more of guest stars from out of town … experienced something that can only be described as ghosts,” Rozon says in a phone interview. “To the Newfoundland crew that was like, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, that place is haunted, there’s a lot of places that are haunted, my house is haunted.’ They’re just used to it,” he laughs.
An apparition apparently also paid a call on the “Wellington Paranormal” production in the New Zealand capital. During a Zoom media panel, actor Karen O’Leary says the team had the house where they filmed their ghost episode blessed and the woman who did it, “she was like, ‘There’s a woman in the spirit here and she’s really happy with what you’re doing.’ And we found out later that the woman that had died in that house was an avid theatre person.”
Clement describes the series as an homage to “The X-Files” mixed with police reality shows. But it’s more family friendly than his other supernatural TV show, the Toronto-shot “What We Do in the Shadows,” which will return to FX for its third season in September.
In “Wellington Paranormal’s” ghost episode, the 1970s-era spirits are more likely to invite you into the hot tub than scare you.
“SurrealEstate,” on the other hand, leans into the fright. Its ghosts are often spooky if not downright dangerous: ancient malevolent demons, houses that hold their occupants prisoner, spirits out for revenge.
It’s up to the team from the Roman Agency — owner Luke, tech specialist August (Maurice Dean Wint), researcher and ex-Catholic priest “Father” Phil (Adam Korson), office manager Zooey (Savannah Basley) and new agent Susan (Sarah Levy) — to evict the supernatural tenants so the properties will sell.
Luke Roman, Rozon says, “loves nothing more than selling houses and then, side note: he can speak to dead people and see them.”
But when it came to research, it was the real estate aspects rather than the paranormal that Rozon brushed up on.
“I learned a lot, like if a house is implied to be haunted, whether or not it’s haunted per se — I’m not saying a murder happened there or a death — but just the implication of it being haunted will impact the market value of that house in a negative way, which had you told me before I wouldn’t even believe that, but Luke Roman definitely knows.”
The BOO-b Tube
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968)
This haunted romance was my entry into ghost stories onscreen, first via TV reruns of the 1947 movie about a widow (Gene Tierney) who falls in love with the spirit of a sea captain (Rex Harrison), then the 1968 TV remake starring Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. Alas, the series seems to be lost to the mists of time, but you can rent the movie on Google Play, YouTube or Amazon.
American Horror Story (2011)
This Ryan Murphy-Brad Falchuk TV juggernaut — the 10th season debuts next month — began with a haunted house story, with Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton as a troubled couple who move with their teen daughter (Taissa Farmiga) into a creepy old house with a violent past. You can stream seasons 1 to 3 on Disney Plus and all seasons on FX Now.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
This adaptation of the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel is as much a psychological drama as a ghost story. It jumps back and forth from the terrifying past, in which the Crain family flees their haunted home, to the present, in which they’re still processing their trauma. The series was followed in 2020 by “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” based on the 1898 Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw.” Stream them on Netflix.
A couple (Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Charlotte Ritchie) inherits an old house from a distant relative of hers, not realizing the manor is already occupied by an octet of squabbling spirits from different historical eras. After the ghosts try and fail to knock off the wife, she can see and hear them, and the living and dead make a go of co-existing. Stream it on CBC Gem.
Truth Seekers (2020)
This is not my favourite, but if you like co-creators Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) you might enjoy this series in which Frost plays an IT repair guy who dabbles in paranormal investigation. Amazon cancelled it after one season, but you can still stream it on Prime Video.
“SurrealEstate” debuts on CTV Sci-Fi Channel July 16 at 10 p.m. and at CTV.ca and the CTV app.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION