When I was growing up, I was a bit of a scaredy-cat. One of the shows that scared me the most, even though I adored the show and watched it often, was Lost Tapes. One of the episodes in particular, Chupacabra, really made me not sleep at night. Why this episode? I have absolutely no idea, considering I have lived in suburban Northern Virginia all my life, nowhere near where the chupacabra is normally spotted! After the episode, I genuinely believed in the creature. To be specific, I believed in the mammal-form, dog/coyote-like chupacabra, the one on Lost Tapes, and not the alien-like one of Puerto Rico. I had the reasoning that if vampire bats exist, then it stands to reason that another, larger blood-sucking mammal could also exist. While I no longer believe in the chupacabra, it still has a special place in my heart. That is why I decided to watch this episode of Lost Tapes, many years later, to analyse it and look at it a different perspective than I originally did when it scared the heck out of me those many years ago.
Watching to back, and critically looking at the format, design, storyline, etc. I definitely noticed some things. Some good, some bad.
First of all, Lost Tapes really does relate to this class. In the opening of this episode, it says “There are creatures science refuses to recognize. But new technology makes us question what is real. If our eyes see it, if our cameras capture it, does it exist?” This class is about using new technology, specifically social media, to tell stories, and this show is about using technology, that previously did not exist, to tell stories. While the technology (video camera, mainly) used in this episode is not particularly new, it still is a new way to get evidence of cryptids when before it had always been about physical evidence. In addition, other episodes, like Monster of Monterey, feature newer tech like live-streaming over the internet and live video chat. In the show in general, there is a reason for each victim/witness to be recording, and it’s also centered behind why and how they are in trouble in the first place. In this episode, the little girl’s camera was a present for her birthday, and the coyote to being them to the US was a present that she also received. In Monster of Monterey, the woman is live-streaming her solo sailing trip and live-streaming with her boyfriend since he is not with her. This show revolves around the technology used in each episode. As I’ll talk about more in the next paragraph, it can add realism and help the audience to care about the characters. However, it also may look out-of-place or be unreasonable. For example, the police officers go looking for other survivors’ when one of the officers clearly speaks at least a little Spanish and should know that from talking to the little girl there aren’t any other people. In order to have the officers interact with the chupacabra, in the form of being nearly attacked by it, the show required this illogical action to happen. It’s also illogical because they wouldn’t just leave a scared little girl alone like that. For another example, in this episode, the chupacabra on the infrared looks janky, like it was added after the recording of the humans running (it probably had). It does take a bit of suspension of disbelief, beyond just suspending the disbelief over the cryptid itself, to get that. The episode also never even shows the chupacabras in the episode, just other, real videos taken by people of supposed chupacabras. Both of these problems are most likely because of the limitations they had in the time with the technology. If the episode was made today, perhaps it would be different. Another reason could be because it was supposed to be suspenseful and scary, with all of the sounds it was making, and so they didn’t want to ruin the suspense and fear by showing the animal. However, in other episodes of the show, they at least show part, and sometimes all, of the cryptid, so that might not be why. A final theory could be because it wants to leave us with the idea that it might not have been a chupacabra. After all, they mention repeatedly about the scientifically-recognized dangerous animals that lurk the dessert. However, this show operates under the assumption that they exist, so I doubt that’s the case.
There were some things I noticed that were effect and made for a good story. First of all, there main characters, the victims, were a family. This was a smart choice. Family is something we all can relate to, and the opening scene of the happy birthday party with the cake and the little girl Ava receiving presents is something that for many of us is familiar and sweet. This helps to ground the otherwise otherworldly show. The video camera is also something normal and connective, since many people have in their families home videos. The family, besides the whole crossing the border thing, seems so normal and familiar, people we could know or even be. It helps the viewers start to care about the characters and holds our attention. Then, when they are abandoned, they are made victims even before the chupacabra attacks, making us feel bad for them and caring more. The episode even shows the dead bodies of the parents, right after we saw them be attacked. It’s hard not to feel at least a little bad, since they had seen so hopeful and happy at the start of the episode. It ends with a scared little girl plagued with nightmares, which in real life would be tragic and is a somber way to end the episode. Another thing the episode does well with is fear and tension. With the dangers of the desert, even sans chupacabra, it starts to establish fear into the show, especially with the repeated mentioning of various other dangerous animals. The strange noises, a seeming mix of different animals, not easily identifiable into one, also help to establish fear. The episode, with these things, had nice, if short, buildup before the chupacabra attacks, holding our attention. A final thing they did well was try and look professional and authentic. Throughout the episode, it shows various videos and interviews of people that build up the idea that the creature exists. The policeman at the beginning with the dashcam footage is a good example if it. Policemen are seen as authority figures, reliable sources, and he even cities his long experience when saying he had never seen anything like it before. There are other videos shown of other interviews and various pictures of dead goats. At the very least, the videos are real, as I have seen them on YouTube since this aired, even if the chupacabra isn’t. There is even footage and voiceover from news shows about the chupacabra. All of this lends credibility to the chupacabra and the episode, and even the show in general. One final piece of this is also that it says that there is a “continued debate”, that there are others who are victims and believe, and “that science still refuses to recognize” the cryptids. While the debate is true, even if most scientists absolutely do not give credence to the idea of cryptids, and there are others that have interacted with “chupacabras”, it also helps to make a bad guy, and this can cause people to take sides. Since they mention that the girl is plagued by nightmares of the creature “that “science still refuses to recognize”, it makes us feel bad for her and dislike that “science” doesn’t believe her. It gets the viewer on the side of the show.
However, the show is far from perfect. As I said when I talked about the technology, the use of it can be illogical and artificial. Why would the little girl, Ava, be recording when they are crossing the border? Why would the officers be willing to leave her in the car? In addition, the show itself looks a bit dated. Perhaps it is because I remember watching the show when I was younger, but I can tell that the show is not brand new. The very dramatic voiceover and intro to the show (whatever the segment that starts with “there are creatures science refuses to recognize”) look, while not bad, definitely not something currently airing on Animal Planet. This can affect how viewers see the show. Do they see the show as something new, and more relatable, or older and silly? The video camera also dates it a bit. Nowadays, it would be a smartphone that would record the events. While the technology can make the show familiar and connect to the audience, it can also date it and cause disconnect and increased feelings of disbelief. From a more analystical or disbelieving perspective, the fact that it doesn’t cite sources when it comes to the myth or legend behind the chupacabra is further cause for disbelief. It is not indicative of a well-researched, legitimate informative show. The show relies on either the viewer being extremely naive and/or treating the show itself as authoritative, rather than wherever the “information” is actually from.
Ultimately, this episode, and from my experience the rest of the show, isn’t perfect nor is a great source of information, beyond a jumping off point for gaining interest. It does capture your attention and establishes fear and tension well, and there is some authenticity with the video camera, but the illogical moments and datedness, besides the general concept of the show, might cause the viewer to consider the show much more silly than serious. Although, considering the fact that it is shot as a “mockumentary”, it might not be supposed to be serious.
A final note I want to end on is that I am glad, though, that I am able to rewatch these staples of my childhood online. Before the internet, you had to be at the T.V. at the exact time to watch it, and hope it would rerun if you missed it. With the internet, more older shows, which may not be run on T.V. anymore, will be able to be watched by viewers, perhaps inspiring or at least entertaining a whole new generation.
The Featured image is from here:
I am using the image “for identification of and critical commentary on the television program and its contents”, which should qualify as fair use, according to the Wikipedia page I just linked.