Get ready for some bone-chilling real-life tales when Syfy heads to summer school with its new paranormal docu-series, School Spirits, which scares up ghost stories from schools and universities across the country. Executive producers Seth Jarrett and Julie Insogna-Jarrett admit that some of the stories spooked even them, despite executive-producing Celebrity Ghost Stories.
"All of the stories are based on firsthand accounts," said Seth Jarrett. "They're all students or faculty or alumni. The story is built around their first-person storytelling."
"And the re-creations are meant to illustrate and dramatize their experiences," said his wife and fellow executive producer, Julie Insogna Jarrett. "So we took a very cinematic approach to the re-creations that we did on the show. While these are firsthand stories, we wanted them to feel like movies. So it's factually true, but cinematically, filmatically visual."
"We really wanted the audience to be able to go along for the ride. And these are amazing, compelling stories. You know, made more compelling by the fact that they're true," he said.
However, what makes this more than just another installment of Celebrity Ghost Stories without the celebrities is that "it takes place at a time in peoples' lives that is such a life-changing time for them ... going to school, meeting new people, being away from home," said Seth Jarrett. "There was such a great level of tension to find stories that existed at this time in people's lives. I mean, we've always said internally, you go to college, it's supposed to be the best time of your life, and then the last thing you ever think will happen is that you are haunted. And in some cases haunted by terrible, evil, violent spirits. ... This is supposed to be that best time in your life, and it's not."
School Spirits comes from the Jarretts and executive producer Mark Burnett and delves into real cases of school hauntings by way of personal stories that have been backed up by multiple-person points of view, police reports or other evidence.
"It was always important for us to bring in other voices who could validate this information. I think many, many of the paranormal shows out there, while they're fun to watch, they rely on one story, one person's voice. And we knew it was always important for us, and especially for the network, to bring as much of this information and multiple voices in there," he said.
"So it's not a coincidence that a lot of our stories will be multiple sorority sisters telling similar stories in the house, or roommates in a dorm who saw the same thing. You know, roommates who haven't actually seen each other for 25 or 30 years, we brought them in to do these interviews, and you know, without a missing a beat they tell the same story note for note. And it's pretty amazing, pretty fascinating to listen to."
The six-episode first season kicks off tonight with a trip to the University of Michigan, where a group of sorority sisters find themselves stalked by a sinister presence in their new sorority house. Other episodes will travel to SUNY Geneseo in New York, Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Eastern Kentucky University.
For the episode at University of Michigan, "we absolutely loved the story. It has such a great balance of creepiness and nervousness, but also resolves in a really interesting, unexpected way," said Seth Jarrett. "I love the fact that this particular story is really rooted in the history of the school. That's always something that's really fun, that journey back in time."
In the episode that explores paranormal events at Sweet Briar College, an all-girl school, "they believe that the spirit who is haunting this group of women in the school is actually the daughter of the founder of the university from about 150 years ago," said Seth Jarrett.
"What is interesting about that story is it starts off with the women in the university believing that there is one spirit, a friendly spirit, who is haunting them. And then a second spirit appears later on in the experiences who has much different motives, more dangerous, violent motives, to the point where one of the women is almost strangled to death by this spirit," he said.
"Slippery Rock University, in an interesting way, is almost the bookend to University of Michigan in that it's a fraternity story. And we have several members of the fraternity, and they believe they are haunted by also a violent spirit, a man who about 150 years ago was actually hung not too far from their fraternity. And several violent things occur in the fraternity house."
However, both executive producers admit that the story that affected them the most was the one at Geneseo, which airs next week on June 27.
"The focus of that story, his name is Chris. And he really went through an emotional journey throughout the course of this paranormal experience. His experience lasted over a longer period of time," he said. "And while there were people in other stories who were violently attacked, some of those experiences happened fairly quickly. This was much more of an emotional journey. And I really felt for him when we were with him."
Nearly three decades later, "That it is something that is still very, very difficult for him to talk about. And something that will be with him for the rest of his life and that's pretty amazing. That was a long time ago. But I think it's easy to see yourself in him. He's just your average student that's trying to do something. And he witnesses this thing, and it will not leave him alone, and it brings him to this point. So I really felt for him. And being with him was a pretty fascinating experience," he said.
"There's lots of scary moments in the series. But that was one where I think I felt the most emotionally connected to him."
That connection to the audience is what makes the series work, he said. "In the 20 years that Julie and I have been doing this, no matter what kind of show we do, whether it's a docusoap, a reality show, a documentary film, it's always about stories. That's what makes great TV."
Here's a look at School Spirits:
School Spirits premieres tonight on Syfy at 10 p.m. ET.
Are you ready to go back to school?