On Saturday 31st October 1992, BBC One aired a one-off television movie called Ghostwatch. The film, directed by Lesley Manning and written by Stephen Volk, was produced under the BBC’s drama anthology series, Screen One, and was broadcast in a prime-time slot at 9:25pm.
Although the movie was a complete work of fiction, filmed in advance of its airdate and advertised as such in the weekly Radio Times, Ghostwatch was presented as if it was a real, one-off episode of a television show. The BBC was known for airing live shows such as Crimewatch and Hospital Watch, and so Ghostwatch was created to look as if it was part of a similar programming strand, broadcast especially for Halloween.
Ghostwatch starred Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, and Craig Charles – all household names in the UK – and followed their investigation into a supposed haunted house in Greater London. The ‘show’ featured studio-based discussions including a ‘phone-in’ section, but the main focus was a ghost hunt on location at a family home in Northolt.
During the course of Ghostwatch, viewers watched as Sarah Greene spent a night in spook central, along with a camera crew and the owners of the home. At first, Greene’s time in the house is fairly non-eventful, however, as the night draws on, Greene finds herself at the centre of something sinister.
While the BBC promoted Ghostwatch as a fictional film and the whole thing was an elaborate ruse of sorts, millions of viewers tuned in believing they were watching a real investigation into the paranormal. As a result of this confusion, the network received a large volume of complaints about the film, both on the night and over the coming days, with many viewers angry they had been duped over its authenticity.
To this day, and due to the huge amount of controversy that surrounded it, the BBC has never repeated Ghostwatch, and the organisation largely ignores it. Outside of the Beeb, the movie has been released on DVD a couple of times, but those DVDs were put out some time ago and are long forgotten.
However, on Monday 31st October (aka Halloween), to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Ghostwatch, the movie is getting a long-overdue re-release, this time on limited edition Blu-ray. This swanky, all bells-and-whistles release comes via 101 Films, and includes the original movie, along with a wealth of special features and extras.
I’ll get onto the extras momentarily, but for those who can’t quite recall Ghostwatch, or who have a very foggy memory of the film, this mock-picture was a big deal back in 1992. It scared the heck out of a whole generation of kids (myself included), and still stands up to this day.
Those who watched it on Halloween in 1992, when it aired shortly after Noel’s House Party, Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game, Casualty, and the Nine O’Clock News, will recall the sense of dread they had when it appeared as if the BBC had proved the existence of the afterlife. Sure, paranormal investigators the world over couldn’t seem to get a beat on Casper, yet Sarah Greene and Parky were seemingly able to provide proof of ghosts live on BBC One.
And all these years on, it still seems largely quite believable. Sure, the technology in Ghostwatch is dated and some of the acting is a little ropey in places, but the whole thing works rather well.
It works because everyone involved in the faux-film is 100% committed to selling the heck out of the premise, and really do their best to sell the hoax. There’s no winking at the camera, or giving the game away, the whole thing is played straight down the line, with a cast that want to make everything look and feel very real.
Greene and Parkinson are excellent, but then so is Mike Smith, Craig Charles, and Gillian Bevan who takes on the role of spook expert Dr. Lin Pascoe. All of these presenters/actors help to create an environment which feels very safe and familiar, particular for UK audiences, and this means the true horror can really take hold when needed.
As far as I’m concerned, Ghostwatch is a truly remarkable film which we are unlikely to ever see again. The internet, social media, and streaming services such as Netflix and the like, make faux-films such as this one almost impossible to pull off these days, so it’s best to just appreciate what we had and revel in it where possible.
OK, onto the extras now, and as mentioned above, they are plentiful.
The limited edition Ghostwatch Blu-ray, includes a brand-new 30th anniversary documentary called ‘Do You Believe in Ghosts?’, along with a new commentary from film historians Shellie McMurdo and Stella Gaynor. The original commentary from writer Stephen Volk, producer Ruth Baumgarten, and director Lesley Manning (which was included on the old DVD releases) is also included on the disc, as is the archival featurette ‘Shooting Reality’.
Outside of this, the set comes with six art cards, as well as two limited edition booklets, which include ‘Extra Sensory Perception Management’ by Sarah Appleton, ‘Ghostwatch – As It Happened’ by Tim Murray, and a short story by Stephen Volk in one, as well as reproduced script in booklet two. All of this is then housed in a chunky cardboard box, featuring brand new artwork, while the Blu-ray case itself features a reversible sleeve.
Oh, and of course, Ghostwatch is now presented in HD. The beauty of this release is that Ghostwatch is given an upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray, and this is important for maintaining the quality of this cult film.
The set DOESN’T include the 2012 documentary, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtain (which isn’t available anywhere at present), but this is due to a rights issue and is not an oversight by 101 Films. However, this documentary really isn’t missed, as the new 30th anniversary documentary fills in this gap fine, and includes input from Sarah Greene.
Everything that is included in this Blu-ray is designed with the collector in mind, and if you’re a Ghostwatch fan then I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t want to rush out and grab a copy as soon as possible. Remember, this is a limited-edition release, so if you want the booklets, the art cards, and the chunky packaging etc, then now is the time to part with your cash.
And of course, with Halloween mere days away, revisiting Ghostwatch 30 years after its one-and-only screening on BBC One seems like a no-brainer. So, do yourself a favour, invest in this BBC gem and watch as Parky and Co. give the performances of their lifetime.