From IMDb: Four respected presenters and a camera crew attempt to discover the truth behind ‘The most haunted house in Britain’, expecting a light-hearted scare or two and probably the uncovering of a hoax. They think they are in control of the situation. They think they are safe. The viewers settle down and decide to watch ‘for a laugh’. Ninety minutes later the BBC, and the country, was changed, and the consequences are still felt today.
Part of being a horror film fan is chasing the high of the first time you watched something really great. Most films end up being pretty forgettable, but if you are a fan of the genre you will keep digging through garbage just to find a diamond in the rough. When I participate in #31HorrorFilms31Days, I try to make it a point to watch things I’ve never seen before. Most of the time, none of those movies become an instant personal favorite. Ghostwatch is one of the rare exceptions to that rule, and I am very excited to tell you about it.
Ghostwatch is an infamous TV movie from 1992. The BBC had the idea to create a drama that would look like it was a live show about a ghost haunting. They aired it on Halloween night, and encouraged people to call in with their own ghost stories to an actual hotline they setup with mediums. This was still a time when people would randomly tune into a live TV show, but before they could readily look things up on the internet. The result was a faux documentary that some of its 11 million viewers thought was real. The BBC took a lot of heat for the show, with many arguing they should have done more to make it clear it wasn’t real to casual viewers. Although they eventually released it for the home market and it’s readily available online, the show has never been aired again on the BBC.
So it was due to that controversy I heard of this movie. But even if none of that had happened Ghostwatch is still a brilliant horror film that deserves far more attention. It is unbelievable how forward-thinking this film was. The film flips between a BBC studio and the “most haunted house in Britain”, where a live camera crew stakes out a ghost. Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring, and Insidious all owe an incredible debt to this film. It will also remind you of The Blair Witch Project and The Grudge. The live stream gives it a found footage feeling, and some of the players were actual BBC hosts people trusted.
The film is actually chilling and has some really creepy, good scares even by today’s standards. Like many found footage/mockumentary horror films, it begins with the characters joking around and not taking the situation very seriously. One of hosts refers to the switchboard as their “witchboard”, and hides in a pantry only to jump out and scare his co-host. But gradually things begin to happen that slowly strip away at the humorous facade. They actually hide the ghost in some shots, so you will see something and by the time you process it, it’s too late to know if you really saw something or not (but if you think you did, you probably did). I really love horror films that “hide” scares in the background.
So it’s creepy, controversial, and influential. But one last thing about this film is how absolutely MESSED UP the backstory of the ghost is. I honestly don’t think they could have kept this ending had this film been made today. It is extremely disturbing, and I could understand why parents in particular were upset by this film.
I don’t want to give anything about this film away. Just do yourself a favor and watch it. Preferably on Halloween night, on your own or with friends who might get a kick out of it as well.