I’ll be watching both Black Christmases this holiday season along with assorted Silent Nights but I decided to take a break as far as posting about them. I feel that anyone who has done a “Help Mrs. Mac Find Her Hidden Hooch” puzzle has done their due. After seven years the idea of writing about the usual horror Christmas flicks made me want to hang myself like a stocking and that’s not very Christmas-y at all (unless you consider the statistics.) Unfortunately my new standpoint left me with nothing to talk about, until I fatefully heard, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year “ on the radio and the lyric “There will be scary ghost stories…” jumped out and reminded me that once upon a time, ghost stories were a big part of Christmas Eve.
This Ghost Story Christmas tradition still maintains a somewhat substantial hold in England but here in the States, we foolishly dropped it save for Dicken’s ubiquitous “A Christmas Carol.” That means that we collectively did the dumbest thing ever and jettisoned the one thing that could potentially make Christmas as cool as Halloween. Whose idea was this? I wasn’t consulted! I blame misguided, overly puritanical religious people because…because I blame them for everything (on account of the history of everything.) In any case, the idea that I could watch any ghost story I liked and still sorta be operating in the Christmas spirit really opened things up for me and added a slew of fresh flicks to my creepy Christmas cache!
As it turns out, if you look far back enough into history, Halloween and Christmas Eve are not that different at all; on both nights it was once believed that the wall between the living and the dead worlds become thin and easier to trespass through. Ghosts are scary, sure, but they also make us feel better because they imply a second act and what better gift to give the dead than the chance to moan and complain a little longer? So here are some ghost movies I suggest checking out this Christmas Eve. Some are more holiday-friendly than others but all suggest that perhaps death is not the final curtain call, an idea that surely lil’ baby Jesus can get behind!
WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU (1968)
Let’s get this 40-minute television production out of the way first. It’s the most traditional on my list as its based on a short story by M.R. JAMES and went on to inspire yearly BBC Christmas-timed adaptations of his work. It concerns a fussy professor who comes across a whistle in a graveyard, makes the grave mistake of playing it and then finds himself accosted by the supernatural forces he unwittingly beckoned. This is horror of the quiet and infesting variety and captures beautifully the type of dread that visits in the wee hours of the night.
THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)
Is Amy’s new pal a ghost or a figment of her overactive imagination? Parents traditionally look down on imaginary friends but Amy’s pop Oliver (KENT SMITH) has an extra reason to be perturbed on account of his daughter’s invisible BFF sounds an awful lot like his deceased ex-wife who caused mucho drama with her habit of turning into a ferocious animal whenever she was feeling frisky. I’m not sure any film has ever captured both the wonder and terror of childhood in such a glorious way and it’s no slouch in depicting the magical quality of Christmas either.
THE UNINVITED (1944)
I should be embarrassed to say that the first time I watched THE UNINVITED I didn’t care for it that much. I think it was because someone suggested it to me based on my affection for THE HAUNTING (1963) and I originally watched it through a filter of expectation that it would strike me in the same way and of course it didn’t (and why should it?) Thankfully I bumped into it again on a classic movie channel a couple decades later and was able to take in its striking form outside of the pointless dysfunctional shadow of comparison and no bones about it, I loved it. I think what first threw me about the movie was its permeating sense of humor. How could I get scared when everybody kept speaking in quips all the time? The thing that my little head didn’t get was that joviality in the face of life’s darker elements was what this flick was all about. In fact, when the negative force that threatens to drag everybody down is vanquished in the end, our hero (charm machine RAY MILLAND) basically blasts it off by laughing in its face (before chucking a candelabra at its wispy, wet-blanket head.) If you can get the CRITERION COLLECTION version then do so. It features an informative and surprisingly moving video essay by filmmaker MICHAEL ALMERWYDA (NADJA, THE ETERNAL).
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
This classic anthology is all about the sharing of ghost stories and I know I’m not the only one who it still has the power to disturb. Incredibly the film’s hide and seek Christmas party segment was left out of its initial American release and I have to wonder what kind of dummy would allow that. Personally I believe the tale’s closing line “I’m not scared, I’m not scared…oh hold me tight!” is the unheralded inspiration for SAVED BY THE BELL”s classic Jessie Spano caffeine meltdown exclamation “I’m so excited, I’m so excited…I’m so scared!” I could be wrong.
THE HEARSE (1981)
THE HEARSE and I have a long, acrimonious history full of mistrust and unfulfilled longing yet I can’t deny there’s a secret fondness that keeps me returning to this ghost flick even though I know I’ll only feel disappointed again. I shall forever admonish THE HEARSE for dropping the ball at the worst time possible and for pushing the limits of lameness repeatedly and yet I’ll watch it again in a heartbeat because it’s for the most part, creepy–cozy. I’m sure nostalgia plays a big part in the relationship but I guess the larger truth is that the type of glee some folks feel when they see a car chase or a fiery explosion I can only feel when I see TRISH VAN DEVERE alone in bed in an old house reading.
A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN (1945)
An elderly couple moves into a mansion with a dark history and soon find that their skepticism of the supernatural is challenged on a daily basis. They invite a young woman to stay with them who confirms their concerns by becoming possessed. I’ll understand if some horror fans find this one a little too restrained and polite for their tastes but the acting (particularly by JAMES MASON who was only in his thirties at the time) and the story consistently intrigues and it sports a cool twist. This one I stumbled across on Netflix and I’m still stunned I hadn’t heard of it earlier.
