Tag Archives: Ghostwatch

Ghostwatch with mother

For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.

Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 17 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.

Ghostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, okay so maybe not Mike Smith and Craig Charles, but we all liked Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson lent the whole proceedings some gravitas, investigate Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes.

That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Witten by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, the drama took its central idea from an actual documented Poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist.

Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.

Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.

We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…

Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.

Pat’s Labyrinth III: The future of Horror

Fearful face off

In the final part of his exclusive interview with British horror film auteur, Pat Higgins, Dean Newman discusses the rise of low budget horror and what Higgins’ horrors await to be unleashed…

DN: Obviously low budget horror has been making the headlines this year with Paranormal Activity, Colin and even Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus…

PH: That last movie really breaks my heart as I have a deep love of giant octopus movies (there’s something you don’t hear everyday – Dean) since seeing Warlords of Atlantis when I was a little kid. For me though Mega Shark was real missed opportunity.

DN: What do you think is the audience appeal? Obviously the genre itself ebbs and flows but why do you think low budget horror has reared its head so triumphantly again this year?

PH: I know Marc Price, Director of the £45 budget zombie horror, Colin, and was lucky enough to see the film at the cast and crew screening prior to the media buzz. I always thought Colin was a remarkable movie as it was something that just hadn’t really been seen before and was a fresh, original take on a subject that people really liked.

Low budget movies can have a unique voice and I can’t imagine that a Studio would have got it. I could see them liking the idea of following a zombie but wanting some human characters in the mix as well.

The purpose of Colin is that it is just about a zombie and Marc really ran with that concept. You could also say the same for Paranormal Activity; I can’t imagine that that would have made it through an awful lot of focus groups where we end up watching a lot of static shots of two people sleeping. They’d probably look at it and think of ways of pepping things up. But of course the normality of it all is what helps suck people in.

I think that quite often when the Studios process such films they kill such choices as those, they like the idea of it but haven’t got the balls to follow through on it. Fair play to the audiences wanting to go on that journey with them and not have everything be spoon-fed or explained to them.

DN: It reminded me very much of the BBC’s Ghostwatch.

PH: I think that was just a wonderful piece of TV and that just came so far out of left field and it really seemed to upset people. I remember seeing that in a jittery room full of people who really bought into the whole experience.

Certainly that, Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch have really blurred the boundaries between what is implied as real and what isn’t.

 

Trilogy of terror

DN: What horrors is 2010 set to bring for you?

PH: We’ve got Bordello Death Tales, which is an anthology movie, which I contributed one story to. There are also stories directed by James Eaves who did Bane and The Witches Hammer, and Alan Ronald, who is regularly my Director of Photography but also made a wonderful little movie called Jesus Vs The Messiah.

I liked Trick ‘R’ Treat quite a lot but there hasn’t really been a good anthology movie since the likes of Creepshow. There have been quite a few separate short films knocking around that have been lumped together and called themselves an anthology but nothing really that was designed and written to be three stories with common threads but with their own unique voice. We’ve shared some locations and some actors, so it does have its own thread.

It’s a very old school interwoven anthology that really is a cool little movie and I’m sure it will do very well at lots of festivals.

In terms of development I’ve been working on a script for a movie called House on a Witch Pit that I keep coming back to and have been doing since about 2002. It’s just designed to scare people, that’s all it wants to do. I love that script so I don’t want to get it wrong and want to make sure that we get the right kind of budget to really do it justice.

 

Directors of Death: l-r Alan Ronald, Pat Higgins and James Eaves

DN: What advice would you give to any budding filmmakers or writers?

PH: The first thing I would say is don’t record important scenes onto a head-cleaning cassette, which is the voice of bitter experience (laughs). Other than that I’d say learning to shoot with what you’ve got rather than with what you’d like to have.

It’s solid advice from Robert Rodriquez and I wished I’d listened to it more on my first film where I thought I’m going to do this and that and in the end don’t think I took the full advantage of all the good things that I did have for free and was trying to overreach on other stuff.

In terms of writing though it is still the one place where we can really beat Hollywood and really can do stuff that they can’t do. They are always going to kick our arse in terms of special effects but in a way that can make it all the more creative.

The low budget gift and the ones who have really made the most of the medium are the ones who have made sure the script is perfect, we care about it and it comes from the heart before it goes in front of the camera. They’ve really taken that to heart and been a success as a result.

DN: As well as low budget horror being popular this year, so has 3D, is that something you are looking at getting involved in?

PH: I’ve started doing some poking around to see how feasible it would be on a low budget. I remember the 80s surge of 3D affectionately and it’s something I’d certainly like to dabble in. Never say never.

Pat might not be poised to make Avatar quite yet but even Cameron started off small with Piranha 2: Flying Killers and just look at where the newly Knighted Peter Jackson started out.