Thursday, November 29, 2012

Watching the Detectives - Ghostwatch (1992)

Want to whip the British people into a panic? Get a respected name possessed on "live" TV and have a real-life BBC reporter ghost-murdered on the same broadcast. And keep saying it's real. Real, real, real.  And this is exactly what happened back in 1992. Of course it helps that it aired on the BBC one of the most trusted names in news and features their actual reporters delivering darn good performances.Despite airing on Halloween evening, during the time when the BBC usually aired a drama program, a large percentage of the British population that watched this supposedly live event believed it to be real, causing a mass panic on the same level as when Orson Wells' War of the Worlds radio play aired.

The conceit is a simple one, beloved TV personality Michael Parkinson is sitting in studio with a paranormal expert Dr Lin Pascoe (Gillian Bevans) while a small camera crew (including reporter Sarah Greene) enter a house that is purportedly haunted. The show cuts between the studio which is based around Parkinson's discussion about Dr. Pascoe about paranormal phenomenon and a hotline set up at the BBC to receive phone calls from the public. Meanwhile at the house, Sarah along with a camera and sound guy hang out with the two daughters of this family whom the supposed ghost seems to be focusing on.

The first half, like most found footage movies, is a looooooong slow burn. The camera crew wait around investigating every bump and thump but slowly (very slowly) this begins to change. The call-in line is inundated with callers experiencing paranormal occurrences of their own. Flashes of bizarre, unexplainable images. And the true nature of the house and neighborhood is revealed as we learn about the figure known as "Pipes". It is a calmer, stiff-upper lip version of Paranormal Activity. It's a much quieter 90 minutes, with less in fighting and bickering.


The performances are stellar all-around, and the real life BBC reporters are utterly convincing. The fact that every occurrence can be almost explained away helps the conceit along all the more. The only problems lie in the ending when everything escalates beyond the point of believability. Though very creepy, the ending shits the proverbial bed a bit for me.

Like many found footage horror pieces, it starts off with a great slow burn but then feels the need to pay-off in some over the top way (or in a "no way" a la The Devil Inside). ThoughI don't know what I would have done differently. Ghostwatch still scared the bejesus out of me. (this may have been since at the time my apartment was having heating issues and immediately after the Ghostwatch ended, the pipes started making horrible noises) I simply wish the filmmakers had stuck to their guns a bit more and left on a note of uncertainty, rather than one of blowing things up.

If anyone's looking to get me a present, I'll happily take the framed picture of the bedsheet ghost

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