An Actual Ghost Hunter Says She Was Ghosted By the New 'Ghostbusters' Movie
The daughter of one of the most famous ghost hunters in history took awhile to come around to the family business. But when her dead relatives started communicating with her, Alexandra Holzer realized she had to carry on her father's name.
All photos by Amy Lombard
Six-year-old Alexandra Holzer was stretched out on her bed in her Manhattan apartment, surrounded by stuffed kittens and antique crosses, when something sat heavily on her legs. When she opened her eyes to see who the culprit was (perhaps her older sister?), there was nothing there—at least nothing she could see. She knew there was someone lounging on her legs, sure—she just didn't know who.
While many of us would have freaked out at this juncture, Alex knew to stay still, close her eyes, and go back to sleep—at least until her 14-year-old sister inevitably came knocking on her door post–midnight snack, too scared to walk back to her room alone. Alex, though... you might say she ain't afraid of no ghost.
Alex, now 45, is the daughter of famed ghost hunter Hans Holzer, who was born in Vienna but left Austria right before the Nazis took over in 1938. During his lifetime, he wrote more than 140 books on ghosts and other phenomena and, according to his daughter, pioneered the Holzer Method, whereby he applied scientific fact and observation to the study of the paranormal realm. Perhaps most famously, he worked on the Amityville Horror case—penning the nonfiction book Murder in Amityville in 1979—among other high-profile investigations. He passed away in 2009 at age 89. While Hans was a skeptic in many ways, his daughter, who grew up in an apartment in which the ghosts of elderly neighbors regularly popped by for a cup of sugar, has always been a believer—even if she's strayed from the path in the past.
Today, though, she's all about the family business as she ushers Marisa Anderson, a medium who used to work with her father, into her home amid a sea of four dogs, two tumbling rescue kittens, and four children—three girls and one boy ranging from 12 to 17. Alex puts a hand to her pregnant belly, just showing under a bright, floral dress, and adjusts her dark ponytail as the children disappear upstairs. She looks like a California earth fairy—a benevolent mother from a Francesca Lia Block book.
Alex shoos her guest toward a table laden with éclairs, cannoli, and cookies, and they sit under the watchful eye of Hans Holzer, who stares down at the assemblage from a giant black-and-white photo on the livid red wall. Marisa has just come from a rather difficult job—details classified—but her red bangs are smooth and unruffled. She looks way more Devils Wears Prada than devil-wears-your-skin.
"Don't touch me and tell me you see things," Alex puts up a warning hand to her friend and palms her stomach again, laughing. "You're going to scare the shit out of me! Five children is enough, though." Marisa has been known to warn Alex and others about physical issues and defects—apparently Alex's heart skips a beat sometimes.
"Yeah, otherwise you're gonna go nuts!" Marisa exclaims. "We're all gonna go nuts."
Marisa has known Alex for years. She began working with her father in the early 90s after impressing him with her skills as a medium; she was able to tell him, sight unseen, what his Riverside Drive apartment looked like and the names and personalities of both of his cats (Sylvia and Stripes). It was rather light fare compared to what she was used to—for years, Marisa worked with a police department, helping them solve murders. Marisa and Hans's friendship was sealed over Hans's favorite Amish apple pie and whipped cream. When Stripes died, Hans gave Marisa her ashes in a tin.
Unlike her father, the young Alex wanted nothing to do with the ghost-hunting lifestyle, instead opting to pursue art at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. When she left the city and started having kids with her first husband, Hans's reaction, Marisa says, was something like disdain. Her life was "mundane" and "boring," he told his daughter—and he was disappointed that she had moved from Manhattan to "the sticks": lovely, remote Chester, New York, where rolling green hills loom above pristine white houses and clusters of deer stand blinking in the road to the detriment of passing motorists.
It's really not that surprising that Alex shied away from the spirit world at first. Although she grew up in an apartment that was regularly full to bursting with mediums, witches, warlocks, actors, writers, and all manner of folk who trucked with the paranormal, she didn't go hunting with her father when she was a child. He was 50 when she was born, for one, and preferred not to mix his children with official business. Ghosts and the paranormal still permeated her life, however, sometimes to her intense embarrassment.
"I had no friends," she says. Her mother used to ask children to come over for play dates (which was mortifying). "When they would come over my father would answer the door like, 'Good evening, come in!' He sounded like Count fucking Dracula." Marisa, who was born with her gift, also knows a little something about childhood isolation—she once told an annoying class clown that he would change his ways after a car accident. That did not go over well.
Alex began treading her father's path after having her first clairaudient experience following her aunt's death close to 15 years ago. She heard her relative whisper, "I love you," as she was doing laundry, and she started crying into her children's clothes.
Now, following years of her own investigating and writing a smattering of books, Alex has some exciting news to share with Marisa under the watchful eyes of a wall full of (likely) haunted masks from Hans's collection. After several attempts at securing her own TV show over the years, it now seems likely that she will finally be breaking into showbiz via her own paranormal reality show.
"Nowadays, the reality shows always depict the men," Alex says, serving Marisa a glass of sweet tea and absently petting Suki, a small blind Lhasa Apso who Alex says once portaled from the yard to her bedroom. "If they have a woman on there, she'll never be the real lead. If you're an intuitive, a psychic, or a medium, you're like 5,000 pounds, three eyeballs, and you're definitely a female," she says, while Marisa nods. "The men are the ones out there investigating because they make it this rough and tough job." Although Alex does investigate hauntings, she's more of an intuitive than her father was; he was a journalist, a historian—always after the facts.
