As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
There are so many sub-genres of horror that a person doesn’t have to look too hard before they find something that will scare them. Slashers, giallo, and tales of the supernatural are just a few of the options that a would-be horror fan has to choose from. But what happens when what you are watching is real? Are the scares as fun when they are genuine? On Halloween 1992, the United Kingdom’s BBC1 aired a live investigation known as Ghostwatch with frightening results.
I am not a fan of ghost hunter-type shows. They are tacky and filled with people that have an inherent bias to believe in the paranormal. They usually do not accept any alternate explanation and will only believe that anything out of the ordinary that’s happening is due to something otherworldly. It can be frustrating to watch and is insulting to a person’s intelligence. Thus, I only watched Ghostwatch after hearing of its infamous history. The one time the showed aired on the BBC, tens of thousands of calls flooded the studio and a man reportedly committed suicide.
Ghostwatch immediately struck me as different from any ghost hunter show I had seen before. Instead of a group of “paranormal experts” or a celebrity host, the show followed actual BBC reporters who were investigating reports of unexplained activity at a North London home. It was refreshing to see reporters who were not led by their own opinions and instead were simply investigating a lead. One negative that does stand out is that on-site interviewer Craig Charles was not taking the show seriously. It’s good to have a “voice of reason” in these type of news stories, but Charles seemed more concerned with making light of the entire situation. Host Michael Parkinson is definitely skeptical, but the only reason I know so is due to a camera man’s mistake. During an interview with someone who had a paranormal encounter, a camera goes to an unaware Parkinson who is watching with bemused disbelief.
An intrinsic problem with shows like Ghostwatch are the testimonials. Many of the stories come off as make believe. Also, due to the live nature of the show, there is no time to screen calls. This leads to prank calls that undermine the investigative nature of the show. The experts that have been invited to the show also seem to be there to further their agenda. Again, the entire premise of the show seems to be hindered.
So, how is Ghostwatch different from other shows of its ilk? The show uses state of the art (for 1992) ghost hunting equipment borrowed from a nearby university. None of the crew on site are paranormal investigators, which adds to the realism of what we are watching since the show was a genuine news report. Mike Smith is one of the in-studio reporters. His wife, Sarah Greene, is part of the crew at the house and he’s obviously worried for her safety. Smith is not an actor so he would be incapable of playing to the camera. Parkinson and paranormal expert Dr. Lin Pascoe also get into an unscripted argument towards the end of the show.
There are the night vision cameras and sudden drops in temperature that come with the territory, but Ghostwatch does not spend time trying to scare you. This special was simply there to uncover the truth, and that’s what made it so frightening. The less said about the end of the show the better, though. Suffice to say, there is a very good reason it was never aired on television again.
Ghostwatch stands out among other paranormal investigative shows. Other shows in the genre use over-the-top special effects and experts in the field that try to hammer home what you are seeing is real. Ghostwatch takes a more journalistic approach. The ending is genuine and more frightening because of it. It’s a must see, but be prepared for the realest and most terrifying thing you will ever watch.