Originally Published Tuesday 21st October 2008
Every now and then someone comes up with a good idea. It may take some time for people to realise that it is a good idea and it can take years for even a small group to take notice. When this happens you often get to allocate “cult status” to that idea. After a few more years in cult status, many good ideas are dusted down and given a second look and more often than not in these dark, unoriginal times, they are massacred and re-worked and raped and thrown into the mainstream like so much other crap, and the faithful few who were there in the early days are left robbed and disappointed and forgotten.
An example of that mainstream GBH to an idea is the satellite TV show “Most Haunted”. The premise of the show – televised paranormal investigations – is a good one, and the fact that there is something like nine series of the programme shows that it is a popular one. Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t theirs. Neither was the fakery involved.
Ghostwatch, though made for television, is a 1992 film made by the BBC that was originally shown on Hallowe’en of that year. Even though the film is entirely fictitious, viewers will recognise the format as being like one of Most Haunted’s live shows, which are also broadcast about the time of Hallowe’en (though it’s important to point out at this point that Ghostwatch predates Most Haunted by ten years). The action in the film is split between the studio and a regular suburban house in London. In the studio Michael Parkinson (playing himself) hosts the programme, Mike Smith (playing himself) is in charge of the phone banks which the public can call in with their ghost stories, and they are joined by a parapsychologist (dunno who played her) who provides a professional opinion on the goings on in the house.
The house itself is lived in by a mother and her two daughters and the action there is reported on by Sarah Greene (playing herself) and Craig Charles (yes, that Craig Charles, from Red Dwarf, played by himself). As the evening progresses we are filled in on the story of the haunting occurring in the house and are brought up to speed on the background of previous tenants and other colourful local characters. Slowly but surely the tension mounts and some ghostly events unfold in front of a live television audience.
Only one career survived that terrible Halloween night!
Or so it’s meant to seem. Ghostwatch is a fine example of a mockumentary and it cleverly presents itself as a live TV programme fitting with the BBC of the time down to the personalities involved and even the telephone number the public were supposed to call. Because of the way it fits the time so well it is horribly dated and no longer stands up to scrutiny. In fairness it was never meant to be watched any other way than on that Hallowe’en night and it’s easy to imagine how it went down with the audiences that year – in fact, it went down a little too well. There was a huge backlash from the public against the film as so many thought it was real and felt manipulated by the BBC. The realistic way the haunting was presented indirectly lead to at least one suicide and the complaints to the BBC were followed with a self-inflicted ban on the film that lasted for ten years.
Ghostwatch is let down by some of the performances. The big name presenters do fine up to the point where they have to start acting out a storyline and stop just playing themselves. The unknown actresses playing the mother and daughters are pretty bad from the beginning, but you can forgive that as it’s meant to be members of the public on TV which is always hard to watch. The biggest complaint though is the pacing, the film is just a little too slow with too much flicking from studio to house to fill in the time before the haunting kicks off. It was a great idea though!
One thumb up and one thumb down for Ghostwatch.