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Electromagnetic Ghosts

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"From the night of Brad's stage dive. All of a sudden, I'm getting electromagnetic readings up the wazoo. For some reason, it's a legit haunting now."
Dean Winchester, Supernatural

When they're not tormenting humans or scaring pets, ghosts are interfering with technology, appearing on video screens, making radios and TVs crackle and playing with the lights. Alongside cold spots, EM interference is one of the "recognized" signs of a haunting. One variation, known as EVP (electronic voice phenomena), specifically involves anomalous voices or other sounds on electronic audio recordings. Ghosts also appear on camcorder screens, night vision cameras, and of course, infrared cameras.

An electromagnetic ghost may be a Walking Techbane if the interference is strong enough.

Not to be confused with Virtual Ghost (which is a "ghost" projected by technological means); Haunted Technology, (when the ghost is actually inhabiting a machine); or Ghost in the Machine (which is nothing to do with ghosts at all). This trope covers any supernatural activity that makes electrical systems malfunction as a side effect of their presence.

Compare Magic Harms Technology, when magical forces rather than supernatural creatures is the cause of technological interference.


    open/close all folders 

  • A commercial for Esurance implies this. A man is walking past a house at night and sees all of the lights flashing and believes that something terrible is coming. In truth, the family is out to eat and the son is playing with a light control app on his parents' smartphone.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Come Play: Larry's presence tends to short-circuit all the lights in the area, since he needs power to sustain his presence in this world.
  • Don't Listen: When the ghost of the witch who was executed 300 years ago begins haunting, electronic devices tend to get screwy, like the child psychologist's radio flickering before the ghost possesses her and kills her. There's also Eric hearing his by-then-dead son's voice calling for help in a recorded message he sent to his wife.
  • Eternal: When Wildcat drives on to the ground of Elizabeth's mansion, the radio in her car suddenly cuts out.
  • The Frighteners: When the ghosts haunt a house, light flickers and objects move by themselves.
  • Ghost from the Machine has the protagonist build a device that creates an intense electromagnetic field in order to bring ghosts closer to the land of the Living, in an attempt to resurrect his dead parents. However, it also brings back his neighbor's dead wife, and the psychotic murderer/suicide who used to own his house...
  • Ghosts of War: When the Helwigs rise from their graves, all of the lights in the chateau go out.
  • In The Gravedancers, the presence of the ghosts in the mansion causes the lights to surge and dim wildly.
  • The Innkeepers has Claire and Luke using recording equipment to pick up EVP and find the ghost that they think is haunting the hotel.
  • The ghost in Lemon Tree Passage interferes with electronics; causing Sam's car radio to start blaring, switch channels, turn off, et cetera.
  • In Our House, the ghosts are sometimes presaged by flickering lights and interference with the TV displays. Then again, as often as not, it's the fault of Ethan's machine, which has tremendous power requirements.
  • In Poltergeist (1982), the ghost researchers use this sort of equipment to monitor the ghostly activities in the house. After one supernatural occurrence, one of them even notes "It's electrical — you can smell the charge."
  • In the 2002 adaptation of The Ring, Samara Morgan imprints images on a blank videotape (cursing it in the process) and can manipulate televisions when someone's week is up, up to and including emerging from the screen. Before her death, she had similar abilities to psychically imprint images on electromagnetic film. In fact, unlike the original Japanese version which includes weird stuff like communicating with germs, all Samara's powers seem to be magnetism-based. Tampering with videos and surveillance cameras, levitating metal objects, even causing fatal seizures are things that can be done with sufficiently precise EM waves.
  • In Savaged, Zoe's presence at the mine causes the lights to flicker and various pieces of machinery to malfunction.
  • In Scarecrow Slayer, the presence of the Scarecrow causes mobile phones to fill with static and stop functioning.
  • In The Sixth Sense, Malcolm discovers that the ghosts actually exist when he can hear them on a tape recorder.
  • Averted in The Stone Tape despite the wide array of electronic equipment used to study the ghost. Eventually, the scientists realize that what they hear and feel is the brain's reaction to whatever is imprinted into the walls; this is why some people are more sensitive to paranormal phenomena than others.
  • White Noise (2005) is about "electromagnetic voice phenomena", where voices from beyond appear on audio and video recordings.

