Before The Enfield Haunting there was Ghostwatch

The Enfield Haunting, a dramatisation of the UK’s most infamous poltergeist case, starts its three-part run on Sky Living this evening, rather aptly the night of a full moon.

enfield hauntingThe drama boasts both a based on a true story moniker but also a heavyweight cast to give the story some weighty gravitas in the shape of Matthew Macfadyen, as paranormal assistant Guy Von Playfair, Timothy Spall as supernatural researcher Maurice Grosse and Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse, used to ghosts of a different kind when she starred opposite Alan Rickman in Truly, Madly, Deeply. In fact it is such a significant story that it is even being used as the basis for the sequel to horror-smash The Conjuring.

Based on Playfair’s book ‘This House is Haunted’, The Enfield Haunting is a supernatural drama based upon real supernatural events that took place at an ordinary house in Enfield, North London, around two sisters during the autumn of 1977 using extensive documentation, recordings and witness statements of the incident as its jumping off point. It’s quite apt then that The Mirror, who also had an exclusive on the original story, reported this week about the ‘real’ paranormal activity that took place on set – commonplace PR these days it seems on ghost/horror stories.

But this isn’t the first time that a project directly inspired by The Enfield Poltergeist has hit our screens, and that proved so powerful and disturbing that it has never been repeated on British television ever again. That was shown one Halloween evening over 20 years ago, that one-off drama was Ghostwatch which caused the switchboard of the BBC to practically melt.

So prior to The Enfield Haunting, creep back behind the sofa and get reacquainted with the horror and terror that it inspired in Ghostwatch…

For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.

Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from his Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 23 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.

Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson in GhostwatchGhostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson, lend the whole proceedings some gravitas, as they investigated Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes. Parkinson anchored proceedings in the TV studio whilst Greene was based at the house, alongside late hubby Mike Smith and Craig Charles.

That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Written by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, which starred The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln. The drama took its central idea from an actual documented poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist and of course it’s all very apt timing that later this month we also have Poltergeist receive the remake treatment on the big screen.

Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media which also has some great extra features including a commentary, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.

Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds in 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.

We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…

It’s all the more impressive as it is all done live, all done with smoke and mirrors the old fashioned way that is still ultimately highly effective all those years later.

Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.

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