1992: Ghost Watch

In 1992, ghost hunting TV shows were not yet common.  I had to settle for In Search Of reruns, Sightings (when it was on, which was sporadic) and the occasional paranormal episode of Unsolved Mysteries that sometimes showed up between episodes about missing people. And somehow I grew up to earn a living running ghost tours, a job which requires a lot of research into haunted places, often including actual investigations.

Now, nearly 20 years later, ghost hunting shows have fallen into a formula: take a group of people consisting of guys with tattoos who say things "Dude, that place is $%^&ing HAUNTED" and flakey-looking women who talk about "energy" a lot. Have them "debunk" something early on so you know they're serious, and have each of them say "I was a total skeptic until…." Etc.  I can not even count the number of times I have been asked to say "Dude, that place is #$%ing HAUNTED" or "I was a total skeptic until..." It's almost as often as news articles about my tours and books have made Ghostbuster references. nightghoulery1 3
The Ghost Watch Team pre-dated the recent slew of ghost hunting shows by over a decade

Now, having worked in that field (see The Chicago Unbelievable blog), I have enough experience with these shows to know that it's not really the ghost hunters' fault ;  they're mostly a good, honest bunch of people who aren't nearly as nuts as they sometimes look on the shows. But they aren't the ones who EDIT the shows. The editors might show them hearing that some room was an embalming room, but NOT the part where they find out that that isn't true. Most viewers WANT that formula, not a serious investigation, and networks, who know that being honest is hardly the way to make a buck, or even any friends, in the ghost hunting field, oblige. The guys who want to stay on their air usually wind up going along with it after a season or two. (Btw - have you all seen that new Scooby Doo series where Velma is a ghost tour guide who gets in trouble for being honest about "ghosts" who turned out to be fake? Love it!).

nightghoulery1 1But enough ranting - let's get on with the show! In 1992, years before such shows became common, the BBC aired a  faux-documentary Halloween special called "Ghost Watch." Presented as a live paranormal investigation of a poltergeist, the first half seems very much like a standard ghost hunting program, but in the second half, a poltergeist named "Pipes" sort of takes over, killing a couple of "characters" and gaining enough power to wreak havoc across the U.K.

The word "banned" is tossed around a lot now - go to youtube and look up all those cartoons from World War 2 that no one airs anymore, and they're invariably listed as "banned.". They aren't "banned," really - people just say they are so they can whine about political correctness in the comments (which is how jerks claim victim status). But with "Ghost Watch," we have a Halloween special that the BBC actually DID ban.

You see, though it was all recorded well in advance, it was presented as a live show of events that were actually happening, and,like "The War of the Worlds" before it, many viewers didn't realize that it was all staged, and a number of them panicked. Something like 30,000 calls came in to the BBC, who responded by putting a 10 year ban on airing the program. It has not been re-aired, even though the ban expired in 2002.

Some of the camera work makes it fairly obvious that it's staged (not to mention the 'written by' credit and the fact that it WAS Halloween), but it's honestly more realistic than most ghost hunting shows that try to pass themselves off as real (and believe me, some of them aren't even close - many even say "for entertainment purposes only" in the credits). It's also a lot funnier - I particularly like the part where the roaming reporter doesn't realize the camera is hot, and makes an offhand joke about interviewing the Headless Horseman. "Where do you put the mic?"

If we ignore the controversy over "Ghost Watch" and stop worrying about whether the faux documentary was realistic, what we have here is a really terrific little Halloween special. It's at once a nice, spooky little 90 minute movie, and a really funny parody of 1992-era ghost documentaries.


I particularly enjoy the Token Skeptic, who shows up to act like a dick and is abused accordingly (a cliche of these shows that survives to the present day). You can just tell that the guy is biting his tongue to keep from blaming everything on "swamp gas." In fact, he shows a good example of the dilemma of the skeptic on these shows: he clearly believes that the young girls are faking the ghost to get attention, but how do you actually SAY that without looking like a total jerk?


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The Token Skeptic, looking appropriately smug and wiener-ish

The BBC may not actually SHOW "Ghost Watch" anymore, but it is available on both VHS and DVD. It does pseudo-science as well as any other ghost hunting program, and, while it makes no actual pretense of being real, it's also funnier, scarier, and more entertaining all around than most of them.

5 comments:

The Frog Queen said...

Completely missed this show. So going to have to get me some DVDs, thanks for sharing.

Cheers!

Mary said...

I found this website http://www.thatsmyface.com/f/masks that can create a super-realistic mask of anyone from just a photo. Imagine going as yourself, your boss, your favorite celebrity or worst enemy to a Halloween party!

Vlady045 said...

Wow, I´m getting a whole new(old) good stuff for my afternoons thanks to you, man I love your blog, you should post more often, I as a 16 year-old really like those old good cartoons. And please post more often...

DUDE YOUR WEBSITE IS F$%&/ING HAUNTED!!

Sara said...

Holy crap, this show scared the *&@# out of me! Legitimately more frightening than any more recent type of horror "documentary"...

C-Man said...

Happy Halloween!!!!

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