On Halloween, back in 1992, all of 11 million viewers sat down around their television sets to watch what they believed to be a live BBC broadcast from a haunted house in Northolt, London. But what they got was something far from the expected.
Audiences were terrified, switchboards were inundated with complaints, and the BBC disowned the show. But underneath the mania and controversy lies a fascinating and often deeply disturbing exploration of how trauma and abuse can haunt both the mind and the body.
Directed by Lesley Manning, from a screenplay written by Stephen Volk, the reality–horror/pseudo-documentary television film sees hosts Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles attempt to create television history by presenting concrete evidence of paranormal phenomena. To achieve this, the programme launches an on-air investigation into a house on the fictional Foxhill Drive where Pamela Early (Brid Brennan) and her daughters Suzanne (Michelle Wesson) and Kim (Cherise Wesson) are tormented by a poltergeist referred to as “Mr. Pipes”, his name originating from the noises made by the house’s plumbing.
Expecting light-hearted scares at the most, the production believes it is in complete control of the situation but, ninety minutes later, the BBC, and the country, were changed, and the consequences are still felt to this day.
This Friday, to celebrate three decades since Ghostwatch aired in the UK, superfans Celluloid Screams and immersive cinema pioneers Live Cinema UK will be screening a one-night-only immersive anniversary cinema screening of the film at the BFI Southbank, resurrecting the original spirit of the broadcast for a hauntingly-good immersive celebration of the paranormal, Parky and Pipes.
This experience, supported by National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network, will include a Q&A with director Lesley Manning and writer Stephen Volk.
In celebration of the film’s 30th birthday, and the fact that we are celebrating the film three decades on, SCREAM sat down with director Lesley Manning to discuss how powerful the show proved to be when it first aired and the legacy it went on to leave on so many people and in so many subsequent horror productions.
In Dreams Are Monsters is a major UK-wide film and events season at BFI Southbank, BFI IMAX, in cinemas across the UK, on Blu-ray and on BFI Player.
Words: Howard Gorman