Public service announcements by their very nature have to fall on the side of being heavy-handed as the goal is to get impressionable young children to pay attention. There are times however that they cross the realm of being overly serious in their attempt to impart wisdom and stride into becoming a mini-horror film. Such is the case for The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water which was originally released on TV back in 1973 – an attempt to warn children to be wary of water dangers in the United Kingdom. The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water PSA was thanks to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, apparently there was call from the public for something to be done at the time. As sadly the third highest cause of death for those aged 16 and under was due to drowning – so it was that the Home Secretary helped to create a focus group to find a way to educate children about these dangers. Christine Hermon wrote the script that was used for the PSA for the Central Office of Information and the TV short was Directed by Jeff Grant. A public service announcement that featured a hooded character who menacingly appears when children aren’t being cautious around water – an ominous harbinger of death to come… and as you can see for yourself it does!
The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water or as it is also known Lonely Water managed to not only make kids pay attention but terrify them as well. Of course when the character of the titular Spirit is voiced by the one and only Donald Pleasence you can see why it made such an impression. Ten year earlier, Pleasence was starring in the likes of The Great Escape and was five years away from appearing in Night Creature, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and a little movie called Halloween.
Personally I feel that The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water ranks just a little behind the trailer for another 1978 film, that would be the STILL terrifying Magic. Seriously – this television ad created strong outrage from parents for children, like myself, that were all but traumatized by seeing the creepiness of Fats during prime time.