Brand : Liev Schreiber

Secrets of the Dead - Witches Curse [VHS]

Louella richardson |

Csi for history buffs

Secrets of the dead may be my favorite pbs series ever! treating famous mysteries like a crime scene investigations, with the use of modern forensics in addition to more traditional historic research techniques, puts an interesting perspective on events that have puzzled historians, sometimes for centuries. witches curse is my personal favorite of the whole series-i've always been fascinated by the salem witch trials- and the linking of witchcraft hysteria with possible ergot poisoning puts a scientific spin on behavior that is difficult for the modern rational mind to understand. every episode of this series has been riveting, especially death at jamestown, murder at stonehenge, and the lost vikings. secrets of the dead is better than most fictional crime shows, and the very spooky opening credits/music is creepily perfect!

Lawrance bernabo |

Could the salem witch trials have resulted from "lsd"?

Having competed and coached debate at both the high school and college levels, i have a developed affinity for creative arguments whether they are ultimately proven to be true or not. that might be the best way of describing the hypothesis offered in "witches curse," a 2001 documentary in the "secrets of the dead" series from pbs home video. since this is a detective story i do not want to give too much away, so let me just give you the bare bones of the case. the salem witch trials of 300 years ago led to the death of 19 innocent people and in searching for a rational explanation for the symptoms of bewitchment, psychologist linnda caporael noticed that the descriptions from the time of the trials were similar to the descriptions of people on bad trips from lsd in terms of vivid deliriums and wrenching convulsions. you will have to judge for yourself if you caporael makes her case, but at the very least you will be fascinated by the scientific links she is able to make with hallucinogenic drugs, contaminated crops, old film records from france, and a 2,300 year-old murder victim buried in a bog. this is not to take away from the idea that there was group psychosis and good old-fashioned revenge behind what happened at salem as well, but it does provide a more substantial rationale for the beginning of the hysteria. this 60-minute documentary directed by mark lewis and narrated by liev schreiber is one-sided in that there is no counter-evidence to the case caporael builds, but she certainly seems to create a prima facie case for her position. as a professional devil's advocate, this documentary was a lot more captivating than i would have thought. i can see "witches curse" being shown to a history class and even if they are not convinced by its conclusion, they may come up with a new appreciation for deductive reasoning and scientific inquiry. any one interested in the salem witch trials should definitely check this out and see what they make of it. "secrets of the dead" is a very interesting series ...

J. s. kaminski |

Were the puritans on acid?

That's the intriguing theory put forth in this excellent episode of "secrets of the dead." the hypothesis is this: certain fields of the puritans' rye crop in salem were infested with ergot, a fungus which can have hallucinatory effects. the ergot was ingested not only by the infamous girls who eventually made the witchcraft accusations against their neighbors, but also, other townspeople and even farm animals. all exhibited strange behaviors, but it was the girls who became the focus of the investigation. it is known that the 19 people eventually executed for suspected witchcraft in salem were innocent, but it was generally thought that the accusations were made maliciously and that the girls were acting. while the later simultaneous convulsions and hallucinations in the courtroom had to be faked, the original afflictions suffered by the girls may have been very real. the show does an excellent job of detailing the effects of ergot poisening, and even draws parallels to a similar outbreak in france in 1951. it is clear from the evidence presented from the french ergot "plague" that salem may have suffered a similar fate. so, was the ergot fungus the cause of the witch hysteria? no one knows for sure, and perhaps we will never know. but this program sheds some light on a possible explanation for the madness that took place in salem, massachusetts in 1692. excellent! five stars.