I was talking with my HeyUGuys brethren (namely Jon, Gary and Paul) about their plans for Halloween, and telling them what was on my agenda. The chatter turned from discussing plans, to them insisting that I watch something other than my normal fare. I thought: What could be better than Poltergeist? It’s a classic and it’s my go-to scary movie. The guys were adamant that I give their recommendation a try, and trusting their judgment, I agreed. Hence, Halloween of 2012 would be the night I experienced Ghostwatch for the first time.
I’m sure that a good majority of our readers have already seen this, or at least know about it. Being an American, I wasn’t very familiar with it at all considering it’s never aired here in the States. I vaguely recall hearing a little bit about this film, but never really thought twice about it. For the uninitiated, Ghostwatch was a made-for-TV film that aired on the BBC back on October 31, 1992 (seems fitting that I watched it on the 20th anniversary). Originally presented as a live television event, and using real BBC personalities who played themselves, the film follows a news crew as they try to uncover, and get proof of a malevolent poltergeist, nicknamed Pipes, that has been terrorizing a single mother and her two young daughters. Paranormal professionals are also on hand to lend their expertise and a phone number appears on screen giving the illusion that the public can call in to discuss their own paranormal experiences. Cutting back and forth between the studio, the house where the haunting takes place and talking to callers gives the film the feeling that it’s actually happening. At least, had I watched it when it aired, it probably would have felt that way. I liken this to what Americans saw when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault on live TV, but without the huge disappointing fail at the end.
I don’t want to get into a full blown review here, because I’m sure a lot of you have already seen this, multiple times most likely. Instead, I’ll tell you what I experienced while watching this with fresh eyes and virtually no prior knowledge. Films that are shot using the found-footage or reality TV styles tend to make me a bit nervous. We’ve been beaten over the head for several years now with the style and it doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. The portion of this film that took place at the house was indeed filmed like a news crew filming live from the scene, but knowing that this was made prior to Blair Witch or any of those other films, made this one seem ahead of its time. It didn’t bother me in the least and it added an air of realism to the film.
I grew up watching horror movies with my mom, and truth be told, she ruined me for life when it comes to the scare aspect. I was never one who suffered from nightmares, not even after watching scary movies. I grew up hearing the words “it’s only a movie honey” so much that they’re pretty much ingrained in my brain forever. Knowing that “it’s only a movie” has kept me from getting scared. The downside to this, is that to me, no movie is truly scary. Maybe I want to be scared out of my wits. Maybe I want to not be able to go to sleep after watching a scary movie so I can know what that feels like. I’m constantly on the look-out for that one movie that will scare the beejesus out of me, and I go in to every scary movie thinking the same thought: Maybe this will be the one.
Naturally, I had the same thought when I settled down last night for Ghostwatch. Did it succeed? Well…yes and no. When I agreed to watch this film, I purposefully didn’t read up on it or watch any trailers because I find it’s best to go into these types of films blind. I wanted to let the story unfold on its own and I wanted to discover it like others before me did when it first premiered. I have a tendency to watch scary movies with one eye constantly scanning the background, reflections, corners, or any other place that is prime fodder for things to happen. I’m normally a pretty good judge when it comes to the scare factor, but I’ll be honest here and say that A) I actually missed a couple of things and B) this film, got the better of me at times.
With a run time of about 90 minutes, Ghostwatch takes its time setting things up. The first hour or so is relatively mellow with not a whole lot going on. Things happen, but we’ve become so accustomed to the in-your-face scares, that this seemed rather calm. However, the final 30 minutes…and the end….oh my God…the end…are a completely different story. That’s what had me sitting up in bed with, Ok, I’ll admit it, me peeking through my fingers that were covering my eyes. I NEVER do that. OK….I rarely do that. But this silly 20 year old British movie had me acting like a little girl. I felt foolish and elated all at the same time! How could this be? How had I not seen this film before? Well, the answer to that one is easy: it has never aired here in the States, which is a damned shame. But I digress.
Coming at this for the first time so long after its initial release gives a unique perspective. Watching how this tale unfolded, and in which the manner it unfolded, makes me wonder about films like The Blair Witch Project. Did those filmmakers ever see Ghostwatch and if so, did it influence their style with that particular film? I saw similarities between the two and wondered.
I can tell you that there is one aspect where the two are identical. It’s not a spoiler so fear not…you can keep reading. While The Blair Witch Project didn’t scare me, especially during the movie itself, I will give it credit for the after effects it had. This was film, that even though it may not have hit you right away, it festered for an hour, maybe two, maybe more depending on the time of day. However long it took didn’t matter, because I’d bet money that at some point during the night, most people who saw it got a little freaked out because their brain couldn’t stop thinking about it. It wasn’t so much the movie that was scary; it was the imagination that the movie sparked that was scary. For me, Ghostwatch was no different…and that’s what I love about it. Sure, it shows its age, but so does the original Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween and, well, Poltergeist.
After the film ended, I decided to do some research into the history of the film. Upon reading about it, I found that the reaction to the film once it aired was so severe, that the BBC banned any future showings for a decade. While part of me can’t believe that people took it so seriously, I’m also not surprised. I can’t imagine the panic for those who actually thought it was real. Using actual BBC personalities as themselves must have made it that much more authentic. We put faith and trust in our news anchors to deliver us the goods in a truthful way, so why wouldn’t this story be true right? Knowing all of this now, makes me wish I had been able to watch it alongside everyone else 20 years ago. However, it’s never too late to experience it for the first time if you haven’t seen it yet.
Like I mentioned, unfortunately you can’t find it here in the States, unless you want to buy an import from Amazon. It’s also not available to stream on Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu or Crackle. Thankfully, Vimeo has the whole film, split into three different parts so if you want to watch it, you’ll need to go there.
I really loved this film and find it worthy to join the ranks of my normal Halloween fare. However, I think this is a film that would be best enjoyed with a group of people. Everyone sees things differently after all and that quality can only enhance what is otherwise and solid scary film. I covered my eyes for crying out loud. I hate to admit it, but there it is. That being said, I was able to sleep last night. It may have been after I watched something else for a while, but I have no nightmares to report. Although, I’ll never hear the sound of banging on pipes or the cries of cats the same way again.