Dir: Lesley Manning, 1992. Starring: Imports

It’s hard to talk about the scariest movie of all time, just like it’s hard to talk about the funniest. Once you claim what it is people will have every other horror movie they’ve ever seen to compare it to and since the title of "scariest" is so subjective it all comes down to each person's experience. So in this case, I must go past personal experience and try to somehow justify why Ghostwatch scared me more than anything.

Over the last couple of years a lot of "found footage" movies have popped up. Some have been great and some have not, but all of them are outdated by Ghostwatch. In 1992 on Halloween, the BBC aired a special program about the most haunted house in England. News reporters were to take you inside and show you what ghostly goings-on were taking place and supposedly, while it was airing, a massive terror spread through England as children and adults alike thought that what they were watching was real. But it was not. It was a totally fictional program about a mother and her two daughters who were haunted by an old tenant that the children call Mr. Pipes (after their mother tells them that the noises they are hearing are just the pipes rattling). But once the media shows up, Mr. Pipes isn’t too happy and decides that if what they want is terror, then that’s what they’ll get.

Much to my embarrassment, unlike England when this first aired, I knew this was fake. I had already learned that this was a scripted show performed by actors, but my reaction was probably very similar to those who were originally watching. The reason it works so well is because it applies the "less is more" technique. The character of Mr. Pipes, which is one of the scariest movie monsters ever, appears on screen for only a few seconds throughout the entire movie. He stands motionless as the camera wipes by or in the back of a crowd where you wouldn’t be sure what you just saw or you might miss him completely. Add to that the way he messes with the film crew and family, first toying with their heads, and then turning them on each other, and then finally causing real, lasting damage. To go into further detail would possibly ruin some of the fun (being scared out of your mind is fun, right?) so I’ll stop here. But it’s in the tension that lies the horror. Not knowing what’s coming next or when is what rattles you to the core and, in doing so, makes you afraid of your own house. More grotesque horror doesn’t work because you know that it won’t happen to you. But when a door creeks in a movie from the presence of a ghost, you’ll wonder what’s causing the same noises in your house.

But the other shocking thing about this movie is how well made it is. This isn’t like The Blair Witch Project where the actors legitimately didn’t know what was happening to them. Ghostwatch is meticulously crafted, leading you exactly where it wants to so that it can really get under your skin. For the first half it’s almost as if the writer and director are pandering to your doubts, trying to support your pre-conceived notions that this isn’t real, all the while building a mythology and leaving little hints in hopes of changing your mind later. The one thing that I do feel I missed out on was the brilliant casting. I assumed that all the characters were just actors playing news reporters. I found out later that they were real and well-known anchors playing themselves. Can you imagine the horror as you saw Walter Cronkite cornering a possessed girl? Maybe not, who knows? But it goes to show that the creators were not just making another haunted house movie but were attempting, by any means necessary, to convince people that ghosts were real.

Posted by:
Eric Branscum
Mar 18, 2010 11:53am
Steve Earle and the Dukes
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