Postcards from the Edge: How 'Dark Tourist' ruined David Farrier's life

Publish Date
Thursday, 19 July 2018, 3:52PM

"I hate the idea of dying. I'm absolutely terrified by it," David Farrier says, a slightly manic tone creeping into his voice.

"Karl!" he suddenly, and loudly, exclaims. "Listen to me! Imagine this; you're gonna die one day. It will all be over."

I don't really want to imagine that but before I can tell him he says, "I have a real issue with that".

Death, it's fair to say, does not become him. But for the past year Farrier has chased death. Hunted it. Haunted it. He has traversed the globe going to the worst places imaginable and meeting the worst people you could ever hope to avoid.

And he has done it all for your entertainment.

Tomorrow his new documentary series Dark Tourist lands on Netflix. Farrier made his name documenting wonderfully weird oddballs and though there are occasional elements here, mostly this is not that...

During the eight episodes, Farrier visits worryingly radioactive sites, haunted forests, a torture house and even converts to voodoo. He hangs out with white separatists in Africa, Pablo Escobar's favourite hitman in Colombia and attends a vampire's birthday party in New Orleans.

"I can't nap," he sighs when asked if making Dark Tourist had any affect on him. "I can't nap anymore."

"Do you ever get that thing... you have a little nap in the afternoon and your head's in this dopey state and then it suddenly hits you out of nowhere; 'OH F**K ME I'M GONNA DIE!'."

He shouts that last line which gives me a bit of a fright. Then, more quietly he says, "It's horrible. It's a huge panic. Do you get that? Or is that just me?"

No, that's just you, I say.

"Oh God... I can't sleep. I can't sleep anymore. My life sucks now."

He's laughing but there's some truth there. Dark Tourist is the natural progression of his forays into the strange. His acclaimed documentary feature Tickled proved his willingness to step outside the comfy strange to venture into dark strange, and this show has him diving headfirst into the darkness.

"The appeal of doing a show looking at dark tourism is that it's a whole lot of people that are doing or involved in quite strange things. Whether it's the people visiting these places or the kinds of people that see a terrible thing and think, 'I could turn this into a tourist opportunity'," he explains at the beginning of our chat. "You have a nuclear disaster in Japan and suddenly there's a little industry built up taking people on tours into the radioactive zone. It's all these strange people in all these strange places doing strange things. Which is my kind of craic."

"Ever since I've been on TV in New Zealand everyone has compared me to Louis Theroux. I think mainly as an insult. 'You're the shit version of Louis Theroux. Get your own ideas. Stop trying to rip this guy off'," he laughs. "I've always had that. I guess because I do like meeting people doing odd things or people involved in strange little cults or people that are off the beaten trail."

Dark Tourist takes Farrier well off the track and sees him going to places where he, himself, is beaten.

"I went to McKamey Manor in America, which is an extreme haunt. Basically, it's a torture house. This guy Russ McKamey's been running it for 20 years. You'll get waterboarded, you'll get hit. There's a variety of things he does to break you. No one's made it all the way through. Everyone bails out at some point and no one knows exactly what goes on inside."

Not knowing is for the best. Dear Gawd it looks awful. Think an abusive mix of the Sawtraps, bugs, dog food, vomit, beatings and proper extreme military torture and you're halfway there. Participants have to sign exhaustive waivers, produce medical certificates and be interviewed before being allowed in. The extreme awfulness lasts eight hours and, as Farrier notes, no one has made it to the end.

"I did it as long as I could," he says, making him both a hero and a damned fool in my eyes. "Russ really messes with your head. It's gross."

And then, in the understatement of the year, he says, "I didn't like it".

But wait... there's more. 

"There's a couple of episodes where I go to incredibly radioactive places. It's super-disconcerting when the readings are suddenly spiking. Because, essentially, you're in the middle of a microwave. You can't feel anything but this device is telling you that the radiation is way higher than is safe. It's super-unsettling."

