An Adventure Into the Paranormal World Through Film Making
Brother and sister hosting duo Dakota and Chelsea Laden and their friends Tanner Wiseman and Alex Schroeder pile into their RV for the haunted road trip of a lifetime.
“We love film-making and we love scary buildings,” Tanner explained after the four found recognition in the paranormal community for their independent film Trail of Terror. Destination Fear expanded upon this concept and first appeared on screens in 2019.
Seeking to measure and push the boundaries of human fear, the FearFam expose themselves to a night in infamous haunted locations across the USA for the purposes of science and, of course, our viewing enjoyment.
Maintaining a solid audience throughout its first three seasons, Destination Fear certainly carved out its place among its hundreds of spooky counterparts and gained thousands of hardcore fans. But with 48 episodes of around 40 minutes each, the show is a big time commitment.
Is Destination Fear worth it? Let’s find out…
Destination Fear’s Air Date
Destination Fear was announced in August 2019 and first appeared on screen on October 26th, 2019, just in time for Halloween. Like many of the paranormal TV greats, Destination Fear was hosted on the Travel Channel.
In the premiere episode, the gang head to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and meet the spirit of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. The episode drummed up a significant deal of buzz with 440,000 viewers, their third highest-rated episode overall.
Creation and Production
Destination Fear was executively produced by the one and only Zac Bagans. Known for long-running giants of the genre, such as Ghost Adventures, Bagan’s name is familiar to most paranormal TV lovers. He may not be the most reliable ghost hunter, but he certainly knows how to make a hit paranormal TV show.
Bagans wasn’t the only producer with a hand in Destination Fear’s creation. The show has a whopping 22 producers, most with reality TV/investigative/documentary experience, and 3 who acted as ‘story producers’ working to hone the narrative of each episode.
- Jonathan Grosskopf
- Kerry Miles
- Katy Stafford
- Joe Townley
- Michael Yudin
- Christine Shuler
For the most part, extra camera work was completed by Alex Nelson, who handled still photography, Christian Meyers, who oversaw cinematography, and Clay and Conner Hopkins, who provided assistant camera work for most of the show’s run.
However, like most paranormal TV shows, the post-production department makes up most of the credits, including 6 re-recording mixers, 11 editors and colorists, and a media manager. And who could forget Kyle Watson, who dutifully drove the RV for 33 episodes.
Destination Fear’s Cast Members
Since most of Destination Fear is filmed by hand, Dakota, Chelsea, Tanner, and Alex are all credited as camera operators and hosts. The four are lifelong friends and first-timers in front of the camera, if not behind it.
Speaking of Ghost Adventures, Dakota Laden was a longtime fan and just so happened to appear in a few episodes of the show between 2011-2018. His passion for interacting with the paranormal was discovered, and his cinematography skills were honed.
Chelsea is perhaps the only member of the group to have found fame outside the paranormal community, playing goaltender for the New York Riveters women’s ice hockey team. After retiring in 2016, she returned to her roots, exploring abandoned places and searching for the paranormal with her brother.
A childhood friend of the Laden siblings, Tanner would provide camera and electrical assistance for their budget YouTube videos. Through these urban-exploration videos, Tanner helped Dakota find a large audience almost 10 years before Destination Fear was green-lit.
Alex joined the Destination Fear gang in 2021 for their third and fourth seasons. Having grown up across the street from Dakota and Chelsea, he often joined in with their paranormal explorations and was the obvious pick for the newest member.
Primary Focus of the Show
Having grown up in a haunted house, Dakota and Chelsea have long been fascinated with the paranormal and all the ways it presents itself. “We don’t consider ourselves to be traditional investigators,” Dakota explained. “We are more like paranormal explorers.”
Destination Fear serves as their experiment to better understand how fear affects our interactions with the unnatural and the supernatural. What’s the one thing that inspires the most fear? You guessed it, the dark. After arriving at nightfall and exploring the episode’s location as a group, the four split off to spend the night completely alone.
In each episode, the history of the haunted location is introduced with the help of individuals who’ve experienced the haunting and other paranormal experts. Once the most active areas have been identified, the cast uses Ovilus technology to allow any present spirits to communicate. Extra cameras and REM pods are used to pick up electromagnetic energy and any signs of movement.
Once the sun rises, the four come back together to share their experiences, review the footage, and hopefully prove the reported hauntings.
Destination Fear’s Impact on the Paranormal Community
Nerd Alert News provided a glowing review, stating, “Destination Fear really switches things up by taking things on the road.” With vlogging elements such as pranking each other, filming chats in the RV, and segments on the road to begin each episode, Destination Fear has some unique ideas at play. “It is a fresh new take on paranormal investigation shows and really ups the stakes as the team goes from one location to the next.” However, all the old tropes, like gray-scale panoramic shots and scary sound effects, are still included.
