I once read the key to any great horror story is that it “stays with you in the daylight”. For myself, and I’m sure countless others, this maxim holds true for Ghostwatch. But with so many other similarly conceived works of the genre already in existence, it's worth noting that few examples have demonstrated such influence, such power, over their audience in recent years than the controversial, Screen One drama special.
By definition, Art is ineluctably dependent on the willingness of an audience to participate; as someone once said, “a painting has no music”. But assuming the key distinction between so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ art is merely the breathing space, or perhaps freedom, to allow one’s imagination to fill in the gaps between fact and fiction, then Ghostwatch might very well be considered a masterpiece.
With its surrealist themes and divisive villain, the film hit most of the marks required to one day be hailed as a worthy Horror flick, but it was the active participation of its viewers (the true-life ‘massive séance’) which has led to the film’s unforeseeable and lasting influence.
The fact that villainous spectre, Mr. Pipes, has somewhat entered into contemporary urban mythology helps bear this theory out. Despite being an albeit fictional entity, his shadowy presence continues to linger in the backs of fans’ minds, now almost two decades after he first burst onto our television screens.
Watching Ghostwatch was one of the many defining moments of my young life. I remember vividly and with some detail, sitting with my folks on the sofa (I was seven at the time), staring wide-eyed and enthralled as the unrelenting drama unfolded.
Oddly enough, I also recall sleeping quite soundly that night; more in a state of awe than heart-stopping terror, really.
...It was around a week or two later when my mind began to embellish what I had seen to the point where it bore little resemblance to what actually went out. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t help but find increasing numbers of potential ‘Pipes-hiding-spaces’... Even though I’d known all along that the show was in fact a drama, it made no difference. It felt real to me simply because I wanted it to be.
The idea to develop a retrospective documentary based on Ghostwatch came about in late 2007, at a Cineformation lecture held at Bristol-based media workshop, The Watershed. Chairing the event was Eileen Elsey, and appearing alongside her, special-celebrity-guest-star, Stephen Volk.
As the doors to the screening room finally opened, the good forty/fifty-strong crowd of Vans (Stephen Volk-fans) took to their seats. The evening began with Steve explaining how he first got into screenwriting, before going on to provide commentary for various clips of things he had been involved in over the years - The Deadness of Dad, Gothic & Afterlife to name but a few.
Half-way through the Afterlife promo reel, the projector image froze just like in Ghostwatch.
From the back of my mind, I recalled something similar had happened during the filming of another BBC show entitled, Hearts of Gold. The story goes, when one of the studio lights unexpectedly blew out during filming, certain members of the justifiably startled audience were heard to suggest Ghostwatch spook, Mr. Pipes might be responsible.
“This could be my big moment”, I thought.
Glancing up at the flickering projection screen, I could see the image was still tantalisingly frozen. The alluring silence pervaded...
Then, suddenly it happened:
“...It’s Pipes!” I bravely mumbled into the pitch-black hall.
For far too long a while, a truly agonising silence was my only response. That is until the guy sitting next to me suddenly perked up with:
“Oh yeah, the poltergeist from, er...”
...He couldn’t remember. At what was essentially a Ghostwatch fan convention, he couldn’t remember. Ah, well. Cheers anyway, mate.
The evening finally over, I joined the queue of adoring Vans and eagerly awaited my turn to speak. Taking a deep breath, I stopped fumbling with the already-crumpled stack of paper in my hands and quickly handed Steve over my treatment for Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains.
Much to my pleasant surprise, he seemed... well, pleasantly surprised. As a matter of fact, he seemed genuinely intrigued; even more so when I showed him my inexplicably stopped wristwatch - I swear to you, no word of a lie - the second hand dead on the hour, just as I later surmised, one of his Afterlife characters had ‘walked into the light’ on screen.
Steve's grin widened on seeing the ‘indisputable paranormal evidence’. Mine did too.
Despite quite a few years having passed since that fateful night, and not to mention, the documentary itself now being done and dusted, I wouldn't describe the BtC project as 'over', by any means - least of all as there is still undoubtedly a great deal of research concerning Ghostwatch out there waiting to be discovered...
As always, thank you so much for the continued support, Ghostwatchers... and try not to have sleepless nights.