Most Haunted: Series 9 Review
Noting makes me regret choosing Freeview over Sky more than missing Most Haunted on Living TV. For a short time, the repeats on FTN filled the gap, as did the occasional Ghosthunting With... on ITV, in which the one-time Blue Peter presenter took Girls Aloud, some Radio 1 DJs and a fraction of the Coronation Street cast into the country's most haunted locations with mixed results, but neither was quite like watching Most Haunted anew. One of the cast of Coronation Street telling a ghost to fuck off, as he did, seemed very disrespectful after the years of watching Derek Acorah saying, "Oooowwwaaaahhh!" in a broad Scouse accent no matter the origins of who it is that's possessing him, of patiently watching orbs (probably nothing more than bits of dust) floating about, of watching Karl Beattie wander off on his own into the darkness and of Yvette Fielding, in spite of standing in pitch-black gaols and poorhouses for more than ten years, still jumping two foot into the air with every pebble that lands near her feet.
Actually, very little in this new age of multi-channel broadcasting is like Most Haunted. Each week, Yvette Fielding and her team of camera- and sound men, psychic, sceptic and some very lucky extras - oh, to be one of them! - go to a haunted house, castle or lighthouse and stay up all night, recording what happens on a lot of Handycams. After some scene-setting from Yvette, the current residents, if indeed there are any, and from medium David Wells, it's off with the lights and on to a night spent in the darkness waiting for ghosts to emerge out of the gloom. Rather than the glossy spectres of Poltergeist, Most Haunted is a rather lo-fi affair. It looks, for the most part, like CCTV footage, is recorded by people holding camcorders and is as likely to show the backs of people's heads, their shoes or the pockets of their anoraks as it is their faces. The dialogue doesn't get any better than, "Shit! Did you hear that?", "Holy shit-on-a-stick!" or, "Oh my God...someone just touched me!" and everyone, particularly those who are entirely new to the show, look absolutely terrified throughout, never moreso than when a stone, coin or chicken bone falls out of sky and onto their face.
Absolutely none of Most Haunted's melodramatics matter a jot, though. It is not only the silliest bit of television you'll ever see but the most exciting. When Yvette says that she can see a face at the window, when Karl asks the spirits to bang on the wall only to then hear an almighty crash or when Yvette cries out, "Jeepers!" and everyone, even the sturdy-looking cameraman, shrieks like girls, you will laugh, peer into the darkness in the hope of seeing a spectre and, if it's cold and windy outside, curl up tight and be glad that it's not you who's in the cells in Beaumaris Gaol. But no matter that he never bothered fixing it for me to jump some London buses with Evel Knevel back when I first wrote to him in 1977, I'd certainly ask Jim if he could fix it for me to appear on Most Haunted. Take this as me pleading to join the Most Haunted team but I'd bring my own camcorder, Pro-Plus and super-absorbant incontinence pads for a night with Most Haunted!
This ninth series was first shown on Living TV in 2007 and begins with the Most Haunted team at Southstack Lighthouse in Anglesey. David Wells livens things up with a story about Jack Jones, a lighthouse keeper who died there aged thirty-eight and as the winds pick up and the rain falls, Yvette and Karl take the team indoors to the security of the lighthouse. There, they get pelted by stones, hear laughing from the top of the lighthouse and moaning from the spirit of Jack Jones. Yvette sees a face at a window and, when Karl gives chase, he sees a figure on the cliff top who disappears as he approaches. And new man Geoff Adams seems to attract the brunt of Jack Jones' ire. Thereafter, Most Haunted take to Boys All in Kent, where David talks of seeing the spirit of a woman kissing a skeleton. It's Beaumaris Gaol in Anglesey, though, that's the highlight of the first disc in the set, with David Wells hearing, "Death!" whispered to him in a corridor, of Karl sitting in the Condemned Cell, where prisoners to be executed would spend their last night alive, on his own and hearing whimpering of a session with a Ouija board that finds the team uncovering an unrequited love affair between Warden Watkins and a male prisoner.
The second disc begins at Brougham Hall, Penrith, an ancient stately home with a mysterious crucifix in the garden and a stone table that a local medium believes was used for bloody and ritualistic sacrifices. In the main buildings, Karl and Stuart hear footsteps and decide to investigate before stones being thrown at them drive them out of the building - "Something bad's gonna happen here!" - while Yvette and David hold a seance and find the spirit of a woman named Emily wants to communicate. Next it's on to the gothic country house within Alton Towers, where the Most Haunted team find something unpleasant in a place better known for family entertainment. David Wells is sworn at by a ghost saying a very rude word, is jabbed in the eye and has, "Witch!" screamed at him by the spirits there while Stuart makes the mistake of asking the spirits to show him a sign and Karl is assaulted by a terrifying ghost.
This continues through investigations at Dartford Library, which begins well with Stuart and Karl spending the night before the investigation in the attic. When David Wells arrives, things take a turn for the worse, with him developing a pounding headache and hearing whispering in among the books. Unsurprisingly given the function of the building, Wells finds it haunted by a librarian called Kathleen, who proves most useful. In amongst the banging, the groaning and the odd noises in the background, the Most Haunted team find that Kathleen is a deft hand at finding books. When David Wells asks for a book on philosophy, one on Socrates falls from the shelves. When Stuart mentions one on Muhammed Ali, one drops onto the floor mere minutes after. Now that is one useful ghost! "Where's that pen I only set down a minute ago?"
