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Black Static


'Tis the Season To Be Scared

31st Oct, 2009

Author: Peter Tennant

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It's Halloween and I had some half baked idea of writing a 'state of the notion' blog entry, demonstrating that the Horror genre is in fine fettle and about to stamp its mark on the publishing industry in no uncertain terms, and finally put to route all those foolish people who have been prophesying its demise since like forever.

But that could all so easily go wrong.

And besides, I'm under the weather. I either have swine flu or I'm a drama queen with a mild cold (take your pick), and I'd much rather spend my Halloween curled up in front of the fire and watching some seasonally appropriate films than trying to convince other people to see the genre through my own blood splattered spectacles.

And so something else, a tiny walk down memory lane, with a modicum of philosophising.

Horror is a genre where, according to some, we try to scare the crap out of each other, either in the name of good fun or in pursuit of some more serious end. And Halloween is the one time of the year when we can celebrate that, free of any constraint or thought of being judged weird by others because, thanks to the commercially driven world in which we live, everyone wants to get in on the act (well, nearly everyone - the Fundies are excused, but please note that, although an atheist, I have no qualms about celebrating Christmas with you guys).

Back in 1992 the task of scaring the crap out of people fell to Ghostwatch, a mock documentary that supposedly featured investigators broadcasting live from an alleged haunted house in Northolt, Greater London, with Michael Parkinson as anchor back in the studio. Naturally things went a little pear shaped and, as Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast did in America over fifty years before, Ghostwatch succeeded in upsetting and/or outraging a part of its audience, despite it being made clear at the start of the programme that it was fiction.

The programme's stars were Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles, but the brains behind the project was writer and Black Static columnist Stephen Volk. For a fuller account, of the programme and the repercussions, follow the wikipedia link below.

I don't know what I was doing back on the night of Halloween in 1992, but I'm pretty sure I didn't watch the programme as I didn't have much truck with the demon television at that time in my life (I was so much older then, but I'm younger than that now - no prizes for guessing where that line came from). And yet, I seem to have memories of the programme all the same. It's one of those events that enters the collective consciousness, a moment we all shared either directly or indirectly.

And it's not a huge stretch to say that we are living in a post-Ghostwatch world, where the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction has accelerated, only nobody gives you a warning at the start of the programme and it's pointless to complain if you don't like the ride. Now the people putting on the frighteners are our political lords and masters, who use scare tactics to justify corrupt wars and every curtailment of our civil liberties that comes into their pointy little heads.

And that's just one reason perhaps, why Horror fiction is on the up again, as something in the human psyche cries out for an alternative to the ersatz climate of fear that's been created by these rank amateurs.

It's time to take the reins of terror away from the spin doctors and out of the grubby paws of the scaremongers who have no loyalty except possibly to their political paymasters, and hand them back to the writers and film makers with artistry, vision, integrity, a sense of social responsibility, a genuine need to create. The people who want to explore and open up ever greater possibilities, not just construct more cages of convenience.

Or even those who simply want to entertain and show us a good time by scaring the crap out of us. That works too.

Anyway, enough of this serious stuff, most of which is one hell of a stretch and just me trying to sound as if I actually have some sort of insight to offer. Toto, we're no longer in 1992, not even close.

Ghostwatch was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 show Reece Shearsmith's Haunted House: An Appointment With Fear and for a short time only you can follow the link below and listen to the programme on the BBC iPlayer. Of the guests, Mark Gattiss thought it was 'genius', but Vic Reeves had never heard of it.

One last thing occurs to me. Ghostwatch has never been broadcast again on terrestrial TV in the UK, though you can find the entire programme in segments on YouTube. It might be fun to remake the show, but this time instead of fooling the audience, how about having one of those oily psychics who make a living out of people's need to believe in an afterlife as a guest, and giving him or her enough rope to hang themselves with, while subtitles scroll across the bottom of the screen telling the nation what's really going on. Now that one I'd make sure I watched.

Happy Halloween to all of you.

Oh, and the so much older then line was from Bob Dylan, who is wonderful any day of the year, not just at Halloween (this is now a review of Mr Zimmerman, along with everything else, so I'm allowed fair usage in quoting him).


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