Ghostwatch (1992)

Ghostwatch (1992)“Ghostwatch” is a live-documentary that was broadcasted on Halloween night on British national television in 1992. The show opens in a studio at BBC with the dry elderly host Michael Parkinson in suit and tie, saying “The program you’re about to watch is a unique live investigation of the supernatural. It contains material that some viewers may find to be disturbing.” Then we get introduced to the “most haunted house in England”, a council house in North London, where a single mother and her two young daughters are being tormented by poltergeist activity. With BBC’s reporters, cameras and some paranormal investigators in place, they’re ready to hopefully get some paranormal activity on tape for the whole of Britain to see live. The studio also has a phone-number the viewers can call during the broadcast to share their own experiences with the paranormal. Further into the investigation we learn that the family is apparently haunted by a male ghost called Pipes, who likes to hide behind the curtains in the children’s bedroom. We even see a manifestation of him in the children’s bedroom after they’ve gone to sleep, and things starts to get from bad to worse while the cameras keeps rolling.

 

By the way, did I mention that the documentary was just a big, fat hoax? Written by screenwriter and horror novelist Stephen Volk who pitched the idea originally as a conventional drama to the producer Ruth Baumgarten at BBC. It was meant to be a segment of a series, but the producer wanted to go for a single, and Volk got the idea to make it as a real transmission from a haunted house in War of The Worlds-style. The producer loved the idea and asked Volk if they could do this. Well, let’s try, he simply replied. And they certainly did, and succeeded far more at what they had imagined, in both a positive and a negative way. Lesley Manning was hired to direct, and filmed the whole thing one week in advance before it was broadcasted as a “live” event in a haunted house on Halloween night. And with a huge budget, believable actors, the well known and respected Michael Parkinson as a host, and to top it all, watermaked by BBC, what could go possibly wrong? Oh, well..

 

Although it was presented as live and real, broadcasted on the trusted BBC, we got an obvious big hint at the end when the titles started scrolling, that this was a hoax. In other words; you’ve been fooled, there’s no Hairy Scary or a Crooked Man hiding under your bed. It’s safe, have your tea, go to sleep, good night. But damage was already done as half of Britain was nearly traumatized and scared shitless, in addition to being confused and pissed off. For those of us who grew up in the 80’s, it’s not hard to imagine the impact of a case like this. This was presented as a raw, authentic, unfiltered documentation of a family who was tormented by poltergeist activity for all to watch on TV in their safe living-room at home. And I know I would have had nightmares for a long time myself if I saw something like this when I was teen in 1992. There was no internet where people could jump right into to make some thousands tweets and upload hundreds of reviews and analysing-to-death videos on YouTube and debunking the whole thing before the end credits even started rolling. That type of exposure didn’t exist in those days, and that was also the beauty of it, unless you read newspapers the days after. It kept some of the mystery going and people talking. God, I feel old now…

 

During the broadcast that night, Stephen Volk sat in a pub somewhere with the cast and crew celebrating while watching their masterpiece, completely unaware of the aftermath that followed. After it ended, the producer arrived to tell them that there had been a lot of complaints tonight. Volk took that as a “great, it worked / Ha Ha / fooled you all” with a big grin on his face. 30. 000 had called BBC with feelings of shock, anger and confusion. Three pregnant women went into labor through being shocked, a lot of parents were angry when their kids couldn’t sleep that night. Volk’s personal favorite was a letter sent to the producer by a woman whose husband was a veteran of the Falklands War, who was so scared watching the program that he’d literally shit his pants. And she was writing to get compensation to buy him a new pair of jeans. The next day the shit-storm in media didn’t waste any time and headlined in the tabloids “The Heads Must Roll at BBC” which resulted in the network deciding to bury the whole program and never broadcast it, and pretend it never existed. So yeah, a complete shit-show for the poor bastards at BBC. But while these can be considered laughable incidents, it got worse.

 

Five days after the broadcast, an 18 year old man killed himself due to the psychological effects it had on him. He left with a suicide note saying “Mother, do not be upset. If there are ghosts I will now be one and I will always be with you as one.“. His parents claimed that he was “hypnotized and obsessed” by the program and blamed BBC. A case with Post-traumatic stress disorder was also reported with two ten years old boys who also got deeply affected. You can of course debate whether it’s justifiable to blame a TV-show for this, but fortunately there weren’t more reported casualties.

 

It wasn’t until 2002 “Ghostwatch” got its first reincarnation on VHS and DVD on its 10th year anniversary, with commentary track by Stephen Volk, director Leslie Manning and producer Ruth Baumgarten. And as a gold-digging-trivia gem as this is, a retrospect documentary was made in 2013 called “Ghostwatch: Behind The Curtains” with interviews of the cast and crew.

