On Halloween night, 1992, 11 million viewers tuned into the BBC to watch what they believed to be a live broadcast from a haunted house in Northolt, London. The rest, as they say, is history. Audiences were terrified, switchboards were inundated with complaints, and the BBC disowned the show. But underneath the mania and controversy lies a fascinating and often deeply disturbing exploration of how trauma and abuse can haunt both the mind and the body.
Ghostwatch superfans Celluloid Screams and immersive cinema pioneers Live Cinema UK present a special "one night only" 30th anniversary live cinema experience, resurrecting the original spirit of the broadcast for a hauntingly-good immersive celebration of the paranormal, Parky and Pipes. Followed by a Q&A with director Lesley Manning and writer Stephen Volk, peek behind the curtains, and re-enter the glory hole…
Content warning: This is a live immersive event. Please be prepared for loud and sudden sounds, lighting, smoke, and jump scares throughout.
Produced by Live Cinema UK and Celluloid Screams - Sheffield Horror Film Festival.
Screening as part of In Dreams Are Monsters: A Season of Horror Films, a UK-wide film season supported by the National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network.
GHOSTWATCH 2022 SCREENINGS
Note: Only Sheffield and London are "immersive" screenings
Fri 21 October 2022 - SOLD OUT
Sat 22 October 2022 at 7.00pm
Extra screening due to phenomenal demand (also followed by Q&A with Lesley Manning and Stephen Volk)
Note: This special event takes place at Peddler Warehouse, 92 Burton Rd, Neepsend, Sheffield S3 8BX on Saturday 22 October. All other Celluloid Screams festival screenings take place at Showroom Cinema.
Buy tickets here
Sat 22 October 2022 Special 30th Anniversary screening at the Star and Shadow 7.30pm (followed by Q&A session with acadmics from Northumbria university)
Buy tickets here
Fri 28 October 2022 at NFT1, BFI South Bank 8.20pm (followed by Q&A with Stephen Volk and director Lesley Manning)
The bfi-org page says: "Television’s most infamous hoax remains as terrifying, and challenging, 30 years on."
Buy tickets here
Sat 29 October 2022 at the Science and Media Museum 7.00pm (presented by director Lesley Manning, followed by Post-film panel discussion with horror experts Adam Z Robinson (writer, The Book of Darkness & Light, Shivers, Upon the Stair and host of The Ghost Story Book Club podcast), Mike Muncer (host and creator of the Evolution of Horror podcast), Bronte Schiltz (Gothic studies researcher) and Becky Darke (writer, co-host of the Don’t Point That Horror at Me podcast, and regular contributor to The Evolution of Horror and The Final Girls).
"On the 30th anniversary of its airing, join us for an in-depth explorative screening of a highly controversial and seriously scary television phenomenon."
Buy tickets here
Sun 30 October 2022 at Chapter Arts Centre 3.00pm (followed by Q&A with Stephen Volk)
Followed by a screening of Nigel Kneale's seminal BBC TV ghost story The Stone Tape at 5.30pm (introduced by Stephen Volk)
In 1992 and on Halloween the BBC gives over a whole evening to an 'investigation into the supernatural'. Four respected presenters and a camera crew attempt to discover the truth behind 'The most haunted house in Britain', expecting a light-hearted scare or two and probably the uncovering of a hoax. They think they are in control of the situation. They think they are safe. The viewers settle down and decide to watch 'for a laugh'. Ninety minutes later the BBC, and the country, was changed, and the consequences are still felt today. With over a million complaints and a generation of children terrified of what might live in their plumbing, this is a rare chance to see that broadcast again and hear from the writer from Pontypridd who changed how we view television.
Buy tickets here
Check out the article about Ghostwatch by Stu Neville in the current issue of Fortean Times (#424)
A feature by Paul Davis on Stephen Volk and Ghostwatch appears in the new issue Fangoria magazine
BBC Radio 3 "Free Thinking" will run a live discussion on Ghostwatch on October 27th 2022 at 10pm, featuring director Lesley Manning and writer Stephen Volk. Presented by Matthew Sweet.
George Bass is writing a piece on Ghostwatch for New Scientist online.
