Fake TV Broadcast ‘Ghostwatch’ Terrified British Viewers Over Twenty Years Ago

The presenters of Ghostwatch (L-R): Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson, and Sarah Greene.

Looking for something spooky and different to watch this month while you get ready for Halloween? Let’s go across the proverbial pond and take a look at a TV film that supposedly influenced the wildly popular The Blair Witch Project.

On October 31st in 1992 Ghostwatch premiered on BBC1 in the United Kingdom and appeared to be a live broadcast with reputable, real-life news anchors and journalists. The show investigates the “true” haunting of the Early family home by a malevolent poltergeist. In-studio host Michael Parkinson and paranormal psychologist Dr. Lin Pascoe (Gillian Bevan) field actual phone calls from viewers, of which they reportedly got over 30,000, and speak to reporters in the field. Sarah Greene and her crew join Pamela Early (Brid Brennan) and her two daughters at their house on Halloween evening, prepared for a night of supernatural activity.

While much doesn’t happen for quite some time, an eerie atmosphere helps to maintain the slow building suspense. You learn that the girls have nicknamed the specter Pipes, because it knocks on the walls and rattles the pipes. Pipes behavior grows steadily more violent as the night progresses. Sometimes you may see something unusual out of the corner of your eye. Blink and you’ll miss spotting a phantom figure lurking within the frame. Eventually it builds to a completely chaotic ending.

Ghostwatch caused a great deal of controversy upon its airing. Although it did state at the beginning of the program that this was a scripted work of fiction, many viewers didn’t tune in until later and missed this warning. With a production value identical to an actual news broadcast, a timeslot that didn’t normally show fiction, and real reporters- it can be fairly understandable why some viewers were alarmed. People reacted much the same way in the United States when a radio broadcast of War of the Worlds aired in 1938.

The Broadcasting Standards Commission stated, “’In Ghostwatch there was a deliberate attempt to cultivate a sense of menace’” and ruled that the program was excessively distressing and graphic. To this day it has only been shown on British television the one time.

Granted, some of the acting is questionable at times and in the end it does become a bit over the top. Being over twenty years old, it may not be as scary to a new audience as it once was. Yet I for one will say that I watched it alone in the dark and found some scenes to actually be rather unsettling.

If you’re a fan of found footage films horror films, you ought to give it a try. Ghostwatch is available in its entirety on YouTube and Vimeo.

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