A few more words about Ghostwatch

I’ve made it clear I’m a huge fan of Ghostwatch on my blog here, and recently over at That’s Not Current where most of my reviews now live. What is clear is that over two decades later Ghostwatch is still a massive thing, and in fact seems to be generational as I’ve spoken to people who were barely a crusty stain on their dad’s underwear at the time but are huge fans of the film.

Looking back at the BBC continuity now it really is looking at a different era. Everything feels, well, less jaded, less dumbed down but the film still fooled people.

Yet as writer Stephen Volk has said, Ghostwatch managed to ‘fool’ people by manipulating their expectations in this TedTalk.

In the above talk Volk talks about Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape as an influence, and indeed, what Ghostwatch influenced with the Found Footage genre of horror especially. I don’t think we’ll ever see something like Ghostwatch on the BBC again, they’re far too conservative now and the reaction to the film in 1992 saw them having to make assurances the programme wasn’t real later in the night.

Indeed, it’s taken on a life of it’s own and thanks to the internet, has entered horror lore as this YouTube video shows.

Yet the BBC do seem to be softening on the stance of ignoring it by finally offering it for download on their online store.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the programme. It’d be an obvious time to not just have the BBC repeat it, but perhaps see if someone can work out how to do something that follows it up in the age where we’re all perhaps too cynical and jaded to not notice when something is a hoax or to be scared by such programmes? I’m not sure it can be done but it’d be interesting to see if someone could try it.

What I thought of Doctor Who: Listen

Thoughts about Deep Breath; Into the Dalek and Robot of Sherwood

Series eight of the new Doctor Who could well be the one which makes or breaks the entire programme since it’s return in 2005. After the extraordinarily successful David Tennant era and the Matt Smith era which saw the programme become a genuine worldwide hit, this was the series where the new Doctor broke the mold of the previous two, and it’s worth remembering that the Christopher Eccleston series wasn’t widely watched as later series so a sterner, harder Doctor is unfamiliar to a lot of viewers.

That’s why last week’s episode was so important. It was all in all a silly bit of fluff after two weightier episodes that showed this new Doctor to be less than the dashing hero we’ve gotten used to. It’s also setting up darker, and hopefully scarier episodes which brings us to episode four, Listen.

If the set-up for this seems somewhat familiar then it’s because it’s very much reminiscent of Blink, a series three story wildly held as one of the best for the current incarnation of the programme. It is indeed a fantastic episode, so does Listen compare to it?

The idea is that nobody is really alone. Everyone has something that follows them around during their lives but we never know it, instead we only get hints like the hairs on the back of your neck rising and that sort of thing. On the surface, this is Moffat retreading ground he’s done before and indeed, he does do this in this episode but it’s in entirely surprising ways. Listen is about the Doctor trying to find something out and in doing so he interrupts Clara who is recovering from an awful date, and takes her on a journey to the past and the future, but because she’s messed that date and it happens to be with the new regular character this series, Danny Pink, the Doctor and Clara are thrown to Danny’s past when he was a child in a care home in Gloucester.

While in the past the Doctor and Clara try to protect young Rupert Pink (who will grow up to change his name to Danny) from something under the bed, and it’s here that Moffat throws out a story which will annoy the hell out of viewers trying to put their kids to sleep tonight. It’s wonderfully scary but in that safe way that Who used to do so well. We don’t see the figure on Rupert’s bed who is hiding under his bedspread, but we’re scared because the Doctor and Clara are scared, though the Doctor is more curious than scared.

Then after another attempt at a date with Danny Pink, Clara is taken forward to the end of time itself to rescue Orson Pink, clearly a future relative of Clara and Danny who are seemingly destined to get together and have children. Orson is from 100 years in Clara’s future and is one of humanity’s first time travelers who was supposed to be sent into the middle of next week, but instead got sent to the end of time. It’s here at the end of time where Orson is the only person left, that he hides in his ship and locks his door from something lurking outside, but what is it and what can it mean for the Doctor, Clara and Orson?

Listen is a wonderful episode in a series which is of such a high quality it actually annoys me that Matt Smith was served so badly with poor scripts. Perhaps it’s the arrival of Peter Capaldi that’s raised Moffat’s game but this episode is glorious and most of all it’s incredibly unsettling at times, though there is a relatively uplifting ending, it’s still a vastly effective episode. There’s lots of lovely little touches from the Doctor and Clara talking about ‘pipes rattling’ which seems a clear reference to Ghostwatch, to a flashback from the 50th anniversary special which ends up explaining a location used in that episode.