Stephen Volk has been interviewed about Ghostwatch and his other supernatural writing for an upcoming edition of the "Knock Once for Yes" podcast.
Adam Robinson will be interviewing Lesley Manning and Stephen Volk for the Ghost Story Book Club podcast
Keep tuned to the Ghostwatch page for more news!
10 Quick Tips About Writing Horror
This article first appeared on the Bang2Write website in 2019, before my new website design. Here it is again, for the record, and for Halloween 2022. Enjoy!
1) Get Your Brain Out of the Way
Thinking doesn’t create monsters. Your unconscious does. Don’t think about recent movie hits. Don’t think of old movie legends. In fact, don’t think of anything. Cultivate a dream-time, a coffee-scape. Think of the worst that can happen. Don’t self-censor before you even dream. Go there and return with ideas. And trust them.
2) It’s All About Point of View
As I say in my book Coffinmaker’s Blues it’s not about the creature, ghost or alien … It’s about who is seeing it, and why? That’s the key to their inner life and why the hell we should care. POV in the story . . . In a sequence . . . Or in a scene.
3) Junk the Jump Scares
The stab of music, the shock reaction, the zombie make-up in the mirror – fuck that shit! It’s dead easy – and dead boring! It gives no depth to your story and doesn’t even make it more frightening a lot of the time. Think of what is going to give your audience nightmares for the rest of their lives, not just spill their popcorn.
4) If You Can’t Explain It – GOOD!
The worst thing for horror is a producer who’s a Logic Nazi. No legendary horror ever got where it is from being bombarded by logic notes. Stand up for what you know makes you shiver and shit your pants. If the producer disagrees, or points to the latest James Wan hit, you’ve got the wrong producer.
5) Push It Till It Squeals Like A Piggie
David Bowie said the best creative work is done when you’re juuuuuust out of your depth. On tippy-toes in the swimming pool, scared of going under. Always aim for this, especially in horror. It’s on the very edge or risking failure that the magic happens, not by playing safe. MORE: What Is the Difference Between Horror And Thriller?
6) Make it Real
Any idiot can write a ghost train ride about a possessed armchair or a demon in a cellar, lit in blue light and licked to death in the grading. And every idiot is.The more plausible and naturalistic you can make your situation and characters, the more your script will stand out from the crud.
7) Ditch the CAPITALS!!!!
Take the throttle off your writing – calm down and stop SHOUTING at me! No CAPS. No screamers!!! Write horror prose that creep up and taps my shoulder, and even kisses the back of my neck.
8) Seen it, Done it . . . NEXT!
Ditto special effects. You know . . . The crawling across the ceiling, the scabby-face demon make up first seen in The Evil Dead– yawnsville!! If you want to be the best of the best in this genre ditch anything you’ve seen before in another movie. Tough, I know. But you’ll be surprised what you come up with if you mine and trawl your own personal terrors. It’s the one thing that’s utterly unique to you – use it!
9) Don’t Play With Your Food
If you’re not a born horror writer, and don’t love the genre with every fibre of your being, don’t worry. But fuck off. How dare you screw around trying to write this shit, because we’ll find you out in a heartbeat!! If your passion is romantic comedy, write romantic comedy. Don’t rain on our parade because . . . what? You think it’s fashionable? You think it’s lucrative, right now? And easy? There’s the fucking door. Don’t slam it on your way out.
10) Remember: You Are Horror
It’s there in your own life, your own experiences and those of the people you know. If you don’t see it, and can’t find it, you’re not a horror writer. Alfred Hitchcock was once asked what scared him. He said “Everything.” I don’t know a horror writer that wouldn’t answer the same way. Join our clan. We’ll welcome you with open arms. Like clowns in a dark, dark forest . . .
As it turns 100, this utterly chilling silent film deserves more celebration – given it set the template for The Blair Witch Project and many more horrors besides, writes Adam Scovell.
