Film History: Ghost Watch, Paranormal Panic
Updated: Aug 8
A friend of mine recently brought Ghostwatch to my attention. Ghostwatch was a BBC program that was aired on Halloween night in 1992. Though it was filmed weeks in advance, BBC presented it as if it was live television. The result? Similar to the original War of the Worlds radio show. People thought it was real....and well, people lost their shit. The BBC had over 30,000 calls into the station during the program.
Ghostwatch is a 90 minute horror film. The actors pretend to be BBC hosts, investigating a famous haunted house in England. They don't take it seriously, they play jokes on each other and of course, things escalate. They air found footage of the haunting in the house and hear terrifying stories from neighbors and residents to back up the claims.
As this is happening, viewers are also asked to call into the program with their own ghost stories. Calls from viewers get more violent as the program goes on...and seem to be related to the house they are investigating.
The haunting in Ghostwatch very clearly pulls inspiration from the Enfield Poltergeist (who we talk about on Lunatics Radio Hour.) This famous case also inspired The Conjuring 2 and has a lot of similarities to The Exorcist. Here is a mini-documentary on the Enfield Poltergeist if you want more info. But the general idea is that a family experienced everything from mysterious knocking, flying objects, possession, levitating bodies and insane voices coming out of a little girl. It has set the ground work for a lot of modern horror tropes.
Ghostwatch is especially interesting to me because of the reaction of audiences. It proves one thing, that we want to believe. We so easily jump to the conclusion that what we are seeing is real, instead of expecting anything paranormal to be fake. War of the Worlds aired in 1938, and in 1992, even after we'd come leaps and bounds in terms of technology and entertainment, audiences had a similar reaction.
There is even a Ted Talk on Ghostwatch.
Now, I'm sure your first question is 'where can I watch it?' It seems to make it's rounds through Shudder and other providers but currently I can't find it anywhere. Not to worry, I am keeping my eye on the situation and you will be the first to know when there is a legal way to watch it.
Shall we all listen to War of the Worlds together as we fall asleep tonight?