At the heart of the episode are three wonderful performances. The first from Samuel Anderson as Orson/Danny Pink is great as he manages to play two different people highly effectively. The second from Capaldi is full of manic energy, but what this episode makes very clear is that the Doctor is hiding something at his very heart that at some point, we’ve all been afraid of. Capaldi really is making the part his own very, very quickly. The last performance comes from Jenna Coleman who frankly, was window dressing at best in the last series. Now she’s a character, which means Coleman is acting, and doing it well. She holds the episode together perfectly. Coleman is wonderful in this as she acts as not only the Doctor’s companion as it’s made very clear at the end of this episode, but as his moral guide.

Listen is brilliant. I never thought I’d say that about a Moffat episode after the last few years, and especially the debacle which was Matt Smith’s final episode, but I am. It’s refreshing to have Doctor Who return to being a programme interested in telling stories as opposed to spinning out plot for episodes on end with plastic characters who mean nothing. The improvement in storytelling, acting and characterisation this series in just four episodes is amazing and I hope it remains at this standard because this could be the best series yet since it returned in 2005.

As for next week, Abslom Daak.

What Ghostwatch Did For Me

Ghostwatch was a drama/mockumentary the BBC broadcast on Halloween in 1992. It’s been shown just the once in the UK and it’s possibly one of the single most influential bits of telly there’s been in the last 25 years. There’s bits of it in The Blair Witch Project. Paranormal Activity wouldn’t have a plot. Even Chris Morris might not have felt the freedom to experiment with the format of television & satire in works like The Day Today or Brass EyeGhostwatch really is this important, which is impressive for a 90 minute bit of telly that was shown just the once and only got a DVD release in 2002. It’s lived on in the memory of millions of people because it was a perfect storm of filmmaking, casting and most importantly, scheduling.

Firstly let’s explain the plot. The idea is that the BBC are doing a live broadcast from a supposed haunted house in a quiet street in London called Foxhill Drive, a street which looks like a vast number of streets across the country. The programme is hosted by Michael Parkinson, an amazingly well respected figure, Sarah Greene and Mike Smith, well known for children’s television as well as live TV and radio presenting, and Craig Charles, hugely popular thanks to Red Dwarf.

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The genius in all of this is that by making it seem like a real live broadcast featuring presenters well known for presenting live television and hosted by a massively respected figure like Parkinson made the programme seem as real as any of the genuine programmes the BBC were doing like this at the time and still exist, with programmes such as Autumnwatch. The set-up would have been familiar to people, so the BBC decided to put this out on Halloween night which in 1992, was a Saturday night.

The importance of it being broadcast on a Saturday night is vital. As it was Halloween people were going round houses for Halloween parties and coming home with their kids late in the evening to turn on the television just around the time Ghostwatch was starting. This meant a lot of people might have missed the opening credits the BBC forced the makers to stick on the programme as they suddenly started getting worried that people might react badly to the programme.

As for myself, I missed the first ten minutes or so so we missed the opening credits.

I was living in Leicester at the time and I’d picked my then girlfriend up from her job on the Saturday afternoon to journey straight to the pub. After spending a few hours in the comfy joys of Leicester legendary and now sadly, long lost Pump & Tap, we’d headed to my house for a bit of grub, some takeouts and an early night and also to avoid being battered by the large storm that was whipping the city, and indeed, much of the UK that night. So as we got home we dumped our stuff off in my bedroom and popped our heads into the living room to see two of my housemates sitting there with their mouths open watching something on the telly, and that something was Ghostwatch and we started watching just as things seemed normal about 20 minutes or so into the programme so we’d missed the basic set up but we quickly picked it up. Once the really scary fun and games kicked in the four of us watched the thing without saying a word. The shared experience was simply brilliant but once it stopped we ended up sitting around drinking telling each other how not scared we were.

Yes, of course we weren’t scared. Right

Sadly none of us videoed it. That was a mistake as the four of us had to try to repeat to people over the next few days what we’d seen as the programme had sparked a huge response, so you’d bump into people in the pub, mention you’d seen Ghostwatch and have to  try to get across what was so bloody brilliant about it. This began a decade of mythology building as Ghostwatch passed into modern culture but thanks to the hysterical reaction to it the BBC never were going to repeat it. In fact the BBC have never repeated it, and seemingly never will which is a bloody shame.

This meant that if you wanted to see a copy you had to find one. That meant either taking the risk of spending a tenner on buying a VHS tape full of snow from an advert from the back of Fortean Times, or in my case, scour comic marts across the south of England trying to find a copy. Back in the day there used to be a few dealers who’d turn up at the Camden Marts, or the marts held at the TUC buildings in Central London who’d often have a copy which would sell instantly. See, in those pre-internet days such rarities were hard, if not impossible to find so most people were happy just telling their stories about their experience when seeing it, which is of course exactly what I’m doing now.