"In the lineage of horror cinema, 1922 surely counts as one of its most important years. It was the year when FW Murnau made his unofficial Dracula adaptation Nosferatu, providing an early scare for audiences even as he fell afoul to copyright breaches. However, around the same time as Murnau's film, another seminal, but today less celebrated, horror was released: the Swedish-produced Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages by Danish director Benjamin Christensen. Whereas Murnau defined narrative horror through powerful German Expressionist visuals, the Danish director of this Svensk Filmindustri production innovated with horror's form, creating one of the strangest films of the period – whose eerie atmosphere, stark visuals and experimentation still stand up today."
Read the rest of this terrific article on www.bbc.com/culture - Adam send me a few questions on the subject of fake documentary making (I wonder why?), and a few quotes from yours truly are happily included.
The Creatures That Make Us Human
My new, wide-ranging, collection of stories, Lies of Tenderness, was not written with an overarching theme in mind—though it might well have one; they were all written by the same author, after all (and I try to eke out a common thread in my Story Notes)—but the book is said to contain 17 tales that explore “hidden truths and secret wishes, the paths not taken, and the creatures that make us human”.
With that last, potent, phrase in mind. I’d like to talk about one story in particular, called “A Meeting at Knossos”. It was the very last to be written, in late 2021, and last to be added to the volume, jettisoning another that didn’t quite fit.
I have been fascinated by the Minotaur for as long as I can remember. It’s always struck me as the archetypal monster story and I could never understand why it hadn’t ever, to my knowledge, been exploited in cinema. I first pitched The Minotaur as a film idea to Milton Subotsky (the producer of the classic Amicus horror and fantasy films) way back in the 1970s when I first came to London. I thought you could update the Greek myth, much as Hammer had done with The Gorgon, by setting it in their beloved mitteleuropean world of 19th Century gothic. Subotsky was far from convinced, so that was that.
More recently, visual influences rather than literary ones brought it to the front of my mind. I think it’s exceptionally hard to draw or sculpt a human figure with a bull’s head and make it work, let alone have it embody the horror and pity imbued in the legend. The artist Beth Carter succeeds in this brilliantly, and her Sitting Minotaur and Minotaur Reading are direct catalysts for this story, even though I know that such artists as Michael Ayrton and, obviously, Picasso, have been obsessed by the character before.
The double idea that Daedalus not only created the labyrinth but fathered Icarus sparked me to put pen to paper. I had no idea where the meeting of the fallen Icarus and the freed Minotaur would lead, but it turned out to be about someone who has the chance of redemption—of change—but the question is, are they capable of making it?
I admit, I set out wanting wanted to save the poor creature and rehabilitate the monster. Like Victor Frankenstein’s creation, I thought, he was damaged not so much by an accident of birth but by the way he’d been treated. Some of this was, I’m sure, influenced by my reading of The DevilYou Know by Dr Gwen Adshead and Eileen Home. Adshead is a forensic psychiatrist who has worked on the rehabilitation of violent offenders at Broadmoor hospital. I was struck when she described such patients as having been “witness to a trauma; the trauma which is their own life”.
That could be said to be the autobiography of my Minotaur—a retelling that I hope releases the age-old monster to be interpreted in a new way. Even if the outcome of the story didn’t go the way I was expecting . . .
“A Meeting at Knossos”
I followed the string, hand over hand, until I emerged from the belly of the earth. The scent of sea lavender and the tang of bergamot tickled my nostrils and made them widen. Blinded, I felt the sun on my fat, flat toes. It tickled the coarse hairs on my shin as I extended my left leg from my prison. They were as little accustomed to the light as I was.
“Theseus, my love.”
That last word caught like a nut in the throat of a lark, its beautiful song curtailed in a knot of sudden abhorrence. I lowered my hands from my eyes, allowing them in slats to endure the blaze of Helios, my grandfather, in the sky. My bull eyelashes fluttered.
A vision as though through water took form. I remembered water, vaguely. Not seen it for an age, other than the cavernous trickle tasting of iron and moss that had been my wine for too many days to count.
I took her first to be my mother, but no. Princess Ariadne, my half-sister. A pip when I’d last seen her. Elaborate hair, long dress, breasts exposed. Always the fashion-conscious one. Standing there with the ball of twine in her trembling fingers. Chest rising and falling in horror at the monster she beheld.