  • In Alternate Routes, ghosts can make their voices heard on radios and their faces appear in the static on an untuned analog TV set (although since the story is set after the switch to digital TV signals, the only character who has an analog TV set is a ghost peddler who keeps an old one around specifically for communicating with ghosts with).
  • In Tim Powers' Fault Lines trilogy (consisting of Last Call, Expiration Date, and Earthquake Weather), ghosts can cause interference with compasses, call people up on phones and appear on TV talk shows (at least, on the version being watched by the person they're haunting) to gain important information.
  • In Ghost Radio, the protagonist Joaquin runs a radio station where people can call in and describe ghost stories on the air. His dead friend Gabriel gets to him mid-broadcast through one of these calls, and messes with him in general by hijacking phone lines, making televisions show him strange imagery, and eventually causes him to visually hallucinate what Joaquin's callers are describing, all out of spite for how Joaquin survived multiple near-fatal accidents that Gabriel did not. Gabriel comments at one point that radio is a major conduit for spirits to reach the human world.
  • In Hell House, the haunting is literally electromagnetic, as ghosts are essentially an energy field which survives the death of the body. As a consequence, they can be destroyed by a good, hard degaussing unless they are protected in some fashion.
  • Johnny Maxwell Trilogy: In Johnny and the Dead, the Dead are able to manipulate, damage, or generally mess around with radios, telephones, televisions, arcade games, jukeboxes, computer networks, satellites, and radio telescopes. Justified because one of them was an electronics genius in life, while another is Albert Einstein's distant cousin.
  • In The Night's Dawn Trilogy, the Possessed — human souls returning from death via Demonic Possession — disrupt any nearby 27th century equipment. When the Possessed take over a planet, they must rely on archaic mid-20th century technology as modern equipment ceases functioning or is bugged beyond usability.
  • Repairman Jack: The ghost from The Haunted Air makes a clock radio's LED display run in reverse and causes a television to show programming from The '80s twenty years later, even when it's unplugged and had its internal components removed.

    Live-Action TV 

    Multiple Media 
  • The Slender Man is often shown to muck up electronic equipment, causing static, audio and visual distortion, missing frames, added frames, and general horror. A video camera is also a way to see him when he is otherwise invisible. In Marble Hornets, trying to film him tends to make it worse.

    Music Videos 
  • The song and music video for "White Noise" by PVRIS are about a frustrated ghost that wants to communicate with the living but can't do anything other than cause interference.
    It's hard to be what you need through a static screen
    Been trying to speak for weeks and weeks
    Open my mouth, all that comes out
    Is white noise and incomprehensible sound
    And all you ever do is turn me down

  • The Magnus Archives:
    • It is implied that this is why the "bizarre" statements (i.e., all the ones the audience hears) come out distorted when the archivist tries to record them on a computer, so he has to use an old tape recorder. Some of those making statements seem to have come across similar distortion.
    • In the episode "Growing Dark" it is hinted that something supernatural is causing the lights to stop working in the narrator's girlfriend's flat. They replace the bulbs, check the fittings and call in an electrician but can find nothing apparently wrong. Then subverted when it turns out not to be supernatural, merely bizarre — someone (presumably his girlfriend's strange flatmate) keeps unscrewing all the bulbs just enough to break the connections.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exaggerated (or drawn to the logical conclusion) in Blades in the Dark: all ghosts are electromagnetic phenomena, by the virtue of ectoplasm (or rather "electroplasm") always carrying electric charge in this setting, which its residents have learned to exploit in order to launch an industrial revolution.
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters affords ghosts several Numina that allow them to do this, such as Ghost Sign (imprint a message in a medium) or Left-Handed Spanner (make technology go haywire). As such, several Sin-Eaters have necromantic Ceremonies that rely on these tropes, like Spectral Photography (take a photograph of an area, get a glimpse of the most dynamic ghost activity that happened in the last few days) and Dead Voices on Air (leave a specially-prepared camera behind, and it will capture whatever ghostly activity occurs in the meantime).
  • Orpheus gives characters the Shade Haunter, which allows them to create and control electronic interference as part of their abilities.