Every now and then you’d bump into someone who had a copy, and more. On a trip back home to Glasgow i discovered a mate not only had a copy, but had made a Ghostwatch game. Can you save Sarah Greene??!

Sadly, for some reason that escapes me I didn’t see it, but I did play the game…

For the rest of the 90’s I’d pretty much given up on getting a copy. Every now and then it’d come up in conversation such as the time at one Glastonbury Festival where late at night the conversation turned to Ghostwatch, and again different people told a similar story of how they’d been out, come home and stumbled across this scary as fuckity programme and that they wished they could get a copy.

By the late 90’s the internet was beginning to make such rarities less rare, but dial-up connections meant that if you actually found a copy then it’d take a decade to download it, but thankfully in 2002 the BFI released a lovely DVD of it in time for it’s tenth anniversary.

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I finally owned a copy!!

I remember the day when it turned up, I opened up the box, saw the DVD and stuck it in my player ASAP with my then girlfriend (a different one to ten years earlier) sat there looking confused before piping up that she remembered it all now and was this the one with Pipes? It turned out that she too had a story about how when she was a kid her and her mum watched it and were scared to bits by it.

Over the last decade since that DVD release, Ghostwatch has gained a new lease of life not only because of that DVD release, but because of people who were kids at the time who’d now grown up remembering that thing that scared them to death and wanting to know if anyone else felt the same, while us older folk just wanted to see the thing again!

So we’ve had the excellent Behind The Curtains website, which has spawned a splendid documentary about the programme and the reaction to it, not to mention a book which although I haven’t read yet, is something I will as soon as I get my arse in gear to get a copy.

There’s also the national seance where fans across the country, and indeed, across the world watch it at the same time while having a running commentary on social media like Twitter.

Ghostwatch has dated in places, but it’s still a massively effective bit of television that in especially it’s last half hour is utterly terrifying in places, and I bloody love the thing as my annual Halloween treat, so I’m off to watch it again and I’ll make sure I don’t get a sleepless night tonight…………….

Death, gore and violence-An update….

I haven’t done what I said I’d do in my last update as real life has dragged me down, plus a trip to Cardiff last weekend to discuss the next stage of the Cunning Plan left me broken and hungover but it’s coming along well. I will do the Glasgow Comic Art Convention blog next if only to finish it and release it in the wild.

I intend to do another few Glastonbury blogs before this year’s festival, or at least get the timeline up to the year 2000 so I can make a huge moan about the gentrification of the festival and make myself seem edgy and stuff. I also want to do a couple of very personal ones which may, or may not be as open as they could be depending upon how I feel and how explicit I want to make them. No, it’s not going to be Confessions of a Former Comic Book Dealer, though that’s an idea in itself, but it’s a bit Glasgow related so we’ll see how the mood takes me….

This week has been mainly made up of working, sleeping and watching V/H/S 2 which is obviously a sequel to V/H/S, an anthology horror film I really liked apart from one segment which was rubbish, but with the first one it was the first segment, Amateur Night which stood out a mile just for the sheer insanity of it all.

VHS - Lily Dark

 

The sequel isn’t frankly anywhere near as good. The first segment owes an awful lot to films like The Hand, but relies far too much on basic jump scares including at least two or three which seem lifted directly from the excellent Ghostwatch including using this scare several times..

pipes

 

The second segment is a fun little thing about a man’s first and last day as a zombie, and the final segment is a load of fun featuring aliens and lots of scary jumps. It’s all pretty ok and ordinary.

That is of course missing out the third segment, Safe Haven, from the the film. This part is made by the same people who did the frankly mental The Raid and if you’ve seen that then you get an idea that Safe Haven might not be a quiet bit of horror.

safehaven

It’s not. It’s also the only one that uses the found footage/mockumentary format to another level and shows there’s some serious legs in the format if a filmmaker puts their mind to it. At this point it’s unfair to say anything else because you need to see this as unaware as possible because when it kicks into gear after about ten minutes of set-up it doesn’t relent with one extreme image following another and then another and then another….

It batters you into submission while it invites you in on the joke without insulting the audience as parts of the first segment does. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen an anthology horror film and wanted a segment to be much, much longer if only to see how much further they could push the horror, not to mention the very, very dark comedy running throughout the segment.

Basically, it’s the redeeming feature in an average film and makes an average film a bloody good one and I use the word ‘bloody’ quite literally. It’s a quite remarkable section in the film but not one to watch if you’re a pregnant woman, or at all squeamish…

 

And with that quickie review, it’s off to an early night as work beckons and I need sleep to dream of the future…….