Oct. 11th: Ghostwatch (1992)

Back before The Blair Witch Project, Ghost Hunters or Paranormal Activity, the BBC televised this one-time event on Halloween Night in 1992. Much like Orson Welles’ 1938 Broadcast of The War of the Worlds, viewers became alarmed and then inundated the network with phone calls, unaware that what they were seeing was a pure, prerecorded fiction. One family even went on to blame their son’s suicide on the program. As such, the BBC placed a ban on ever airing it again. The power of the mind…now that’s pretty spooky.

Is Ghostwatch that believable? Well, I don’t know. I’m not British so it’s tricky for me to assess just how realistic this all feels. As an American who maybe doesn’t pick up on all the small inconsistencies, I think it comes off fairly convincing. It’s certainly more believable than any Paranormal Activity or found footage horror film I’ve seen, but it still has moments where it falters.

I think the more appropriate question may be, is it that scary? To that I would answer no. Much like Paranormal Activity, the bulk of Ghostwatch’s runtime is devoted to setup. It’s interesting, but it’s not that exciting (or all that engaging) and it takes a good 40 minutes for anything beyond that setup to emerge.

Ultimately, not a whole lot happens, and what does occur is of the ghostly presence variety; loud noises, lights flickering, pictures flying off the wall, scary voices, and maybe a shadowy ghost face or two.

But like most fictions of this variety, it’s not so much what they show you as it is what they imply and what your mind does with that. How susceptible are you to this type of trickery, and how well can you detach yourself from the knowledge that it is not real will determined how much it gets to you.

I’m sure seeing this thing cold, broadcast by the BBC back on Halloween Night in 1992 would have gone a fair distance in selling that fear. Particularly if you had missed the opening and happened upon it sometime during its airing.

It’s gets a little eerie in spots no doubt, but your experience with Ghostwatch depends almost 100% on how much that kind of thing scares you. I couldn’t have been more unmoved by Paranormal Activity. It gave me no chills during its presentation and caused no lasting effects after. Ghostwatch left me feeling similarly.

I do think Ghostwatch is more effective, if only because it appears (at least to me) to be more believable. The trick when you’re trying to convince someone that what they are witnessing is real is perhaps that hardest to pull off in fiction, and rarely (if ever) is it accomplished. The whole illusion rests on every small moment and the minute there’s a crack in the facade, the whole trick is exposed.

This is also from 1992, so it’s gets a bit of a nod for treading these waters well before the footage gamers of the last several years. Though not presented in a typical “found footage” manner, the gimmick of a real live broadcast is maintained throughout.

It reminded me somewhat of the Tales from the Crypt episode “Television Terror” starring Morton Downey Jr., which predates Ghostwatch by about 2 years. The payoff is more like Paranormal Activity’s than the Crypt Keeper’s yarn though, that much I will say.

Ghostwatch does have the added bonus of taking place on Halloween Night. It’s not overloaded with festivities, but there’s a few reminders every now and again and it’s a nice touch.

I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much and I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, but as a horror artifact of wide acknowledgment and acclaim, I think its interesting and worthwhile and I’m glad I gave it a view. I can see why people are so fond of it, particularly if they had caught its original airing.

As such, I will say that this could make for some spooky Halloween viewing for the right audience, namely people really creeped out by real life ghosts and haunted houses.

So, I’ll I give it a crawl space full of crying cats up and a

Designation: Treat

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