Farrier exposed himself to radiation twice. Once in Fukushima, where his radiation-detecting device skyrocketed to a level over 50 times stronger than safe, and then in Kazakhstan, where he literally dived in.

"For some stupid reason I went swimming in a lake that was created by an atomic bomb. It's called Atomic Lake. It was a great shot and an amazing feeling... you're swimming in the puddle left by an atomic blast. It was surreal. But sitting here now I'm like, 'Oh Christ, was that a wise idea or not?'."

No. The answer is clearly no.

"The thing in the back of my head now is, 'am I going to regret this in 20 years time?'"

I ask him if there's anything he can do? Can you even get a check-up for radiation poisoning.

"I'm avoiding doing it," he replies. "You can send your bloods off to get tested. I'm planning on doing that. But it's one of those things I keep putting off. Like many useless New Zealand men I don't want to think about what might be wrong with me. I'll just pretend that everything's fine. But I do plan to get tested."

While he waits for the results he'll be praying to Thron that he gets all clear. Wait, who's Thron?

"There was a situation in Africa. I was looking at different sorts of voodoo and the different gods and we went to this little island where people get possessed and start self-harming. There's glass and bottles and cutting involved and you're in this very small area with them. That got intense."

Did he volunteer to get possessed?

"No, no. I avoided that particular god. I'd already pledged my allegiance to Thron, a God who is relatively peaceful."

Smart move, I say.

"Yeah," he laughs. "My voodoo priestess took me just to explain that not all voodoo gods are peaceful, some are angry. This is what you sign up for with an angry god. That's when they all became possessed and started trying to hurt themselves. When someone gets possessed and suddenly they're running headfirst into a concrete wall and slamming their face into it. I avoided that particular god myself. But I am bound to Thron now for the rest of eternity."

Torture, self-harm, radiation... it's all getting a bit heavy. To lighten things up I ask about the vampires.

"They take themselves very seriously," he laughs, brightening. "They'll look you dead in the eye and tell you, "I need human blood to feel normal. I need this blood to survive."

In New Orleans he celebrated a vampire birthday, enjoying a slice of ice cream cake with them (but skipping the blood feeding), before quizzing them on their vampireness.

Does he believe they were real vampires?

"I mean... it goes to that whole thing of what's your definition of a vampire? if your definition is someone who drinks human blood, then I guess yeah, they're a vampire."

Yeaaaah... but that's not anyone's definition of a vampire though is it? There's more criteria involved.

"Well, that's the thing. What's your reference point? If you read Twilight then you twinkle, right? In the sun. Or something. Different rules for different people," he laughs.

"But I don't believe vampires are real," he says. "But this lot would certainly argue otherwise and I had several very frustrating arguments with vampires in the United States."

Now that he's travelled the world and gone to places you don't want to go, done things you don't want to do and seen things you don't want to see, what, if anything, has he learned about people?

"Everyone is intrigued by death. That might seem a fairly obvious thing to say but it's the one commonality between us. We're all gonna die and cease to exist. I think everyone's absolutely terrified of it. People go to these spots because they want to think about it and acknowledge it with other people. That makes it more manageable or less scary in some way. Whether they're learning about it or laughing at it or bring freaked out by it. At least they're confronting it a little bit."

"We're all on the planet, none of us know why we're here. We might have ideas about it but no one knows what we're meant to be doing. You're just here, you've got this limited time and at the end of it you die."

So, what you're saying is no one knows what the hell's going on and we're all gonna die?

"Yeah! That's it." He laughs long and loud when he says, "And that's what you come away with from this show."

Dark Tourist lives up to its name. Macabre at times but very entertaining. Farrier may now be pledged to a voodoo god, riddled with radioactive blood and unable to sleep but his show is a winner, finding a glint of light in these dark, dark places.

The next morning my phone beeps. It's a message from the dark tourist himself.

"Thought you'd be glad to know I woke up with a panicked gasp this morning; 'Another day!'. Another day not dead. What a delight."

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission.