You’ve heard of movies causing nightmares and flashing television shows causing people to faint, but BBC mockumentary Ghostwatch left more than a handful of its audience with post-traumatic stress and even reportedly led one viewer to commit suicide, cementing it as the predecessor to horror hits like The Blair Witch Project.
The TV special that was banned in the UK is now available to stream for American viewers via Shudder.
The 90-minute drama had been disguised as a real-life investigation when it first aired. It featured well-known TV personalities like Michael Parkinson and aired in a time-slot that the BBC usually reserved for scripted programming. While many viewers realized it was fake, a heavy part of the audience didn’t and the BBC received 30,000 phone complaints within the first hour of broadcast.
“One woman wrote in to the producer at the BBC, and she demanded money from the BBC, because her husband, who I think was a paratrooper, had actually soiled his trousers because he was so scared,” shared write Stephen Volk in a follow up documentary about the reception of the mockumentary.
Other complaints included parents claiming the mockumentary caused post-traumatic stress among their children and the Denham family blamed Ghostwatch for their son Martin’s death. The 18 year old, a factory worker with learning difficulties, had committed suicide five days after watching the mockumentary, with his parents claiming he had become “hypnotized and obsessed” with the show.
A 1994 British Medical Journal report also detailed several causes of children suffering from PTSD after watching the show and the Broadcasting Standards Commission ruled that “the BBC had a duty to do more than simply hint at the deception it was practising on the audience. In ‘Ghostwatch’ there was a deliberate attempt to cultivate a sense of menace.” As a result, the BBC had permanently banned Ghostwatch from the UK.
“None of us thought we were creating something that would be one of TV’s most remembered programs,” shared Parkinson in a Radio Times interview back in 2011. “It was a simple ghost story based on a fairly ordinary premise that there’s a show on television and things start to go wrong. It was only when I saw it back that I realized it had a certain kind of power.”
The repercussions were certainly infamous enough to warrant a mention in Shudder’s warning prior to playing the mockumentary, so take heed before you press play!