The show quickly earned a lasting fanbase, #fearfam, who are still active and interacting with the hosts across social media and at cons. With streaming re-watchability and a youthful, passionate take on the genre, those who love Destination Fear go back to it again and again.
Destination Fear pushes the genre forward without doing anything groundbreaking enough to alienate the main base of paranormal television watchers. Skeptics are always going to question traditional elements, like switching camera angles and a large amount of post-production editing.
However, like most paranormal shows, the gang believes that the supernatural is unquestionably real and makes little effort to placate skeptics or outrightly prove their findings. Instead, they focus on making the show entertaining and eery enough to satisfy those who believe and those who want something to watch for an evening.
Destination Fear’s Seasons and Episodes
Destination Fear has four seasons, each with varying numbers of episodes. The longest is season 3, with 16 episodes. Viewership peaked at 470,000 and dipped to a series low of 220,000 by the last season.
The Most Popular and Well Rated Episodes
The top ten episodes of the show include:
- Season 3, Episode 6 – Odd Fellows Home
- Season 1, Episode 4 – St Alban’s Sanatorium
- Season 1, Episode 1 – Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
- Season 2, Episode 8 – Old Bourbon Distillery
- Season 2, Episode 13 – Old Idaho Prison
- Season 3, Episode 4 – Ohio State Reformatory
- Season 3, Episode 14 – Indiana State Sanatorium
- Season 2, Episode 7 – Saratoga County Homestead
- Season 2, Episode 9 – Randolph County Infirmary
- Season 1, Episode 3 – Sweet Springs Sanatorium
Famous Guests and Appearances
Most of the guests on the show are not directly interviewed by the cast but still share their experiences of owning or visiting haunted locations. These individuals are always paired with a paranormal investigator to offer some professional opinion.
Notable guest investigators include:
- Ryan Zacherl: Director and star of Paranormal Quest, Zacherl is no stranger to in-depth investigations of abandoned haunted locations. A documentary filmmaker and editor, he shares a similar philosophy to the Destination Fear gang.
- Austin Maynard: Maynard has previously worked on Paranormal Lockdown, where he shared his experience as property manager of the haunted Higginsport School. He also appears in Most Terrifying Places and is making a name for himself in Nick Groff’s series Death Walker
The Destination Fear gang has also appeared in Ghost Hunters, helping TAPS to investigate Old Joliet Prison in the 2022 episode The Lost Souls of Joliet.
Controversies and Criticisms
Like most paranormal shows, Destination Fear did receive its fair share of criticism. Many were initially swayed from watching due to Bagans’ involvement, which usually signals some level of fakery. “I was very skeptical of this show before I started watching it,” one IMDb user stated. “Partly because it’s produced by Zak Bagans who thinks every haunting is a demon.”
Others claimed they had to stop watching after a few episodes due to the excessive amount of screaming the cast did. Tvovermind.com pointed out that if Dakota and Chelsea really did grow up in a haunted house, surely they’d be impossible to scare by now. Leading on from this, many viewers criticized the show’s marketing as an experiment in fear, as the cast never scientifically measure anything.
Overall though, these criticisms served to be constructive, with significantly less shrieking in season 4. Despite maintaining an average of 350,000 viewers per episode for the first 3 seasons, viewership dipped because of the 12-month gap between seasons 3 and 4 and not because of these criticisms, which are generally leveled against all paranormal shows.
Unfortunately, the future outlook for Destination Fear is non-existent. In March of 2023, Dakota took to the gang’s YouTube channel to share the sad news that Destination Fear had been canceled. He offered very little explanation as to why, instead surprising fans with the news that the gang would be creating a new show, Project Fear, exclusive to Youtube.
The paranormal TV genre has a unique struggle to offer potential viewers something new and never before seen, as well as hold onto longtime fans. One Youtube comment on the Destination Fear cancellation announcement states: “I’m so done with Discovery canceling good paranormal shows and keeping ones that are fake and over acted. I liked your show because it was wholesome and not ridiculous.”
From this, it’s clear Destination Fear offered some ways paranormal TV can keep up with sites like YouTube, focusing on a symbiosis between the hosts’ personalities and ghost stories that stick in audiences’ heads.
In just 4 seasons, the show amassed a cohort of dedicated followers and maintains a rating of 7 stars on IMDB. Positive reviews tout how entertaining the show was, even if it is likely fake, and excitement for the gang’s new project is high.
Personally, I feel like Destination Fear fits right into the contemporary, slightly more wholesome takes on paranormal TV, such as Ghost Files, with a high enough production value to make it easy to binge-watch. This is definitely one for Gen Z-ers looking for newer paranormal shows, but longtime fans will find much to love here too.
You won’t get anything drastically different, but the show is comfortingly familiar and excitingly modern. If you happen to find yourself fatigued by your favorites and come across Destination Fear on a streaming platform, it’s definitely worth giving it a chance. It might not be your new favorite, but it’ll be entertaining nonetheless.