    Video Games 
  • Happens in AMBER: Journeys Beyond, complete with gadgets to track what happens. Two examples center around a TV in the master bedroom. At one point, a camera in the room shows a ball of white light coming out of the TV and morphing into a key, dropping itself into a drawer. Then, if you actually use the TV, it shows a creepy POV shot of someone running through the house, screaming and eventually coming up the stairs and knocking you out.
  • All ghosts in the The Blackwell Series, including Joey, can interfere with radio-based devices simply by getting close to them. This is crucial to solving several puzzles throughout the games. Also, Rosa notes that she had to install cable just so she could watch TV with Joey around.
  • A significant part of investigations in Conrad Stevenson's Paranormal P.I. is detecting the electromagnetic disturbances ghosts generate around them with an EMF meter, and strange EMF readings can be used to 'track' ghosts. Manifested entities will also sap battery power from your equipment if you try to walk through them.
  • Appears in all three Dark Fall games. In the first one, sometimes ghosts talk to you through the reception phone, Polly and Nigel's surveillance system occasionally flickers into showing dark splotches or how various rooms appeared in the past, and distorted audio files on their computer can be edited to reveal voices. The second, Lights Out, has an old World War II radio that's been rumored to be haunted, and tuning it to a certain frequency and using ghost-hunting goggles reveals an evil voice talking to you. A haunted TV appears in Lost Souls, displaying cryptic images that provide clues to the code for the ring mechanism.
  • While most supernaturalness in Dead Space and Dead Space 2 is inside Isaac's head, something is interfering with RIG transmissions.
  • The ghosts in the Fatal Frame series tend to cause radios, tape players, televisions, telephones or other kind of electronics to act up.
  • In response to a supernatural event in First Encounter Assault Recon, the lights go wild (most of the time they just flicker, but in some instances, they overload and shatter or just mysteriously break), your radio crackles and "unknown origin" is shown as the source of the transmission. Alma also appears on monitors occasionally, like a visual equivalent of an EVP. Her contractions cause an EMP-like effect in F.E.A.R. 3.
  • Many of the powers in Ghost Master are electrical in nature, such as Blow Fuse, Blackout, Wild & Crazy, and Strange Behaviour. Technology is also one the 'fetters' or places ghosts can be anchored.
  • While White Face from Imscared is never stated whether to be a ghost or not, it does have the appearance and behavior of one, and it does interfere with technology: your computer.
  • JR's: If the ghost is possessing an animatronic, the camera they're on may begin flickering. The animatronic's stability counter in the control panel can also start glitching out.
  • The ghosts of dead miners in Kentucky Route Zero appear as flickering images through the sparking of the electrical rail, but only if the lights are off.
  • Taping EVPs and scanning for electromagnetic signs of ghosts is a crucial part of The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure.
  • The "ghosts" from Oxenfree speak through heavily distorted radio messages, and their control over time causes ominous visual glitches. Tuning the radio finds new broadcasts from them and forces them out of possessed characters. It's played with, as they're not technically ghosts (and they themselves mock the term) but the crew of nuclear submarine that was transported to another dimension after its destruction.
  • The EMF reader in Phasmophobia is used to detect ghost activity. Higher levels mean a stronger presence and more activity, and only the most aggressive ghost types can trigger a level 5 reading. All types of ghost can make lights flicker and turn radios and TVs off and on, and they will always make your flashlight flicker when they're about to hunt. In addition, certain types of ghost can respond to your questions on the Spirit Box, an FM radio device that can pick up ghost speech. Raiju in particular interact very dangerously with any electronics in the area: They'll react every time, be it the lights in the room or your own equipment (which makes them easier to track), but the Raiju will react as well, moving faster and being much more eager to hunt you down.
  • In Sengoku Basara 3, Oichi has a similar "static effect" sometimes when she speaks, in a reference to this phenomenon.
  • Silent Hill:
    • A staple of the series is a pocket radio that, while seemingly dead, blasts out static in the presence of monsters. At certain points in certain games, it can pick up mysterious broadcasts.
    • In Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, you can only see ghosts by looking at them with Harry's cell phone camera, and "echo memories" — lingering traces of emotionally charged events — cause the phone to give off weird static and feedback.
  • Signibble from Yo-kai Watch is a mischievous Mysterious Tribe Yokai who likes to mess with cell phone reception and change the channels on TV sets.

    Web Animation 
  • The Cyanide & Happiness Show has one scene in "Now That's What I Call Spooky" in which wrestler ghosts can only be shown infrared thermal camera screens and are invisible to night vision cameras.
  • Lewis from Mystery Skulls Animated has caused the group's van to shut down at least twice and unknowingly shocked Arthur through his metal prosthetic arm when Arthur tired some desperate percussive maintenance. Not that Lewis would mind electrocuting Arthur since his goal since coming back seems to be murdering him.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventure Time episode "Beyond This Earthly Realm" has Finn getting stuck in the Spirit World, where it seems he can't interact with anything in the physical plane and no one can even see him but Ice King, who has "wizard eyes", then gets stuck there itself. It turns out they can effect things subtly, which Finn discovers when he moves around near a television and sees the static start to change.
  • In Hazbin Hotel Alastor the Radio Demon, probably as part of his Evil Luddite shtick, cannot be filmed. In his first attempt at making a television commercial he is explicitly off-screen by being behind the camera. When Vaggie starts filming him in annoyance at his mocking, the video glitches horrifically to the point the camera dies. Alastor warns her off that "this face was made for radio" but does agree to help with the second commercial if she never makes him do anything video-related again. He accidentally doesn't stand far enough off-screen in that commercial, and from the short bit we see is still glitching like mad, so it may even be involuntary.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Graveyard Shift", Squidward tells SpongeBob the story of the Hash Slinging Slasher to scare him. He tells him that there are three signs heralding the arrival of the Slasher, and the first one is the lights turning on and off. Later, the lights at the Krusty Krab do start turning on and off, which Squidward at first dismisses as cheap wiring, but then the other two signs occur, and a mysterious figure approaches the door. Fortunately, it's just the night fry cook Krabs had just hired, but that didn't explain the lights. Then they see the real culprit: Nosferatu.