Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans has been bringing ghost hunting to the masses for well over a decade now with his long-running series Ghost Adventures. The spooky fan favorite made the jump from TRVL Channel to streaming service discovery+ earlier this year, and when we caught up with Bagans back in January he said was eager to push the boundaries of what the streamer could do for the spooky, reality-based programming that he and his fellow Ghost Adventures crew have perfected over hundreds of episodes.
While fans looking for proof of the paranormal can find the entire run of Ghost Adventures and its many special episodes on discovery+, as well as Bagans-produced spinoff series like Destination Fear and Ghost Adventures: Aftershocks, the change of venue has also allowed Bagans to dive into previously unchartered territory for his brand of content: fictionalized storytelling.
The Haunted Museum is Bagans's new scripted anthology series that features episodes inspired by relics on display in paranormal investigator's actual Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. Produced in collaboration with horror master Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) and featuring exclusive Hitchockian commentary from Bagans at the top of each episode, the series kicked off on October 2 with a pair of frightening tales about an evil dollhouse and a machine used to communicate with the spirit world.
“I have so many different items, I wanted to make a hundred films,” Bagans tells Mental Floss of the difficulty he had in choosing which items from his Haunted Museum would make their way into the new anthology series. “We may only know a little bit about each item, but we wanted to ask questions around what may have happened to them—those questions started inspiring the films, and it made for a really great mysterious kind of way into the production."
Ahead of the remaining seven episodes set to drop weekly on the streaming service through the end of November, we caught up with Bagans to hear more about The Haunted Museum and learn the real history behind the museum's one episode-inspiring object that freaks him out the most: a cursed mirror that supposedly once belonged to Dracula actor Bela Lugosi.
Dracula and the Ancient Practice of Scrying
It all started when a woman named Cindy Lee came to Bagans with a request: Would he take a mirror off her hands?
At one point, the mirror had hung in a room in the Hollywood Hills house that had belonged to her uncle, a lawyer and B-movie film producer who was tragically killed in a mob-style murder there in 1982, and whose death remains unsolved. Bela Lugosi, the actor best known for portraying Count Dracula in the classic 1931 film, had previously lived in the home.
“It’s documented that her uncle, Frank Saletri, lived in Bela Lugosi's house, where this mirror stayed on the wall,” Bagans says. “Cindy believed that the mirror absorbed part of the bad energy from witnessing that murder. When you talk about mirrors and how they’re affiliated with the paranormal, you immediately go to something called scrying.”
Lugosi was apparently obsessed with this ancient means of clairvoyance, which is the practice of looking into an inanimate object with a reflective surface like a mirror or crystal ball to conjure messages from spirits.
Bagans mentioned that Nostradamus was fond of scrying, and allegedly predicted his own death using the practice. As for Lugosi, Bagans said, “A lot of people talk about how he may have been involved in the occult.”
A Deadly Possession
After Lee came into possession of the mirror following her uncle's death, things started to get scary.
"When it went into her house, her daughter immediately began being severely affected," Bagans says. "She says that she began feeling bites on her neck when she would look into it, and would see a dark entity inside of the mirror."
According to Lee, her other daughter would also have terrible nightmares of being attacked by the same dark entity, and would wake up with scratches all over her body. The psychological—and, allegedly, physical—toll on Lee and her family was too much. So she contacted Bagans.
“She brought it to my museum, she was desperate to get rid of it," Bagans said. "She didn't want to sell it. She didn't want to throw it away. That's how a lot of these items end up at my museum. People don't want to dispose of it because they feel they could have a kind of retaliation from the entities.”
“All of that was enough for me to put it on display in the museum,” Bagans says, though he admits that he always approaches items like the mirror Lee brought him with a healthy dose of skepticism.
“The research part of it ranges," he says. "People give you a little bit of information and they tell you what happened, or write a letter, and that's it." Yet the television personality is quick to also point out that it’s no less real when people reach out to him with he-said, she-said stories of paranormal experiences they can’t quite comprehend.
“These stories that are being told to me are very real. People are telling me their loved ones were seriously affected and in some cases even died in relation to these items,” he says. “I have to take it seriously.”
Bagans also mentioned his own firsthand experience with the mirror once it was part of the Museum’s collection, pointing to a 2017 episode of Ghost Adventures.
“There was a ball of light that appeared on the opposite wall of the mirror, traveled across the room, and went inside of the mirror,” Bagans said. “That was probably the most compelling evidence, because it's visual; you can actually see something for yourself.”
It’s that feeling of incomprehensible, first-hand experience that got Bagans interested in experimenting with a scripted series.
“You have a lot of different movies out there now that are inspired by actual paranormal events,” he said. “But I felt that if I ever did something like this, I wanted the experience to be authentic—specifically to these items—so that while you watch, you experience real thrills and fear in the best way, cinematically, as people in the past have had with those actual items in real-life moments.”
As for the fictionalized representation of the mirror and what demonic thrills it may have in store: You’ll have to find out how it’s portrayed on-screen when the episode drops on November 6, 2021.
New episodes of The Haunted Museum; a new two-hour special, Ghost Adventures: Goldfield Hotel; and Halloween Wars (featuring Bagans) can be found on discovery+.