Today's Pick: Ghostwatch (1992)
Starring real BBC reporters, the show was presented as a live investigation into the haunting one family is experiencing in their home. The ghost, which has been given the nickname Pipes by the children, starts to appear in surveillance footage and in other places throughout. As the program progresses, the poltergeist activity heightens as we learn more about the history of the house and the entity (or entities?) that has taken over.
Thanks to being a cable-free household, I avoid being inundated with so-called "reality" television every day. I despise the format, as it offers nothing truly compelling while trying to pass itself off as documenting real events and real emotions. The level of fiction that goes into modern "reality" television muddies the creative enjoyment I wish to experience. However, that deceptive reality is exactly what made Ghostwatch such a memorable and effective experience when it originally aired on the BBC back in 1992. People thought it was a real program, and that made the events that took place far more terrifying.
Ghostwatch is something you could never get away with nowadays, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, no one would believe it. With the instantaneous access of information we are privy to nowadays, it would be extremely easy to debunk a show like this while it was airing, and ever since The Blair Witch Project fooled us all, our skepticism as a culture is permanently heightened. Secondly, the pervasiveness of "haunted" television shows has numbed us to the very concept. We have shows about haunted mines and haunted pets, so the unique nature of the project wouldn't stand out amongst today's inferior imitators. Finally, the controversy that emerged from Ghostwatch pretty much ensures that no one will attempt such a stunt again. After it aired, people reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress in their children, and one young man (who did have a mental deficiency) committed suicide and referenced the show in his note. This led to the show being pulled from rerun eligibility (in the UK) and has become something of a cult phenomenon.
All this doesn't say much about the special itself, which is constructed and paced excellently. It's also something that warrants repeat viewings, since the spectral image of Pipes pops up at least eight times throughout. It's like a creepier version of "Where's Waldo?" The acting is actually pretty convincing and for what amounts to a TV news special, the production is pretty good. Once things start getting really crazy, it's pretty obvious that what you're watching is quite phony, but it's all presented as real. That's what makes Ghostwatch work so well.
Ghostwatch is the kind of "reality" television I can support because it's completely aware of its fictional nature and plays with that idea of presenting itself as real. It's much more fun in spirit than the films it inspired (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity etc.), but it still retains an attitude of dread and genuine terror. It's basically one huge prank, and that kind of jokingly scary mentality is exactly what Halloween is all about.
Tomorrow, we'll follow around one of the most charming and likable characters ever put on film. It's too bad he's also a murdering psychopath. Catch you later!