Hand over hand, I reached her.
She would have planted a kiss on the cheek of her lover, I was sure. But her half-brother? No.
I was not Theseus.
I was something else.
The Prince of Athens lay dead at the centre of the labyrinth.
He’d come to dispatch me, but I’d dispatched him. His club had snapped in two across my forearm. I remembered feeling his Adam’s apple jiggle against my palm. His neck had grown hot and pulpy. His shiny helmet had fallen off. So much for shiny helmets. He’d crept up on a sleeping creature to murder it. Not very sportsmanlike.
I dropped the ball of twine at my feet. I had need of it no longer.
“Sister,” I breathed, as if my first breath.
The dagger fell from her fingers before I realised she had cut her neck from ear to ear.
I backed away so that she didn’t splash me, but it was a bit late for that. I watched her girlish frame crumble and her limbs thrash in a scarlet, widening pool under her. Then, after a while, she was still. I had seen many a dead maid before. It was not new to me. But it was a disappointment. I would have liked to have caught up on old times, after all the years that had passed, but she’d put paid to that, well and truly. I wasn’t sure what to do. There wasn’t much I could do. So I knelt and lapped up the blood before it dried. No sense wasting it.
The taste reminded me of the time I nipped my mother’s breast with my teeth and got a slap for it. I could still feel the sting on my cheek. That was long before being confined to the bellowing dark. Back when I was loved, or thought I was.
Stepping over my sister, and with no destination in mind, I walked north, avoiding the Royal Road with its traffic and people. Crunched olives underfoot, juniper berries, thorns. Nothing smelled as strong as the fiery rot of the sun. My skin was unused to such attention, and oozed, and shone.
Half-cooked and half-exhausted—half most things—I reached the coast and took myself unto the waves, washing away the stuff that stained me. My sister reddened the surf. Poseidon hissed his thanks for the offering by means of the waves combing the sand then retreating.
Just as I turned back to face the beach I saw a strange shape adorning the rocks, so jagged I first took its inelegance to be the buffeted sail and mast of a wrecked ship. Yet it also resembled as much an arm stretching to the firmament.
What creature, then, was this?
I trod carefully closer.
White petals fluttered in the air about me. I caught one. Opened my fist. It was a feather. I snorted and let it off into the wind like a butterfly.
The thing had vast wings but I could not in all honesty call it a bird. And it had a man’s head and body but I could not in all honesty call it a man.
Whatever it was, it was dead, I was sure of that.
I leaned closer to see if the meat was fresh. Old habits die hard. I sniffed its pale cheek. Touched the long bones covered in feathers, thinking I might break off a piece.
The beast flexed its muscles with a rattling groan. The wing flapped out of my grasp.
I fell over backwards, bruising myself, and squatted silently on a rock formation for a while to see if it awakened.
I don’t know why I sat there, looking at its shape. Why did it interest me? Perhaps I thought it might metamorphose into a man. Or metamorphose into a bird. Either would have satisfied.
Neither happened, so I dragged it to the beach to prevent it being swept away by the tide. Why that mattered to me, I cannot say.
Only when I laid it flat did I see the straps and buckles that held the wings to its back. I loosened them and they came away in my hands. Not part of the creature itself but an attachment. Not of bone and flesh at all, but of wooden fronds jointed and planed by human hands.
I peeled away the broken wings and tossed them into a feathery pile of cracked beeswax and leather, revealing a man, a youth, blood-soaked from his wounds.
I revealed you.
“A Meeting at Knossos” is one of 17 stories by Stephen Volk collected in Lies of Tenderness, available now from PS Publishing. www.pspublishing.co.uk
Co-Lab Talk, Bradford-on-Avon
Studio Bacchus in Bradford=-on-Avon says: Join us on Tuesday 19th April 7.45-9am. Hosted by one of our talented members @kim.youdan.
Stephen Volk’s big screen credits stretch from Ken Russell’s extravaganza Gothic (1986) starring Natasha Richardson and Gabriel Byrne, to period ghost story The Awakening (2011) starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West. In television he wrote the BBC’s notorious Halloween “hoax” Ghostwatch, created ITV’s paranormal drama series Afterlife, and adapted Midwinter of the Spirit starring Anna Maxwell Martin.
