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Film: Ghostwatch
aka: Ghost Watch

In 1992, the BBC made a Halloween Mockumentary styled as a live investigation into a supposedly haunted house inhabited by a woman and her two young daughters. The broadcast starts off with the cast and crew going over what the night will consist of, explaining the family's situation and inviting viewers to call in and share their own experiences with the supernatural, as well as giving name to the supposed entity, "Pipes". After that, you have to see it to believe it.

Comparable to the US The War of the Worlds broadcast, Ghostwatch led to its own series of rash sightings and slight panics in England — the British Medical Journal reported that it had actually induced brief anxiety reaction in at least two children, the symptoms of which were compared to those associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. A major factor in this response was the versimilitude of the show's presentation; despite taking place during a drama slot, much of the cast was made up of well-known TV personalities playing themselves. Consequently, the show was subject to varying levels of censure, both internally and externally. It was attacked by the print media, who accused the BBC of irresponsible hoaxing. A married couple successfully filed for judicial review of then Media Watchdog the Broadcasting Standards Commission, after the latter refused to hear their complaint (along with several others) alleging a link between the show and the suicide of their teenage son. The BSC in turn reversed its position and ruled that the broadcast was "a deliberate attempt to cultivate a sense of menace" and that more active efforts should have been made to clarify that it was not a genuine live show.

Meanwhile, flustered parents piled onto BBC's Bite Back to voice their anger, while the BBC itself never made a repeat broadcast despite the obvious mileage available in terms of ratings, and supposedly withdrew its BAFTA nomination. In response, the creators pointed out that the broadcast had never been billed as anything other than fiction, that writing credits given both at the beginning and end of the show made this all the more clear and that they couldn't fairly be expected to flash regular disclaimers throughout the film for the same reason any other mockumentary writer wouldn't do so — that is, it would ruin the flow of the story.

The fact that the show contained some admittedly ropey acting and content warranting only a '12' certificate rating speaks volumes to the effective use of build-up and the power of suggestion employed by the writing.

"31-10", a short-story sequel to Ghostwatch by the show's writer, Stephen Volk, can be downloaded from his home page.

This broadcast contains examples of:

  • Agent Mulder: Dr. Lin Pascoe, as well as the part-time exorcist.
  • Agent Scully: At first, both host Michael Parkinson and Dr Emilio Sylvestri, the American skeptic, second guess Dr. Pascoe at every turn. Then, even as the studio is being actively destroyed by "Pipes" (or Raymond Turnstall), the host still cannot believe what's happening.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Parkinson declaring that the sudden deluge of panicked phone calls are all pranks, despite the fact that by this point something seriously spooky - supernatural or otherwise - has clearly hijacked the entire broadcast.
  • As Himself: Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Craig Charles. This was a principal factor in the confusion over whether the show was real or not. That all were associated with light entertainment and/or children's television made it an especially effective use of the trope, as there is a near-constant Mood Dissonance from the start between the cheery Beeb personalities and the spooky backdrop. The cameraman and sound man are also played by a real-life BBC camera team, and credited under their real names.
  • Bald of Evil: Kim describes Pipes as bald.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: A portrait of one hangs in the main studio.
  • Big Bad: as the show progresses, we eventually learn that Pipes is the ghostly progeny of Mother Seddons, the evil spirit of an infanticidal 'baby farmer' who has been making the estate 'England's answer to Amityville' for centuries.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: How the Earlys have unfairly come to be regarded due to unsympathetic media portrayal.
  • Black Eyes of Evil / Eyeless Face: Viewers who phone in describe Pipes this way.
  • Blow You Away: Used when Pipes gets really riled up.
  • Body Horror: When Raymond Turnstall committed suicide, his cats got hungry and ate his face.
  • Cassandra Truth: A Welshman calls in towards the end of the second act to report a plate leaping off the arm of his chair and smashing, however his delivery is so comical that Parkinson dismisses it as a prank and even Lin Pascoe doesn't appear to take it all that seriously. It turns out to be the first warning sign that the broadcast is allowing Pipes to invade the homes of viewers.
  • Cat Scare: Played straight, but keep your eye on the reflection in the glass door.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The house is fitted with timecoded CCTV cameras that can be remotely operated as well as devices for outside monitoring of atmospheric conditions and light frequency. Unfortunately, the ghostly presence is apparently capable of hijacking and manipulating the lot. The cameraman's kit is also capable of thermal imaging.
  • Creepy Basement: The "Glory Hole", which is never actually seen, but the fact that Pamela Early boarded up the door proves how scary it is. Sarah Greene and Suzanne disappear through the door and are never seen again.
  • Creepy Child: As the film progresses, both Suzanne and Kim have moments of this.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: And how!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr Emilio Sylvestri.
  • Driven to Suicide: Raymond Turnstall.
  • Drone of Dread: In the final scene, the ghostly wind and the cat yowling well up to create this effect just before the cut to black.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Mike Smith reports that one viewer called in to say that her dog won't stop barking and that several others are describing instances of their pets becoming very agitated.
  • Evil Smells Bad: When detailing an incident where 'Pipes' attacked her directly, Pam Early mentions there was a thcik, rotten-cabbage smell.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Pipes gives Mercedes McCambridge a run for her money.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In-universe, viewers call in to report bizarre things happening in their homes since tuning in. At the end, when Pipes possesses Parkinson, he directly addresses the viewer, saying "You didn't believe the story about Mother Seddons, did you?"
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Several very spooky ones involving Pipes.
  • I See Dead People: Kim has a few of these moments.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: Round and round the garden...like a teddy bear...one step...two step...
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: The abrupt restoration of peace in the house during the final act arouses Lin Pascoe's suspicions and leads to the WHAM Line given below.
  • Jerk Ass: Craig Charles does this quite well.
  • Jump Scare: Played straight. Craig Charles jumps out of a closet in a mask.
  • Meaningful Background Event: If viewers are alert, they may spot Pipes' ghost standing in the background of several scenes during the programme.
  • Mockumentary: Without much "mocking".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dr Lin Pascoe wants to help vindicate the Earlys by exposing their ghostly tormentor to the entire nation. As she herself realises, the broadcast becomes a 'massive seance', unleashing the evil spirit on potentially every household that tuned in.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Lin Pascoe and the rest of the in-studio cast when Pipes begins wrecking the joint. Only Parkinson remains behind.
  • The Show Must Go On: Even after Pipes has attacked the studio and everyone else has abandoned it, Parkinson stays put and continues to commentate on the action, or lack thereof.
  • Skeptic No Longer: Surprisingly averted, as Michael Parkinson is calm to the point of delirium right up to the point he is possessed, which is the last we see of him. According to the short story sequel, Emilio Sylvestri was unmoved by the entire incident, calling it delusion on a mass scale.
  • Stopped Clock: The cameraman observes that his watch stopped at 9:30 pm, just as they went on air. Several viewers call in to note the same thing has happened with their household clocks.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: The Earlys are victims of this, with the local media having made them out to be deranged kooks.
  • Talking Heads: In the form of members of the public contributing their own experiences with the paranormal.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Ghostwatch has aged well but has a distinct Nineties feel, aping then-emerging docudramas like Crimewatch and making use of technology that was in vogue at the time, such as the light pen and the infrared vision (the latter commonly used on Gulf War reports).
  • Villainous Crossdresser: Raymond Turnstall.
  • Watershed: Invoked in-universe by Michael Parkinson, who urges a distressed caller to tear her children away from post-watershed TV and send them to bed.
  • Wham Line: "This picture we're seeing now isn't live. This is some earlier footage, from earlier in the evening. This is just a cover, it's a dupe. This isn't happening now."
  • You Are What You Hate: An ideological example. Lin Pascoe berates Emilio Sylvestri for his smug faith in conventional scientific methods, arguing that such approaches have left us in the dark when it comes to explaining large swathes of human experience, preventing mankind from understanding potentially harmful phenomena. She spends much of the the first couple of acts using knowledge gained from her own particular methods of study and investigation to confidently explain and analyse the history of incidents in the house right up to the present day. However, as the ghostly activity in the house begins to escalate, she realises that utter complacency in her own methods have led to a very dangerous situation indeed and left her as clueless as the next person in trying to account for what is happening. When Parkinson calls her on this, she timidly concedes the point.

What big ears you have... what big eyes you have... fee, fi, fo fum... fee, fi, fo fum...
Garfield SpecialsHalloween SpecialHalloween Is Grinch Night
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alternative title(s): Ghostwatch
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