It’s Halloween. By all means feel free to dismiss it as a festival of begging and orange plastic supermarket tat as you turn off the lights and barricade yourself into your living room against hordes of knowing kids draped in duvet covers demanding cheap chocolate OR ELSE.
Yes, that fairly recent part of Halloween, an ancient festival, can be horrible and tiresome (blame the Americans, everyone else does), but for lovers of the supernatural it’s our special night. And I don’t mean that I sit at home making stew from snot and spiders’ legs and casting spells on men who take up too much room on the train. I mean for devotees of ghost stories, like me, it’s the perfect night to cosy up in front of the telly to be thrillingly scared.
Well, prepare to be disappointed, fellow shiver-seekers, because once again we’re badly served on a night that should belong to us. We might as well all meet under a lamp post to re-enact scenes from our favourite MR James stories because television offers us nothing. The most horrifying thing on terrestrial television is Truckers, but only in a “this is so dire I can’t believe it ever made it to the screen” kind of way. Admittedly there’s Dracula on Sky Living, so at least someone is making a bit of an effort, but it still doesn’t fit the bill. Besides, it bears so little resemblance to Bram Stoker’s original novel, it might as well be performed on ice under a glitterball with Dracula himself (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in a lurex jumpsuit.
Come on, everyone. Soap lovers get what they want pretty much every single day, week in, week out. Devotees of hospital dramas have Casualty and Holby City, with only minor interruptions. (Is there anything that could ever shift Casualty? I suspect that it would still be there, grinding on, even as the world hurtled towards nuclear immolation. It would probably survive a direct hit from a meteor.)
But lovers of ghost stories and horror don’t even get a treat on one miserly, “purpose-built” night of the year. Surely it can’t be because broadcasters, and the BBC in particular, are still haunted (sorry) by the fallout from Ghostwatch in 1992, when some viewers actually believed that presenter Sarah Greene was murdered by dark forces during a TV documentary. It was a brilliant hoax and a clever drama, and arguably the last, proper ghost story ever to reach mainstream TV. And it went out on Halloween.
Adults with common sense knew the BBC wouldn’t actually film Michael Parkinson being possessed by a demon in a darkened TV studio and realised it was all a bit of fun because it had a cast list and credits. So are we to be punished for ever?
Admittedly, we have a ghostly treat in store at Christmas, with Mark Gatiss’s adaptation of MR James’s The Tractate Middoth on BBC2, but that’s Christmas, still months away, despite mince pies being in the shops since August.
Of course, it’s too late now, our Halloween moment is lost. But there’s always next year, so it’s time for lovers of the fictional supernatural to start brewing up a bit of hubble bubble. We want to be scared!