In this talk about his journey from the Welsh Valleys to Hollywood, he promises to be honest about the delights and pitfalls of a career in the screen trade: the ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and the ugly of a life in the word mines. Expect an intimate glimpse into the passion, the doubts, the wins, the losses: an insight into what goes on behind the scenes, a few choice name drops, and how his love of horror, suspense, and supernatural fiction remains undaunted over the 30 years he has been practicing it. Because sometimes—just sometimes—the trials and tribulations are worth it.
Come join our community of amazing people and help us build the Bacchus culture.
Straight to Video podcast Episode 129
"It was genius. It really was!" In this latest edition of the Straight to Video Podcast by Rob Lane, I discuss my earliest memories of writing and cinema, writing Gothic while working in an ad agency, adventures in Hollywood, and, unavoidably, Ghostwatch and its aftermath. "The fallout was legendary," says Rob, and he's not wrong. It's a lively interview and I really had a blast doing it. Enjoy!
Many thanks to Meghan of Meghan's Haunted House of Books for hosting a host of interviews with yours truly to coincide with the run up to Halloween this year.
The first is a general author interview with Meghan's usual set questions and, hopefully, some interesting answers.
The second is a more specific and light hearted dip into questions about Halloween and what it means to me. I've added some funny pictures for levity here - including the photograph of my grandson George carving pumpkins and looking uber-cool (see below).
There's finally a more personal Guest Post that tracks "My Halloween Memories" from my childhood experience of October 31st to the scary and memorable evening of October 31st 1992. (Exactly!... Don't have nightmares!)
On the Legacy of Nigel Kneale
In this podcast with the guys at Bergcast, I discuss the work of Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, one of my favourite writers, and his direct influence on my own career as a screenwriter. As well as the abiding themes of the master, we discuss The Stone Tape, his iconic, brilliant BBC ghost story from 1972; the reason perhaps for the prejudice of the British TV establishment against "genre"; my first feature script, Gothic; the extensive influence of Nigel Kneale on Ghostwatch; 2020's Host, and "passing on the baton".
A Personal Anthology
"A Personal Anthology" is a fantastic project whereby writers, critics and others are invited to dream-edit a personal anthology of their favourite short stories. This is wjat I said in the introduction to my selection:
I grew up in the sixties in Pontypridd, South Wales, relieving the crushing boredom of secondary school byspending my pocket money at the local newsagent’s every Friday on volumes of short stories, seduced by the lurid covers of the Pan Books of Horror Stories, Fontana Ghost Stories and the Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts of Dennis Wheatley. Later, much later, I’d sink into the warm Black Water of Alberto Manguel’s collections (which Amazon now calls “a kaleidoscope from the Magi of the imagination”), consuming countless other paperback anthologies along the way.
Through these, my love of the genre was undoubtedly unlocked (or unblocked? for it felt like a liberation) by such visionary writers as Poe, whose ‘Tell-Tale Heart’, with its unforgettable opening POV – (much imitated but never surpassed, even by Robert Bloch’s ‘Enoch’) – and M.R. James, with his rising bed sheets, unwanted wetnesses, and deeds best kept buried.
As time went by, the likes of Angela Carter with her carnivalesque symbolism, Robert Aickman with his “kitchen sink gothic”, J G Ballard with his stark unrealities, and many writers outside the field (Tobias Wolff, Bernard MacLaverty, Richard Ford, James Lee Burke, Joyce Carol Oates) became as important to me as the old masters I revered (and still do) like Conan Doyle, Machen, and Stevenson.
I hate any kind of top ten list - or top twelve - but here is a selection of newer discoveries and old favourites I’d like to share. Ones that instruct me how that magical frisson of the uncanny and weird can be achieved. Sparingly. Subtly. Intelligently. Memorably. And remind me that the cause I’m obsessed with as a writer to this day – the creation of nightmares – is a noble and ongoing one.
Read my full choices (with links to the stories where applicable) here
To find out more and to subscribe: look here
Screenwriter and author