Alex almost scored her own reality show in the past, she says, but the feedback was always the same: The networks want men in leather pants and tattoos charging through abandoned prisons, shouting at nothing. This is old hat to Alex by now, though. While some of us may have been shocked, for example, by the misogynistic reaction July 2016's all-female Ghostbusters has engendered among cinema "purists" and meninists, the backlash really isn't all that surprising to Alex. She's more peeved that they didn't include her in the production. Alex claims that director Paul Feig and his team called her to discuss the film. It seemed a natural move to her; after all, her father served as inspiration to Dan Aykroyd when he wrote the original 1984 hit.
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"I'm very nice, and it takes me a while before I realize I'm being taken advantage of," Alex says, leaning her elbows on the table and urging Marisa to pour herself some more iced tea. "It was almost like a field day for them to get info." When she asked that the team talk to her manager and publicist and make her an official consultant, she never heard from them again. Later, after the trailer dropped, she noticed that one of the characters (played by Kate McKinnon) hailed from Manhattan and was named "Jillian Holtzmann."
"My manager was like, let's just run with it, it's a nod to your family, it's a good thing for you," Alex says with a sigh. "They could've easily put me on the film to help, though. That's part of my family." Broadly reached out to the Ghostbusters team for comment on Alex's claims, but they could neither confirm nor deny the conversations with Feig took place.
When it comes to showbiz, however, Marisa is more concerned with Alex's well-being should she finally hit the silver screen herself. "You have to learn that you have to start protecting yourself," she says, putting her hand on Jasper, a big brown mutt. The two have just read about The Voice star, Christina Grimmie, was who shot during a meet-and-greet.
"Thank God there's no hits on ghost hunters and psychics. We're not in that realm!" Alex says, referring to the entertainment industry, not the physical world. She adjusts a cluster of bright blue beads on her wrist and eyes the huge plates of sweets still sitting on the table. The bakery had thought she was having a party when she popped in earlier today.
"No, it's not that kind of thing, but you still are gonna have to be careful," Marisa says seriously. "These are all transitions I wanted to talk to you about. Since this is now being shared, you're gonna have to prepare yourself." Marisa herself carries a pistol.
"I'll have David with me. We have a gun," Alex says, gesturing toward the kitchen, where her second husband—a dark-haired medical tech with a pleasant Southern accent—boils water on the stove while the kittens, Lorelei and Loki, nip at his toes. "In his past life he was definitely a soldier and a strategist. You should see him playing these games. He strategizes." David's twin brother has an implant from when he was abducted by aliens, and he himself once lost time when he was driving between Georgia and Alabama.
"But he's not always gonna be next to you," Marisa says. Jasper is lying at her feet now, his headache almost soothed.
"I know. There's children," Alex looks down at her stomach. She is four months pregnant. "Everybody's got to be watched."
"There's a price that's gonna come with it, just understand."
Alex understands the price of fame, sure. But she also understands the benefits, which, for her, outweigh anything else: passing on her legacy, keeping her father's name and work alive. For her, he's very much still around—he talks to her every few weeks, she says, and is actually kind of annoying—but ghost hunters like he was are just not fashionable anymore. Being serious about life after death isn't fashionable anymore.
"The industry's become arrogant," she says, referring to the abundance of ghost-hunting reality shows on TV these days; helping ghosts has become commercial, rather than spiritual. "If I see one more guy team posing with the hats and the matching shirts, I'm going to barf. There's an attitude with it. When my father posed, it was really funny, because he didn't realize he was doing this with the fedora," she gestures at black and white Hans on the wall, his chin resting on the tips on his fingers and his hat rakishly tipped. "Now it's cocky. It's, 'Look at me, we've got matching shirts, we put in money to our matching hats.'"
"Well the difference is, bluntly, he was serious about it. They're not," Marisa says, nodding. He loved her world of mediums and ghosts. He made it his. She remembers fondly when he told her, "My dear Marisa with red hair... I think we can work together."
"I'm angry because I feel like enough is enough," Alex says, leaning on the table, idly drumming on an ice bucket that she says visiting spirits regularly use as a doorbell, clanging the handle up and down to announce their presence. (Alex and David also set up a camera in their bedroom to catch orbs bouncing around with the cats.)
To Alex and Marisa and many like them, ghost hunting isn't really about death—it's about living. It's about seeing that there's something in the universe beyond yourself and a life beyond yours and figuring out how you're going to live with that knowledge. Ghosts and spirits aren't to be feared, really—and demons are just ghosts who were assholes when they were alive. Alex approaches the practice of ghost hunting with empathy. She truly wants to help lost souls go home.
When Marisa leaves that day—a plastic bag laden with leftover treats in hand—she speculates that Alex's unborn child will likely be a girl, although it's still deciding, she says. A few days later, Alex receives a call when she's up in her bedroom, her safe haven, where her father's ashes still sit in the box they came in when she got them from the crematorium. She can't bear to scatter them by his apartment on Riverside Drive where he requested they be tossed. She can't believe that this tiny box is what he's been reduced to.
It's her doctor on the phone.
"What's the gender?" Alex asks, looking around at her father's books in the silence of her bedroom. "I'm sure it's a girl."
"You are correct," says the doctor.
So far, Alex's son is the only one of her children interested in following in her footsteps, while her three daughters are on their own paths.
As for this new baby girl? "I would like for her to stand firm with her mother, with the Holzers, and say, 'I'm going to follow Mommy,'" Alex says. "I'd like to start her out and give her those tools as soon as I can."