HAUNTED (1995) & THE SKEPTIC (2009) & THE ECLIPSE (2009)
Skeptics really need to learn not to be so skeptical because clearly skepticism is like a magnet for ghosts and only gets them riled up! AIDAN QUINN in HAUNTED which is based on a book by JAMES HERBERT and TIM DALY in THE SKEPTIC, which I reviewed back HERE, both learn this obvious fact the hard way. Speaking of AIDAN QUINN, remember how he was in that other ghost flick we once talked about called THE ECLIPSE? Yikes, that movie had one of the scariest moments EVER.
GHOST SORY (1981)
Just as I had recently panicked that I might someday run out of Christmas holiday horror movies, this past Halloween I was worried that I might run out of beautiful black and white horror goodies. Then I remembered a post over at our pal Christine’s pad FASCINATION WITH FEAR that suggested many a horror flick could loose their color and be all the better for it. So I adjusted my TV to black and white and I watched GHOST STORY and it was all kinds of awesome. With its classic Hollywood cast, snow-filled settings and gorgeous ALBERT WHITLOCK matte paintings, GHOST STORY wore its new colorless suit like it was born in it. The spirit we’re looking for is all here, there’s scotch, fireplaces and ghostly tales to be told and if a rotted corpse shows up instead of Santa, well that’s fine too. Director JOHN IRVIN’s earlier effort 1974’s HAUNTED: THE FERRYMAN is another chiller worth seeking out.
So why not celebrate the Christmas ghost story tradition by watching one of these fine titles today or if you really want to go old school, you could make up your own ghost story and tell it to your perplexed pals as they look at their phones! You can even just jump on over to YouTube and make some unknown stranger read to you and you don’t even have to pay them for their time! Here’s some tireless lady reading HENRY JAMES’ THE TURN OF THE SCREW in one sitting! Note how this famous story of a nameless governess begins as a tale told around a fire on Christmas Eve!
Even if you don’t follow my ghostly advice, I hope you all have the greatest holiday season! I should warn you that I may be making myself scarce for a little while as I need to spend some quality time with my family and friends…hahahhaha…just kidding. Actually I just got an early present in the form of the ALIEN ISOLATION game so I gotta hang out in space for a while. Wish me luck against those rascally Xenomorphes, and I’ll see ya sometime next year!
Now I know what I’ll be watching over the holidays. Thank you and a merry, scary Christmas!
Wow – great post! I’ll be checking these out throughout the day. Some things that I’ve never seen before.
I did not know about the whole “Ghost story” Christmas thing until I was watching a BBC show called “Lark Rise to Candleford” a while back. The Christmas episode of that show was a full-on ghost story, which got me wondering about why they chose a Halloween episode for a Christmas show. A few wiki-links later and I got the full, surprising story! My kind of Christmas!
This post sent me on an A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS bender, and I tracked down every single episode the BBC ever aired (and then some, based on what Wikipedia had to say about the on-again/off-again series), and I watched every blessed one of them. I especially loved the 2o1o remake of WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU because it scared me so bad I burst into tears. If you recall, I have a deep-seated phobia of demented old women screaming at me in the darkness. Anyway, I’ve noted that – over at IMDB – many that post there claim it wasn’t scary and it made no sense to them. It made perfect sense to me, and while some of them claim there’s only a tenuous connection to the M.R. James story, I beg to differ. The remake is clearly the original tale blended perfectly with an allegory about the tragedy of senile dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease; it asks in an unspoken fashion what happens to one’s soul when their mind and their body separate as the result of such a horrific impairment, and relates the impact it has on the loved ones who seem to think their soul-mates have passed on and left a fully functioning (although deteriorating) body. It has stuck with me since I first saw it, and I’ve dared screen it about three times. I spent two full days watching all of the installments of A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS, and now I’m spent! Not every story is an out-of-the-ballpark smash, but many – if not most – are great. I’m glad I never saw them when I was a child, because they would have seriously jacked me up! I would suggest giving all of them at least one viewing (some you’ll want to see more than once), but I’d avoid Nigel Kneale’s THE STONE TAPE from 1977 like the proverbial plague. It’s a shame, too, because his other works are so well regarded. What should we watch next? NEW YEAR’S EVIL?
I feel the exact same way about The Hearse. Sometimes when I feel like watching The Changeling I’ll throw in The Hearse instead just because I’ve seen The Changeling so many times…And it always starts off fine, but gradually I jut sort of nod off. It’s got the kind of atmosphere I love, but the story meanders a bit too much.
Check out the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas “A Warning to the Curious,” it’s my favorite!
Great list Unkle L!
I discovered The Uninvited on TCM about 9 or 10 years ago. I absolutely love it!
Merry-scary Christmas to you too!
I’m going to make sure the ghost story Christmas tradition is upheld at Kindertrauma Kastle for now on.
That is awesome! Wow, You are way ahead of me on the AGSFC front now. I gotta catch up! I’ll make sure I see the revamped WHISTLE, that sounds great. I’m with you on THE STONE TAPE. I got my hopes up and it left me sleepy. I could hardly tell what was going on! As for the next flick, I’m thinking BLOODY NEW YEAR from 87.
THE HEARSE is such a heartbreaker! It’s my favorite type of movie and then, SPLAT! Somebody should do a remake and just give it a proper ending. I love the idea of pairing it up with THE CHANGELING. Why have I never done that before? And thanks for the tip on “A Warning For The Curious.”
The Uninvited is so good! I can’t believe I didn’t get it the first time I saw it on VHS. I’m so glad I stumbled across it on TV (probably TCM) and gave it a second chance. I love the characters so much now and it’s going to be one I return to again and again in the future.