On Halloween 1992, one BBC programme, Ghostwatch, changed the face of horror for an entire generation. Broadcast ‘as live’, the show saw Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, and Craig Charles undertake an ‘unprecedented scientific experiment’ as it explored the strange happenings of Foxhill Drive, Northolt. Pitched as the first in a new ground-breaking series, Ghostwatch sucked in a nation of viewers, in a way not seen since H.G Wells’ broadcast War of the Worlds. It was only once it was over that the audience realised the trick that had been played on them. Well, the grown-up members of the audience at least.
For those children allowed to stay up late that night, lives were changed forever. Playgrounds across the country were alight with stories of what they had witnessed the next day. It became a generation’s urban legend, the creepy tale of Foxhill Drive, and for some, it would take years for them to uncover the truth behind the reality of director Lesley Manning’s magic trick. Rather than feel jaded or betrayed, the revelation only serves to endear Ghostwatch to them more. Rewatching the film when older, armed with the knowledge of the ruse, doesn’t actually dilute the impact, which is a massive achievement. Those dying for a revisit will be thrilled to hear that this Halloween, Ghostwatch arrives on limited edition Blu-Ray from 101 Films.
If you’re feeling truly brave (and live close enough), there are two events happening. One is this weekend in Sheffield (as part of Celluloid Screams), the other on Friday 28th October at BFI London. These events offer an immersive viewing experience complete with spooky sound effects, smoke, rattling noises, and all kinds of horror. THN attended the first screening at Celluloid Screams this evening, and whilst we’re keeping our lips sealed about the finer details, we can confirm that they are a ton of fun, and perfectly timed for Halloween.
Ghostwatch itself is still as unnerving as ever. As much as one can keep repeating it isn’t real, Manning’s craftwork still has you questioning certain aspects. What really helps sell Ghostwatch is the presenters involved. At the time of broadcast, Sarah Greene was a staple of BBC programming. Working across both kids shows like Going Live and magazine format show Pebble Mill; it made sense that she might be involved in a new programme for the channel. Similarly, the inclusion of Michael Parkinson added credibility to the project. The only slight indicator that something was awry is the addition of Craig Charles. He slightly over-egs his part as the silly cynic, but his segments are short and so audience attention remains on the other two.
Events start procedural enough, Manning and team going to dedicated lengths to cheat the authenticity of the story. As Ghostwatch unfolds and the ghostly happenings begin to occur, and increase in frequency, there is a shift in the atmosphere. It’s a small shift initially, but builds so much that even the most disbelieving in the audience will begin to waver. Ghostwatch also possesses some strange sorcery that seems to draw weird noises into the viewer’s home. My own personal recent rewatch included an early nocturnal visit from the local fox. A plot aspect of Ghostwatch, pitches itself as affecting the nation watching at home, and so this occurrence got the heart beating faster than normal.
Touted as an influence on Host, watching Ghostwatch today, it’s easy to see how it has inspired many found footage projects. Though itself not found footage, it certainly deserves a space in discussion around the sub-genre. The most criminal aspect of Ghostwatch is that there’s been nothing like it since. This is perhaps due to the fact that Manning’s creation is one of a kind and bottling lighting isn’t something that happens easily. The perfect scary treat for this Halloween season, draw the curtains and settle in for the fright of your life.
The broadcast that terrified a generation, Ghostwatch still retains its ability to unnerve. Perfectly timed for release this Halloween, add it to your spooky viewing immediately.
Ghostwatch was reviewed at Celluloid Screams 2022. Ghostwatch is released on Blu-ray on Monday 31st October 2022.