September 2001
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Ghostwatch: Father of the Blair Witch
By S. Summers, Grade 12, St. Sebastian's Collegiate, Trout Brook, QC

In 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville. A year later, their footage was found.

We're all familiar with the above quote now. The surprise hit movie The Blair Witch Project's marketing people went to great lenghts to convince us it was real. The movie doesn't seem as scary when you know it's fake. But think of it as a real documentary, and you're in for a few sleepless nights. I thought it was brilliant and inventive.

Then my Web adventures brought to my attention a British TV special shown in 1992 entitled Ghostwatch. Perhaps I was too young to have heard of it at the time, but it caused quite a panic and a stir in the U.K.

Ghostwatch was advertised a few days before October 31st, 1992, as a live investigation of a family's poltergeist in Northolt, U.K. Famous and believable television presenters Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles were part of the live broadcast on Halloween night. Thousands of people tuned it out of curiosity.

The live program featured the Early monoparental family who, over the last few months, had experienced frightening apparitions and unexplainable events in their house. The children had inexpplicable cuts all over their bodies, noises were heard, strange figures were seen on a few occasions and, most frightening of all, the ghost occasionally possessed people and creepily talked through them.

Ghostwatch had placed a number of cameras in most of the rooms. Parapsychologists and experts were on hand to comment on the phenomena and try to explain the mysterious happenings. Then, strange things began to happen ON CAMERA! A lamp was smashed to pieces. The howling of cats could be heard coming from the walls. Many viewers called in to report they saw a figure in a black dress in many of the shots. A crew member noticed his watch mysteriously stopped as he was crossing the kitchen. Things were beginning to turn seriously wrong. And on live television!

Then, one of the children went missing in the cellar. When the mother attemped to go in, the child is heard screaming "He's hurting me!" as a figure briefly appears in the door. The live link from inside the house was cut and Dr. Lin Pascoe, parapsychologist, was near-panicking. She explained that the spirit of the house is now in the studio and the equipment. "Michael," she called to the anchorman at the BBC studio, "we have created a seance, a massive seance!" By this she meant that the wide audience of the live show had given the evil spirit of the house the means to escape and run rampant over England!

Things inside went crazy and people were frantically running, the mother still trying to reach her daughter, prisoner of the cellar, despite the crew begging her not to. Then, the lights went out all over the studio. Michael Parkinson, respected BBC anchorman (think of him as England's Petere Mansbridge) waa fumbling in the dark, trying to find a working camera. The sound was still on as he described the power outage. The wailing of cats could be heard all around him. Everything reaches a horrible crescendo as one of Brittain's most recognizable TV personalities begins to sing a creepy nursery rhyme in the SAME voice used by the children when they were possessed by the spirit!

A panick has swept England as television viewers were convinced that they had witnessed the unleashing of an evil spirit in the world. However, the whole thing was a clever hoax from start to finish, a hoax executed with impressive realism, right down to the format and the use of famous and credible figures. The "live" show had been taped a few weeks before in BBC's Studio One.

Callers were furious and newspaper decried or lauded a horrific and disturbing piece of television. Several miscarriages were linked to the terrifying broadcast, and a teenager's suicide is argued to have been brought on by it. Ghostwatch is sitting deep in the BBC's vault today and has never been showed on television since. Bootleg videos are available on many auction sites or through word-of-mouth.

In the wake of both Blair Witch movies and of countless reality TV shows, it would be ideal for the BBC to re-release this television classic this Halloween. One can only hope...



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