Montauk’s defunct Camp Hero military base, and the decades of sinister legends and lore surrounding it like an impenetrable fog, returns to the national spotlight this week when Travel Channel’s new series, Strange World, premieres this Sunday, August 11 at 10 p.m.
Helmed by independent filmmaker and investigator Christopher Garetano, creator of Montauk Chronicles and History Channel’s The Dark Files, the show aims to bring paranormal television back to its roots, doing away with reality TV tropes and adding a fresh approach to a range of mysterious topics over eight episodes. For the Strange World debut, Garetano revisits tales of government mind control experiments, child abductions and clandestine efforts to turn thousands of these “Montauk boys” into super soldiers deep beneath Camp Hero in Montauk. It represents Garetano’s final word on Montauk after years delving deep into the subject and the many characters and witnesses he’s encountered along the way.
“I’m writing a fictional thing, and I’m working on developing that into a series, but I don’t think I’ll be investigating Montauk again,” the filmmaker explains. “The first episode of Strange World is my last investigation into the topic, segueing into the rest of the show,” Garetano continues, noting that future episodes explore the Polybius arcade game, said to be a government psychology experiment used on kids in Seattle, Washington in the 1980s; the deaths and tragedies connected to James Dean’s supposedly cursed 1955 Porsche Spyder, Little Bastard; unexplained disappearances in our national parks, particularly on Mt. Shasta; and four more mysteries. “The DNA of the show is variety,” he says.
“Each of these episodes has depth. My idea, before I even pitched it, was to break the current format of paranormal TV, to obliterate it. Not to end people’s shows, but to maybe inspire them to do something new with a format that is tired and repetitive. And it happens over and over and over again among 17 different shows. Every episode it always seems to be the same thing,” Garetano adds. “What I want to bring back is what I grew up with. I had a series of books that I grew up with about the mysteries of the unknown, and I watched shows like Unsolved Mysteries and In Search Of, reruns of those things, and I loved them. They were spooky and they were mysterious and had a style that was their own. I wanted to do something very new with that, and bring that atmosphere back, and get something exciting for the audience. That was the whole idea: variety. Every episode is a different adventure, a different topic all within Strange World. There’s really nothing like it.”
Garetano says his Montauk Chronicles documentary and History Channel specialThe Dark Files—also featuring former CIA operative Barry Eisler and journalist Steve Volk—served as a sort of proof of concept for his eight-episode Strange World project. “It would’ve been cool to go on and do another investigation with [Eisler and Volk], I know it rated well, but sometimes fate has its way of turning in a particular direction, and I can’t be more grateful than I am about what we just made,” he says, adding, “I worked really hard to make this new series.”
The fact that Travel Channel bought into eight episodes of Strange World speaks highly of Garetano’s concept and ability to deliver intelligent yet entertaining TV. “They don’t pass out television shows like they’re giving out candy,” he says, acknowledging that he had excellent support from the network. “Of course they believed in it. I think they’re very happy that they did, because what they have is a unique show. It stands out from everything else that’s on—not only on that network, but on other networks,” Garetano continues. “It’s the only paranormal show like it. The only thing you could try to compare it to is the remake of In Search Of. However, I think we have a lot more character and a lot more style. It’s very different. It’s not a reality show where you just see me walking around in 30 frames per second video and I’m just yammering on and on about ghosts. It’s not like that at all.”
Filmed in Montauk during the coldest weeks of January and February, the Strange World premiere touches on areas covered by Garetano’s previous projects, but it also manages to explore new territory. “There were some people I never spoke to before who I felt were important to speak to. For instance, Dick White. He’s a longtime resident of Montauk who knows everybody,” he says. “What I appreciate about him is that he kept an open mind. His whole life, when he heard these legends and these ideas, he felt that they weren’t believable. But when we discussed things like Holmesburg Prison [where the government experimented on inmates] and [real, documented CIA mind control program] MKUltra, and he realized those things actually did happen, instead of shutting me down, he’s like, ‘Maybe I should re-evaluate the way I’m thinking about this?’ And that’s the way we need to think. In the end, that discovery is so important.”
Garetano also met with Brian Minnick, a linchpin of his investigation on The Dark Files, who brought new evidence gathered from his vast library of photos and video taken inside many buildings on the Camp Hero grounds. “[Minnick] has these great photos of the alleged acid houses, which I think are close to proof,” Garetano says, recounting images showing psychedelic wall murals that had been professionally applied. “You have to consider them at the very least. Why are these things on a military base? They weren’t designed by kids, they’re in line with some past LSD experiments, you have these rumors surrounding it—connect all the dots for a second instead of just denying that this happened, especially with all of these other programs that happened.”
Finally, Strange World introduces a new witness who claims he was experimented on beneath Camp Hero. “These are all important elements. They keep popping up and I think what it requires is someone to keep looking,” Garetano says, noting that his work, at this point is done. “I’ve looked for so long, and security at Montauk—without giving up too much about the episode—they put up such a resistance now,” he adds, pointing out that he was fully blocked from filming an episode of Ancient Aliens on site before working on Strange World. These and other efforts to stymie his work, along with his discoveries in Montauk Chronicles, The Dark Files and, especially, Strange World lead Garetano to feel quite certain something is hiding beneath Camp Hero, and it’s probably nothing good.
Watch Garetano’s Strange World premiere on Travel Channel this Sunday, August 11 at 10 p.m. to see what brought him to this conclusion.