What We’re Watching

It’s late October and Halloween is just around the corner, so it seems prudent to indulge in some spooky television. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate what is arguably the most gleefully tacky event of the year and, at the very least, cut through the Rick and Morty-shaped televisual treacle that covers pretty much everything at the minute.

Stranger Things

Very much the Rolls Royce of current spooky television, even if it is approximately 65% nostalgia. The first season was a raucously fun romp with just enough of a ghoulish quality to it to make it valuable Halloween viewing. The second season seems to have upped the cuteness ante, while probably jettisoning some of the sping-tingling charm that made last year’s effort so enjoyable. Admittedly, I’m only a handful of episodes into season two, and the first few episodes were watched through a significant fog of beer, gin and wine, but it feels less immediately gripping than last year’s effort. Still, I shall persevere and hope for significant chills in the Upside Down.

Paul Daniels Live at Halloween 1987

A one-off television programme by the late magician that seems to be relatively little known among any circles I move within (I don’t know anybody else who has watched this) but should be remembered as one of the great TV pranks. Seemingly broadcast live on Halloween night in 1987 (it was actually pre-recorded), Daniels hosts a party with an occult theme at Clandon Park House, entertaining the guests with illusions and ghostly stories. The main event of the evening is a complex escape routine that sees Daniels strapped inside a huge iron maiden with only a few minutes to escape before the door swings shut and skewers him. In the dying moments of the show, the trick appears to go horribly wrong, with the end result that Daniels appears to have been killed inside the contraption. The look of confusion on the faces of the stage hands as the show cuts to a hasty black, adds to the alarming sense that one may have just watched a monumental cock-up on live television. It was, of course, an elaborate prank, paving the way for the sort of television that would be honed and perfected by illusionist Derren Brown.

Ghostwatch

The Paul Daniels Halloween prank also works as a sister programme of sorts to Ghostwatch, a show that has achieved legendary status among controversial TV aficionados. Broadcast on Halloween night in 1992, the show caused such a stink that it has never been broadcast since and was effectively buried by the BBC until a BFI DVD release a few years ago. Anticipating shows like Most Haunted, Ghostwatch takes the form of a live outside broadcast investigating paranormal occurrences in a suburban house. Things start out quietly enough, but go south at a rapid pace as the hauntings become more and more fierce. Incorporating techniques such as infra-red broadcasting, a phone-in hotline and throwing back to studio anchor Michael Parkinson, the show was so sophisticated it had people believing it was genuine. Watch it 25 years removed, some of the acting seems a little wooden, but it’s hard not to be genuinely impressed by the level ambition on show. This scared me half to death when I watched it on the night as a seven-year old and I felt a real thrill when I finally tracked down a bootleg copy in 2010. Devotees of this re-watch it every year on Halloween starting at the original broadcast time of 9:25. If you’re at a loose end this Halloween, you could do a lot worse than this.

The Deuce

Alright, so this is not a horror show by any stretch of the imagination, but its depiction of frank, unflattering sex is pretty alarming. An unflinching look at the liberalisation of the porn industry in 1970’s USA, the show revolves around a gaggle of prostitutes, pimps and disreputable barflies peripherally linked to the business. Populated almost exclusively by pretty objectionable characters, it can feel like a hard watch at times; but its grimy realisation of inner city New York is so captivating that I feel totally hypnotised by it. The various dive bars that James Franco’s twin brothers find themselves managing are horrible and still so tempting that I find myself desperately wanting to climb through the TV screen to order a beer.