The BBC broadcast GHOSTWATCH on the 31st of October 1992.
It seemed to be a live broadcast which was a cross between Crimewatch and the movie Poltergeist. The programme terrified Britain and caused outrage in the press. It s legacy lives on, cited as an inspiration for The Blair Witch Project and Derren Brown s The Séance . GHOSTWATCH is regarded as a classic of the genre and remains as relevant, as terrifying and as inspirational today.
Sarah Greene and Craig Charles report from a reputedly haunted North London council house for the outside broadcast, whilst Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith stay in the warmth and safety of a BBC studio. The Early family are allegedly being harrassed by the ghost Pipes - so named as his banging and crashing were initially attributed to bad plumbing. After a deliberately slow start the crescendo sees children speaking in tongues, Sarah Greene sent to her doom, and Michael Parkinson possessed by an evil spirit.
Although pure fiction, the masterly combination of great scripting, intuitive direction and perfect casting made the supernatural pastiche appear frighteningly real. Despite being part of BBC Drama s Screen One series, the presence of Michael Parkinson convinced thousands of people it was real. The drama caused an uproar and was banned from repeat transmission for over a decade.
This documentary style drama lulls its audience into a false sense of security from the outset. Familiar faces in Michael Parkinson and Sarah Green (he the cynical uncle-figure, she all cups of tea with the be-spooked family)strengthen the atmosphere of cosiness, and the production itself takes seriously the viewers' disbelief about the paranormal - sceptical characters are strong in number, hoax calls are made to the studio and even the presenters have their tongues firmly in cheek.
As the story of the house cleverly and subtly unravels, the atmosphere turns increasingly disturbing and features some genuinely horrific moments. Viewers will have to be eagle-eyed to catch all the 'sightings' of the house ghost, and the intricacies of the plot and what is seen on screen reward repeat viewings.
Although the unbelievable ending is widely criticised, this surely is the re-establishment of the norm in terms of restoring the audience's cynicism after they have been taken in by the authentic horror of what has gone before.
Filmed on "live" location at a house in Northolt, Michael Parkinson and "Dr Lin Pascoe" (Gillian Bevan) try and stay calm as scary events build towards the chilling conclusion.
As a wide-eyed twelve year old on that infamous night in 1992, I found it difficult to sleep as every strange noise became Pipes. It is comforting in a bizarre way that the film still packs a punch ten years on and has lost none of its power, even after you know it was only a story.
Taken as it was meant to, Ghostwatch is an excellent and well-written drama. Michael Parkinson is too believable as the presenter, Gillian Bevan tries to keep her professionalism as the psychiatrist who befriended the family and Sarah Greene looks concerned and terrified in equal measure. The DVD also throws up interesting subliminal images of Pipes that were not distinguishable on the night and there is much fun and hair-raising moments in playing the footage in slow-motion, checking whether that reflection in the patio doors really was what you thought it was!
The quality of the picture and sound is excellent, bearing in mind its age but the extras are hit and miss. If you have access to a DVD-ROM computer you have full access to Stephen Volk's original screenplay (109pp) and treatise (37pp). If you don't, you are limited to a "Shooting Ghostwatch" voice-over by Laura Manning and full-length commentary by the writer. The scripts are an excellent addition but are under-utilised for those who do not have the necessary software.
In conclusion, new viewers who did not watch the '92 screening may wonder what the subsequent fuss was all about. For those who did, it is as good and frightening as you remember it.
All together now: "Round and round the garden..."
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