BBC’s 'Ghostwatch' Is the Controversial, Nearly Forgotten Inception of Found Footage Horror
The 1992 mockumentary was so convincing upon its Halloween night premiere that it received a 10-year ban in the U.K., only recently becoming available for 21st-century viewers.
On Halloween night 1992, the BBC received 30,000 calls concerning a paranormal special that was so terrifying, many thought that earthly and spiritual realms converged on live TV.
The source was Ghostwatch, a faux-news report focusing on the Early family and the eerie poltergeist supposedly plaguing their Northolt, London home. Single mother Pam (Brid Brennan) and her daughters Suzanne (Michelle Wesson) and Kim (Cherisse Wesson) dub the malicious spirit “Pipes.” They invite the BBC to investigate their claims on Halloween, setting up hidden cameras in order to catch Pipes in action.
Ghostwatch aired during the BBC’s Screen One TV film slot, but the involvement of actual BBC presenters like Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene inadvertently legitimized the events. Many who tuned in after the opening credits believed the program was live and unscripted. Confused viewers flooded the BBC’s phone line, and when a startled viewer committed suicide five days after its broadcast, a 10-year ban was placed on Ghostwatch. Director Lesley Manning’s chilling vision was buried, but Ghostwatch endures as a foundation for all subsequent found footage films.
While watching, keep an eye out: Pipes often hides in the ill-lit background. His exact number of appearances remains disputed.
Ghostwatch can be viewed on the Internet Archive for free.
Big Sky Delivers Big LGBT+ Representation
Jesse James Keitel, a nonbinary actor, plays a trans woman and sex worker whose story is—thankfully—about more than LGBT pain and trauma
Big Sky promised thrills, drama, the depiction of human trafficking, but what it delivered—accurate and responsible transgender representation, is so much bigger. Jerrie Kennedy, one of the three women who were kidnapped by two human traffickers, is played by Jesse James Keitel, a nonbinary actor. Jerrie is a trans woman working as a sex worker, but as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that there is more to her story than pain.
While positive representation of lesbian and gay characters has increased in recent years, accurate depiction of nonbinary and transgender characters has remained relatively nonexistent, and when a show or movie features a TGNC character, they are typically played by a cisgender actor. For TGNC folks, especially TGNC actors, this is insulting because many actors who don’t fit the cis-normative mold struggle to find work in an industry that is more concerned with name recognition and keeping up appearances than representing marginalized groups responsibly.
Jerrie, who is apparently older than the other two girls, becomes the rock of the group, holding strong to keep the two younger girls calm. Together, they form a choir, singing to ease their anxieties. She shows grace in the face of danger.
Not only is Jerrie a role model to characters Grace and Danielle, but Jesse James Keitel is a role model to LGBTQ youth. Keitel is one of the first Transgender and Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) actors to appear on a prime-time TV series.
Keitel shines in the series as they take off the wig they wore for the first few episodes and fully embraces their identity as a trans woman. The scene is an empowering one where they confront Ronald, one of the kidnappers, to save the other two girls, but to also stick it to a man (and a society) that devalues TGNC individuals.
Prior to playing Jerrie, Keitel played Adrian in the series Forever Alone, Sidney in the Netflix film Alex Strangelove, and Kevin in the LGBTQ drama Fluidity. From their stellar performance in Big Sky, it is clear that Keitel’s career has just begun. Watch Big Sky on ABC.
Soren Narnia Delivers Podcast Scares in Knifepoint Horror
Plain on the surface, Narnia manages to make the mundane seem menacing
Horror podcast aficionados have plenty of fodder to choose from, whether they want long audio dramas or bitesize stories to be consumed over the course of a commute. Hidden amongst the true-crime investigations, narrated creepypastas, and sagas of unexplained tapes is an unvarnished gem: Knifepoint Horror.
The stories are written by Soren Narnia, a wonderfully authentic and eloquent creepypasta author who has published several books and another podcast, These Snowy Nights You Read to Me, They’ll Never Be Forgotten.
Each Knifepoint Horror tale stands alone, titled with a simple noun that gives away little about the narrative to come. Most tales begin with “My name is…” And each one is absolutely bone-chilling. Partially, the scare factor comes from how calmly each tale is read. But mostly, it’s how weird these stories are, filled with small details that anchor the listener to the tale: stuffed crocodiles, wooden dolls, subway cars--Narnia even manages to make a tarp seem menacing.
The podcast is free of both ads and theme songs. It doesn’t advertise other shows or list patrons and reward tiers before each episode. Few audio effects grace the readings, and Narnia or an occasional guest narrators read in rich, soft tones. The episodes need no embellishment, nothing to set the mood. They are frightening in their own right—no need for anything to lean on.
Some of the stories are about the darkness of human nature (“attic” and “excursion” are wonderful examples). Others, though, describe supernatural powers around us, like the possession detailed in “house.” Both varieties are equally frightening.
Wait until dark, start with whatever title intrigues you, and let Narnia’s stories terrify you. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.