 

“Ghostwatch” is a fun watch (Ghost-Fun-Watch), but mostly due to its wild concept that was new and fresh at the time, and how this cultural phenomenon literally scared and scarred a whole nation out of the blue and buried BBC in angry letters from terrified viewers. Orson Welle’s radio hoax “The War of the Worlds” from 1928 must be the only case besides of this that pops in mind. This is just a one of a kind that deserves its recognition and legacy, and also a part in history of horror movies. Having such a backstory and the huge controversy in mind, while putting your mindset back to 1992 and imagine watching it on an old TV, it makes an even better viewing experience.

 

Ghostwatch

 

Director: Lesley Manning
Country & year: UK, 1992
Actors: Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Craig Charles, Gillian Bevan, Brid Brennan, Michelle Wesson, Cherise Wesson, Chris Miller, Mike Aiton
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0200659/

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Guardian (1990)

The Guardian (1990)As I had always thought that The Exorcist was William Friedkin’s one and only pure horror movie, I didn’t know what to expect from this slightly obscure little film called “The Guardian” when it finally came into my radar. So let’s check it out.

 

The movie opens with the text: «For thousands of years a religious order known as the druids worshipped trees, sometimes even sacrificing human beings to them.» After viewing this text introduction, we’re in the home of a high class family where a boy reads Hansel and Gretel to his little infant sister while his parents are getting ready to go on a business trip for some days. As soon as they drive away, the nanny they hired grabs the baby and take her to the woods. The parents returns to the home since the mother forgot her glasses, when they realize that the baby and nanny is missing. The nanny has already sacrificed the baby to a tree where its face is embossed in the tree bark. The nanny gets away, and three months later in sunny California we get introduced to a couple who has a baby on the way. And with their busy career, they of course need a nanny. They have some auditions, and amongst them is the nanny we saw in the beginning. Unaware of her dark intentions, they hire her. The neighbour falls madly in love with her, and one night he follows her when she goes into the woods. There, he witnesses her laying down nude on a tree branch and beginning to fuse with the tree bark, and he realizes that this woman has no business being around children.. or anyone else for that matter.

 

Sam Raimi was first hired to direct due to his recent success with “Evil Dead II”, but dropped off to make “Darkman” instead (which is awesome, by the way). In came William Friedkin who was going through a tough time and apparently took whatever got handed to him. He also had a scary experience with a nanny himself who put his son in danger, and thus could relate to the two parents and their feeling of hopelessness. So with the director on board who was known for the scariest movie of all time, “The Exorcist” , what could go wrong?

 

“The Guardian” had a shooting schedule set to two weeks, but ended up in twelve with a chaotic production. The british screenwriter Stephen Volk was hired to write the script, but was never satisfied with the story’s progress. He and Friedkin figured out that the film would be better without the fantasy elements, but the studio disapproved of that idea. The Guardian was heavily promoted as “From The Director of The Exorcist” and his big comeback to the horror genre in seventeen years. And since The Exorcist was a supernatural horror movie with a huge success, they thought Friedkin could just snap with his fingers and repeat the magic. Well, that didn’t work at all. Stephen Volk got a mental breakdown, left the production and made the mockumentary “Ghostwatch” for british TV two years later. Friedkin was left behind with an unfinished script that was rewritten every day while shooting.

 

Jenny Seagrove, who plays the Nanny, was also unhappy with the fantasy elements and wanted the movie to be a down-to-earth psycho thriller about a nanny who kidnaps babies. She called the movie awful and told the studio that it would be just wrong to have a nanny who’s a druid and becomes a tree. Well, who could blame her.. When “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” was released two years later by Warner Bros, which became a huge financial success, she rang a friend at Universal who simply said: “Don’t. Don’t even talk about it, you were right”. Ouch. The film was cut for theatrical release and for Cable TV. In the TV version the director was credited as Alan Smithee, the pseudonym directors use when they’re so unhappy or embarrassed of the final product that they don’t want to be associated with it. However, Friedkin has stated on a commentary track on one of the DVD’s that he didn’t even know about the TV version, and views The Guardian as his most personal film.

 

Seagrove has said in retrospect that the film is “good fun”, and that’s a great way to summarize it. It’s no masterpiece, but far from boring. It’s a rather bizarre movie with full of cheesiness, some great gore, nudity, a scary tree that gets mutilated with a chainsaw in Evil Dead-Ash-style while tons of fake blood is pouring out. Makes me wonder if Sam Raimi actually had some input on that aspect. And of course we have an authentic birth-giving scene.

 

The Guardian

 

Director: William Friedkin
Country & year: USA, 1990
Actors: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell, Brad Hall, Miguel Ferrer, Natalija Nogulich, Pamela Brull, Gary Swanson
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099710/

 

Tom Ghoul