On Halloween 1992, TV presenters Sir Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles hosted Ghostwatch, a live TV event exploring the apparently paranormal events surrounding two young sisters. The events that ensued scarred a nation.
Ghostwatch is a classic piece of TV close up magic. There’s a ‘by’ credit for writer Stephen Volk in the opening 30 seconds but we don’t see it because we don’t know to look for it. Instead, the script, direction and acting all tell us that this is something we’ve seen a dozen times before; BBC live event as jumble sale, the same faces jollying everything along knowing full well nothing will happen.
That’s how Volk and director Lesley Manning get you. We were so used to this sort of event by this point that we just bought it and everyone involved gets the joke to an absolute tee, each playing themselves but turned up a notch. Sarah Greene is compassionate, earnest and doomed. Mike Smith is compassionate, earnest and doomed to watch terrible things happen to his wife and friends. Charles is having the time of his life as a just-this-side of belligerent version of his early TV persona and Parkinson anchors the whole thing. Calm and honest and unflappable until it becomes clear, far too late, that that’s what doomed them all.
Round they go in a proto-found footage dance that includes an introduction to the film crew, comedically bad phone calls from the general public and Gillian Bevan doing fantastic, Quatermass-ian work as Doctor Lin Pascoe. Doctor Pascoe, along with Brid Brennan, Cherisse Wesson and Michelle Wesson as the Early family at the core of events, are the only ones that see what’s happening before its too late. The presenters, and we, can only catch glimpses as the truth slowly surfaces. A figure in the studio, someone standing being Greene in a room where she’s alone. The trap springs very slowly and then all at once and the apocalyptic brilliance of the last 20 minutes can’t be overstated. This is an astonishing piece of TV horror and the fact it lands so hard today is testament to that.
If you’ve never seen Ghostwatch before I honestly envy you. This is a fantastic set which includes a blu-ray of the show, art cards, a script book and a collection of writing on the show, including Volk’s sequel short story. This is the best the show has ever looked and every tooth it has is still very, very sharp.
Ghostwatch is available now from 101 Films