So it continues over the next six episodes and two discs, with the Most Haunted team going to Stockport Workhouse, Tatton Old Hall (with special guest Carol Thatcher), Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, Sutton House (with guest Lee Ryan), Tatton Mansion and Matlock Bath Pavilion. Things continue as per earlier investigations. Stones are thrown, knockings are heard on the walls and stout men like Stuart and Geoff go running from rooms with shouts of, "Fuuu...whasat?!" Seances are held, during which tables lurch violently between the participants and, in the show's most enjoyable moments, everyone looks around to see who just pressed a foot against their leg. Blank looks are shared as everyone realises that, in order to have any hope of touching one with the distance between them, they'd need to have size twenty-eight feet. The most memorable moments over these six episodes are David Wells running out of a room in Tatton Old Hall having seen a black shape flitting about the furniture and a ghost called Tom, who has a strong dislike of women, causing a clatter just after Yvette saying, "I don't like the son of a bitch!"
No matter how good these episodes are, the real interest in this series comes with the final three episodes, which begin with Hever Castle in Kent before the team travel to the famous countryside of the Carpathian Mountains and the legendary Transylvania. Hever Castle sees the team welcoming guest medium Johnnie Fiori but in spite of the regal connections, neither Henry VIII nor Anne Bolelyn appear on the cameras. But there's a mysterious creaking from a chair and Yvette upsets the spirit of a priest who was trapped in the priest hole.
This, though, is merely the appetiser for the team's arrival in Râsnov, Transylvania and their occupation of a fortified mountain retreat. Skeletons in the cellars, a mysterious well and ghostly voices calling out to them from the darkness are just a few of the things that the Most Haunted team find during their investigation while David Wells sees a dark shadow flitting about. Meanwhile, Karl ventures down into the Skeleton Room and asks that the spirits create one big bang above his head. They are more than willing to oblige. On their second night and following an argument between David and Yvette - "Why'd you touch me?" "I bloody didn't!" "You bloody did!" etc. - David suffers a psychic attack while Yvette descends the 209 feet down a medieval well on her own, finding human remains at the bottom!
Yvette describes Transylvania as being their most exciting investigation to date and she's not far wrong. The Most Haunted Live episodes are good fun but in spite of their seat-of-the-pants format, very little actually happens. This, though, is much better. The location, no matter the supposed hauntings, looks gloomy and, in the dead of night, is very dark and very quiet. The stately homes of Britain make for good television but Transylvania, in spite of it featuring less hauntings than Alton Towers or Tatton Old Hall, seems like the very thing that Most Haunted ought to do more of. Like Southstack Lighthouse, it's a lonely and uninhabited place and perfectly suited to Most Haunted. It's a fine finale to an already great series.
Given the nature of Most Haunted, it's not a show that tests the technical capability of DVD. More than half of each episode is spent looking at video footage, which, though recorded for the most part on broadcast quality equipment, is made all the more gloomy but the show's understandable reliance on night vision. Once Yvette announces that it's time for the lights to be turned off, everything is coloured green, eyes reflect the lighting off the cameras and, in its more frantic moments, everything is lost in a blur of movement and the video equipment attempting to refocus. Similarly, what audio there is is often recorded directly via built-in microphones, typically when the main group breaks up and either Karl or Geoff find themselves alone in some miserable part of the basement with nothing but a camcorder and an unpleasant spirit for company.
As such, Most Haunted doesn't look particularly good but to criticise it for that is rather missing the point. In terms of the DVD presentation, Most Haunted is in anamorphic 1.78:1 and is certainly more than capable of presenting the material in as reasonable a way as any fan might want. Each disc holds 135 minutes of episodes and 75 minutes of bonus material and while this takes the total contents to 210 minutes, the quality of the video source means that the slight softness to the picture doesn't really matter. Though the image is of a fair quality before the lights go off, once the picture consists of night-vision footage whether or not the DVD is of a high standard is something of a moot point. No matter the efforts of the producers, Most Haunted is still soft, dark and very, very green. That is how it appeared on Living TV and it is not so very different here.
Much the same can be said of the DD2.0 soundtrack that accompanies each episode. For the most part, the dialogue is plain and can be heard but given the nature of the various sounds that the recording equipment picks up, there are moments when the soundtrack (and background noise) is amplified to the extent that one is listening carefully to much hissing in the hope of hearing an evil laugh. Again, one can say that this is really no better, but no worse, than the version broadcast by Living TV, complete with the noise of banging doors and windows, of stones landing near the crew and the beeping out of any language stronger than, "Flip!" Finally, there are no subtitles.
The only bonus material on these four discs is Most Haunted Extra, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of each episode beginning with the arrival of the team on the site and ending the next day with a very brief explanation of the events of the previous night. Though not produced specifically for this DVD - these were shown immediately after the accompanying episode on Living TV - these are still fairly interesting, less so when dealing with the setting up of the site but more so in their explanations of what might have happened the night before. Or as the resident sceptic Ciaran O'Keeffe might say, what was faked by the production team. Of course, given past controversies surrounding Most Haunted, such things are never really explained.
Yes, Most Haunted has been given what I'm sure most will think of as being a ridiculously high score but very little touches Most Haunted for entertainment. It not only tramples all over anything else like it, such as Scariest Places On Earth, I'm Famous And Frightened! and even Yvette Fielding's own Ghosthunting With..., but with its mix of (unintentional) comedy, scares and Yvette jumping out of her skin at every noise, it's probably the best thing on television at the moment. This DVD, in spite of it not being anything special in terms of presentation or extras, is simply a fine release of Most Haunted and is, with Universal now handling the releases, very much better than the individual volumes of earlier years.