Jack Osbourne may literally be the son of the “Prince of Darkness,” but if you ask him, the line between lightness and darkness isn’t so clear cut. “Good and evil is a consciousness,” as he put it to Vulture recently. “It’s a man-made parameter.”
That skepticism toward such man-made parameters is at the heart of the new paranormal series Portals to Hell, the latest in Osbourne’s long string of TV projects. After gaining fame alongside his family on their own early aughts MTV reality show, Osbourne has gone on to appear in and create numerous shows of his own, in addition to becoming an outspoken advocate for those living with MS. In Portals to Hell, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Travel Channel, Osbourne and investigator Katrina Weidman explore sites “with sordid pasts and dark histories that are especially sinister and purported to be doorways to the spirit underworld.”
Ahead of tonight’s premiere of Portals to Hell, Osbourne spoke with Vulture over the phone about what it’s like to look into the darker side of the paranormal.
You’ve done paranormal investigations before, but this focuses more specifically on demonic forces. Is the way you approach that kind of investigation different than in a regular ghost-hunting show?
The thing about demonic entities, as they are often called, a lot of times they’re given that title as a result of religion, really. Primarily the Catholic church, they’re the ones that designate demons. And so we didn’t fully intend for it to come out to be like this demonic investigation, our whole thing was we were just trying to find the scariest most sinister places that had alleged activity.
Is there something about the darker side of the paranormal that specifically interests you?
I just think the whole genre is fascinating. And ultimately what we’re doing is so fringe science, you know, even the instruments we use it’s all kind of theoretical. I think often people think [that with] the darker side of things you’re gonna get more action. But we’ve had amazing interactions with what we can kind of surmise was actually a relatively playful, innocent spirit. And we had one of the most profound interactions with that entity. I mean, I’m calling it a spirit because I don’t really know what it was other than that.
You mentioned that religion kind of designates what’s a demon and what’s a ghost, are you religious at all?
I’m not religious, no, I don’t necessarily subscribe to any kind of organized religion. I have a kind of deep spiritual belief and an understanding of a higher power, but I wouldn’t say I conform to religion. It’s not that I’m opposed to religion, I just never found one that made sense to me.
Would you say you believe in good and evil as part of your spirituality?
I guess on the face I would probably say yes, but if I really think about it, you know, good and evil is a notion based on our moral compass. Yes, there is kind of universal good and evil, but you know those rules don’t always apply to everyone because they perceive things differently. I think that there are different frequencies of energy, and I don’t believe that it necessarily conforms to our understanding of what good is and what evil is. Because good and evil is a consciousness. It’s a man-made parameter. I think when you’re dealing with something that exists in a different kind of reality, our constructs of good and evil necessarily apply the same way.
Take the sun. The sun provides light to planet Earth, and it’s one of the reasons why we even exist. But if we were to get in a spaceship and fly too close to the sun, we’re cooked. So does that make the sun evil? And at what point? Because even though it’s giving us life, it can also be the taker of life.
Given that Portals to Hell focuses on the darker side of spirituality, on the paranormal, is there something in this culture right now you think makes people interested in evil?
I think we live in a really, really interesting time for humanity. We’re making so many drastic leaps forward, and even amongst everything that’s going on I think we’re still progressing faster than we are regressing. I think that people have always leaned toward the macabre, that’s why for thousands of years there’ve been stories of goblins and ghouls, dragons and stories of peril, and people like those. People have always sat around campfires and told scary stories. I think because we don’t really understand it, we don’t understand fear, we don’t really understand why it exists other than as a survival mechanism. So I think that the climate that we’re in, I’d like to think that the reason why so much of the macabre is existing is because when you step back from it, and you look at the world you live in, it makes things seem much better. Because if you’re watching a horror movie and you’re seeing atrocious things you’re like, “Oh my God that’s crazy, I’m gonna go to my nice warm bed in my apartment, and ya know, all’s right here.”
In the first episode of Portals to Hell there’s this guy named Josh who we find out is doing ceremonies in the hotel. I’m wondering if the people you run into doing demonic investigations are different than people you run into doing Haunted Highway and more “normal” paranormal investigations, if there is such a thing?
We didn’t set out for that, and not every episode [has something] demonic. A lot of them are kind of typical hauntings as a result of what we believe to be traumatic events that occurred, but not necessarily ritualistic or demonic. And so when we encountered Joshua — and this an honest-to-God truth, my company produces the show so I know about every bit of information before we come to town for filming. I know about the location, I know who we’re going to be meeting with, I know the pre-interview that the producers had done. We had no idea that Joshua was the kind of character he was. We did not know he could speak Latin. We did not know he was involved in occult-type practices. We had no idea, and it was a huge surprise to us. And then when we were in Juneau, people were like “oh yeah, Joshua.” Like, he had a reputation.
With people like Joshua, and also just people who live and work in these places, what do you think draws people to stay at these places?
I think people kind of weigh up of the options. You know, is it worth it to them? Is it worth working in a haunted hotel and living in a haunted hotel, because sometimes people might not always have the financial means to be like “All right I’m outta here.” And some of these locations were actual operating businesses, and you know, it’s like “The show must go on.” I’ve lived in a house that I always thought was haunted and it was never my thing to be like “lets get out of here immediately,” I was just always like “yeah that place is haunted and freaks me out.”
Oh that’s interesting, where did you live that was haunted?
The most poignant place was we used to own a house in Malibu on the beach, and it was not very comfortable to be there alone. My friend had a really intense experience one night, where he woke up and he saw multiple people roaming around the bedroom he was in. Me and my dad both saw someone walk down the stairs and we both shot up, it was a girl with long dark hair, and we thought it was my eldest sister who wasn’t there. We had those door chimes on the doors so when you opened them the alarm system would ping, and I’d be upstairs, and knowing all the doors were shut downstairs I’d come downstairs and the door would be open, but I’d locked it. I’d shut the door, I’d go back upstairs, it would ping again, I’d come down, and now the door would be open. Just, you name it, we’ve experienced it there.
You’ve been very open about living with MS and the mental effects of that. I read that you actually experienced your first symptoms while you were filming Haunted Highway, was there any point where you worried that the stress might have an effect your physical well-being?
You know, it’s funny because we went back to Skinwalker Ranch and that’s where I had my most significant flare-up, it was while we were filming there. And there is a lot of theories that whatever’s going on at Skinwalker Ranch is essentially igniting people’s autoimmune issues. There’s a lot of autoimmune disease within that area of Utah. And it’s kind of abnormally high. And so people are trying to really figure that out.
I don’t know, I don’t have any scientific evidence to prove that. From everything I know, with an autoimmune disease you’re kind of genetically pre-dispositioned to it, and then you have some kind of environmental outside issue that triggers it. So I don’t know, I wasn’t necessarily worried about the stress because I don’t find it that stressful to do this thing. I find it quite enjoyable, it’s fun and I get to travel and I’m working with my good friends. And it’s a really great work environment, albeit in scary places.