That Time The BBC Gave Kids PTSD On Halloween
It seems that a full seven years before The Blair Witch Project managed to dupe many a moviegoer into thinking it was an actual real story, some folks at the BBC did it first. Ghostwatch was billed as a spooky documentary about a "live ghost hunt" of a spirit named Pipes that had been terrorizing a London family. Of course, a name like Pipes would give many of us pause because absolutely no one could possibly be serious in naming a ghost that, but for the viewers on All Hallows' Eve in 1992, it all seemed very, very real. For one, the documentary was hosted by four BBC presenters the public all knew and trusted. Also, they were playing it pretty damn straight, all the way to a (warning) dark and creepy climax:
That's… a pretty intense thing to play on a country's national broadcaster, even if it was on Halloween. Sure enough, the folks behind this haunting hoax managed to scar an impressive amount of their 11 million viewers. The reaction was so insane that the British Medical Journal reported PTSD cases in children who saw the show.
Of course, watching some of it today, it's clear to most people with a healthy level of skepticism that it was, indeed, a mockumentary. There are clues throughout, including the mocking of horror movie tropes in this particular scene:
But the fact of the matter is that this happened in 1992, a time when horror was not yet as mainstream as it would become soon enough (the first Scream film came out in 1996). The point is that only a tiny minority of viewers would've seen Ghostwatch for what it was and effectively be in on the joke. The BBC had clearly overestimated their target audience on this one.
And while they claimed that they were clear about it being a hoax broadcast, no one was buying it. Not even the courts, who ruled that the network didn't properly establish the fictitious nature of the show. For real, it traumatized the shit out of people, and the show was even accused of causing a teenager's death after an 18-year-old with mental health issues was said to be so disturbed after viewing Ghostwatch that he killed himself.
The show has never been fully broadcast in the UK again.
Zanandi is on Twitter and wrote a comic for Trailer Park Boys that you can order here.
Top Image: BBC