31 Days Of Horror Movie Challenge: Day 4

Each day in October, three brave souls from our gang of Groovy Goolies (co-editor Paul Childs, Boardgames Master Aaron Nash and Ultimate Movie Geek Nathaniel Jepson) are watching horror films from around the world and across a wide spectrum of the horror genre, so expect slashers, ghosts, cultists, demons, vampires, cannibals, zombies, kaiju, aliens and more!

Paul’s Choice – Ghostwatch (1992)

On Halloween night, 1992, the BBC carried out a grand deception on the British public. Or did they? That’s the question that everyone was asking on 1st November that year – including 17-year-old me.

Yes, Ghostwatch is scary, and yes, it used beloved TV and radio personalities (Mike Smith, Craig Charles, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson) of the time rather than actors for its core cast.

But! It was billed as a drama. It was listed as only being on for 90 minutes despite Parky suggesting that it would be live all night. Several of the other folk in the show were played by real actors who had been on other shows that very night (including Casualty). It had a cast list at the end. It was credited as being written by Stephen Volk, who had previously penned the screenplay to Ken Russell’s Gothic. AND it was ALWAYS billed as being part of the BBC’s drama anthology series Screen One.

But people still fell for it. It was responsible for the first recorded instance of a PTSD diagnosis from watching a TV program. Tragically, one poor person was so troubled by the implications of actual living proof of the existence of ghosts that they took their own life. After a failed attempt to defend Ghostwatch on feedback show Byte Back, the BBC disowned it.

In his 2012 Ted Talk on Ghostwatch, Volk suggests the public were so fooled because, like Fox Mulder, they wanted to believe. They ignored the far-from-subtle clues about its dramatic nature because they wanted to see proof of ghosts. And they got it. And in a perfect example of “be careful what you wish for”, they didn’t like that.

Along with IT (the novel) and Polanski’s adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby, it’s one of the few things I’ve been too scared to see all the way through to the end (I have completed all three now, you’ll be pleased to know). And even when you know what’s coming, that it’s all smoke and mirrors (the overblown ending kind of gives it away), it still has the power to creep you out.

Ghostwatch remains to this day one of the great TV ghost stories, up there with The Signalman, Whistle And I’ll Come and its primary influence The Stone Tape. The BBC has vowed never to repeat it, but you can still check it out on DVD… If you dare!

Aaron’s Choice – August Underground (2001)

What a vile and disturbing film we have here. A film that I would worryingly consider a masterpiece in the genre. Made by a couple of friends over the course of numerous weekends, August Underground aims to unsettle and disturb while making a point about violence in cinema and how the horror genre has changed.

Basically, we have 2 friends recording themselves torturing people and being jerks. There’s no beginning, no middle, no end, just a compilation of footage seemingly recorded on VHS. There’s next to no plot or any reasoning why the friends are torturing and killing, just that they can. This is what makes the film powerful and thought-provoking. It is like a found footage film and at times while watching you’ll question if what you are seeing is real.

There is a repellent beauty into the way it’s filmed which really makes it feel like a found footage film. The acting isn’t great but the characters feel like real friends which makes the performances feel unstaged.

It’s sick, disgusting, disturbing and vile. In fact, its a film one should loath rather then enjoy. There is no enjoyment in the picture in the slightest. But saying that, it is also a lot deeper and far more clever then it should be. It’s a stunning achievement which makes you question your own taste and moral code. You reach a point in the film where you question why you are watching it, but most will continue watching. Why? It’s that inherent morbid bit if the psyche which many have that makes them watch accidents and people getting hurt.

It is definitely not for everyone, but for those that want something extreme and something that makes you question both yourself as well as what you are watching, there is no better. Just be warned it isn’t for the faint of heart.

Nathaniel’s Choice – Frailty (2001)

Our resident YouTuber is going to be sharing his thoughts via a video every day – you can read more about that (and find links to the video) here.

Paul Childs

As well as writing for Den of Geek and Your Truth, Paul also runs Badgers Crossing, a site for ghost stories. He loves the 1980s and thanks to a keen interest in Public Information Films he has never been electrocuted or set himself on fire.