Late Night With The Devil Is The Heir To A Classic Horror Mockumentary

Picture this: it’s Halloween night. You turn on the TV and see real-life TV personalities claiming to investigate a supposedly haunted house. Things seem mundane, charming, harmless … at first. Then, slowly, everything starts to go wrong, and the supernatural suddenly appears to be real, and captured on camera. What I’ve just described is “Ghostwatch,” a mockumentary that aired on BBC1 in the UK on Halloween night in 1992. The result sent shockwaves throughout the country, with reportedly 1,000,000 people calling into the BBC switchboard. Because this wasn’t just an ordinary Halloween special — this was real

Except it wasn’t, of course. The TV personalities, most notably legendary broadcaster Michael Parkinson, were playing themselves in a fictionalized special that created supernatural happenings under the guise of a live TV special. Everything was staged — the program wasn’t even aired live, but actually taped in advance. Due to its clever editing and smart set-up, “Ghostwatch” was so effective in its presentation that a large chunk of the audience was seemingly fooled as the camera crew investigated a small house in Northolt, Greater London, where a single mother and her two daughters were allegedly being plagued by ghosts. 

Of course, this is the stuff of legend at this point. How many people were really convinced they had just seen real ghosts appearing on their TV sets? We’ll never know for sure, but the outrage was swift. At one point, Parkinson says he doesn’t want to give viewers “sleepless nights,” but that’s apparently exactly what happened — UK audiences were freaked out by “Ghostwatch,” and as a result, the program was never aired again in full in the UK. But thanks to first pirated copies and then eventual home media release, “Ghostwatch” has become a horror classic; a sneakily effective spookshow that lulls the viewer into thinking everything is normal … until it isn’t. It’s brilliant, and its moments of horror still hold up even after all these years. We know it’s fake, now, but it still feels authentic. 

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