Tuesday, 27 April 2010

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves."

About as close to a contemporary US version of Ghostwatch as you can get (it even went out on October 31st!), Without Warning is another wonderful 'live' TV event from 1994 that depicts a special news bulletin covering the aftermath of a sudden, unexpected meteorite impact.

As the story progresses, it transpires that the seemingly calculated trajectory of this rogue asteroid may not have been a naturally-occurring event as first thought, but in fact directly influenced by extraterrestrials.

Hosted by veteran American journalist and news anchorman, Sander Vanocur and Malcolm in the Middle regular, Jane Kaczmarek, this one-off drama special cleverly begins with a fake murder-mystery show entitled Without Warning which is then interrupted by a special news bulletin. Reporters from all over the globe cover the event as it happens, while Pascoe/Silvestri-like experts exchange theories and insults over live tele-link in the studio.

Overall, Without Warning is wonderfully melodramatic, over-the-top, and fun to watch. With a cast much larger than Ghostwatch (featuring guest appearances from scientist/author, Arthur C. Clarke and popular Star Trek: The Next Generation actor, John de Lancie), understandably, there are times when some of the acting falls short of perfection, but like our very own Parky, Sander Vanocur skillfully holds the whole thing together - bringing a reliable, warm voice of reason to the increasingly-spectacular proceedings.

Intriguingly, at first glance, the plot seems to have been inspired by the real-life Shoemaker Levy 9 event which occurred roughly around the same time the film was released- when a huge fragmented comet slammed into Jupiter, creating some impact zones that were larger than the Earth itself. I remember, back in the day, the BBC ran some great short films on the subject - featuring an array of fantastically spooky music as provided by The Orb.

Believe it or not, this film is even more difficult to track down on VHS/DVD than Ghostwatch..! However, you might be able to track down a copy online if you look hard enough. I recall first catching the film on Sky Movies many years ago, having been trailed using next to nothing but micro-snippets of footage. Spooky, but effective!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Shivers #29

"The gullibility of the Great British Public comes under the microscope as we look back at BBCtv's Ghostwatch..."

Did you know the May 1996 edition of Shivers magazine featured a three-page article on Ghostwatch? Well, you do now!

Written by Jonathan Rigby, the article explores the unique and unprecedented reaction from viewers who believed the show was happening for real, interspersed with thoughts from writer/co-creator, Stephen Volk, and other members of the cast and crew. If you can track down a copy, I highly recommend it.

For all you Vans out there, there's also a further four-pages focusing on Stephen Volk's other work - notably Gothic, The Guardian and Ghosts - also made for BBC TV. To close, here's a classic quote from Sir Michael Parkinson where he discusses people's reactions to the 'live' drama's surprisingly realistic impact.

 Parkinson himself was quite unfazed by the strange demands made on him and the furore that followed. With typically pawky North Country good humour, Parky observed that, "It just shows what a capacity television has for delusion. I have no concerns whatsoever about the show. It was designed to frighten people, not to make them sit back in their armchairs and laugh... You always get a certain percentage [of people] who believe everything on television is real. Some people even believe all-in wrestling is real. The great majority of people who watched that programme would have realized it was a drama. But if it does for my career what it did for Orson Welles', I shall be delighted."

Thursday, 22 April 2010

"...They see us."

E.T.'s back, and this time... it's personal.
Alien Abduction: The McPherson Tape (also known as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County) is a first-person horror film similar in style to The Blair Witch Project, first broadcast on UPN back in 1998.

A remake of a lower-budget production that gained a viral-like notoriety in the late eighties, the story centres on a fractured American family who have gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving on the family farm. When all power to the house is mysteriously cut, three of the justifiably-spooked household venture out into the surrounding woodland to investigate...

On stumbling upon a landed UFO and two alien beings dissecting a cow with a precision laser, the guys inadvertently startle the Greys, who upon noticing them, quickly abandon their cosmic barbecue and track the terrified trio back to the house - where they use their supernormal abilities to gain entry and terrorise the family into submission.

The film, I'm happy to say, is still as creepy to watch today as it was when first broadcast. Stylistically, it's very similar to the first theatrical Blair Witch feature (released the following year) and also, the companion Sci Fi Channel mockumentary, Curse of the Blair Witch (which I strongly urge you to check out if you haven't done so already).

Sandwiched in between the 'discovered' footage of the McPhersons' harrowing ordeal, we are treated to snippets of interviews with various experts (also portrayed by actors) who give their opinions on the legitimacy of the content of the found tapes. The theory that the family were indeed attacked by aliens is not exactly a popular one, and is usually dismissed as being some kind of hoax or publicity stunt - a cunning narrative device to help paint an 'impartial' picture that appears to point to the constructed/fake portions of the film as being The Undisputed Truth. Clever stuff.

If you're feeling brave, the entire docudrama can currently be found on Google Video. More Ghostwatch-like reviews coming soon!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

"...Only fools are positive."

In a similar vein to Ghostwatch, Fail Safe is a remake of a classic 1964 TV movie of the same name that discussed the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Broadcast on CBS in 2000, the film features an impressive cast list - including George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Keitel, Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Hank Azaria, Brian Dennehy and Noah Wyle to name but a few.

The story takes place in decades past. Clooney is a fighter bomber pilot sent on a routine patrol who, due to a technical mishap, is mistakenly ordered to bomb Moscow instead of return to base.

What follows is a tense and moving power struggle as both the US and Russian military leaders reluctantly join forces in a desperate attempt to call back the planes, having already crossed their point of no return... or failing that, shoot them down.

With a powerful, anti-nuclear message, Fail Safe is definitely worth checking out. The script and acting are both superb, and it is even more impressive that the film went out live on US TV back in 2000.

Its simplicity, or perhaps efficiency, is key to its success. Depicted in black and white, the film almost plays more like a stage drama than a TV movie. The dialogue is tight and gets the message across without ever becoming stale. In short, if you can, check it out. And be sure to stay tuned for more Ghostwatch-like reviews coming soon!