Wednesday 28 October 2009

Ghostwatch (TV)

The Early family live in a housing estate in Greater London and are being tormented by a poltergeist. On the night of October 31, the BBC set up a live broadcast to investigate the haunting. As journalist Sarah Green spends time in the house, talking to the Earlys, Michael Parkinson sits in the studio with paranormal expert Dr. Pascoe discussing the nature and validity of the paranormal phenomena. Over the course of the broadcast we learn the Early house is haunted by a ghost named Pipes who appears to the Early children as a man in a long black dress with a bloody face. As the night wears on and Pipes grows increasingly agitated, Parkinson maintains a professional scepticism, while Sarah and Dr. Pascoe both believe that something terrible is happening.

Using the live broadcast format to its full potential, the story is moved forward by events that take place in the house and in the studio. Since the show’s live, viewers are encouraged to call in with ghostly stories of their own, and though there are the expected cranks, some callers reveal interesting and pertinent information about the house. Callers also phone in to discuss ghost sightings from earlier in the programme as well as current paranormal activity taking place in their own homes.

The show’s effectiveness is in its presentation—the verisimilitude is unparalleled. Familiar BBC presenters, both in the studio and at the house, played themselves in order to further the show’s realism. With two locations, Ghostwatch’s narrative moves back and forth between studio and house, and the “live” nature of the broadcast is reinforced as people interrupt one another, transitions from location to location become less fluid, and technical problems reveal goings-on behind the scenes.

The reality nature of the programme breaks down somewhat toward the end, but this is hardly a problem. By this time, Pipes has completely taken over both the house and the studio, using the live television medium as a conduit to escape the confines of the house.

Though Ghostwatch was entirely fictional and the BBC, fearing people would think the show was real, added a short opening credit sequence at the start of the programme. Orson Wells had done the same thing 54 years before in 1938, but still people believed the story to be true. Ghostwatch didn’t invoke the same levels of hysteria as did The War of the Worlds, but the show did convince a lot of viewers that what they were watching was really happening. Ghostwatch aired exactly once on British television, on October 31, 1992.

In this nerd’s opinion, the show is good a building suspense and it deliver a few good scares. Though it could hardly pass for a live broadcast today, due mostly to the actors’ wardrobe, the look and feel of the show is still very real. Additionally, the show’s end is really creepy and on par with Prince of Darkness as one of the best endings in horror.

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