Guest Blog: Ken Preston
Christmas wouldn’t be the season of joy and goodwill if there wasn’t at least the hint of a ghost story in the cold, frosty air. Just like roast turkey and pigs in blankets, Bing Crosby and the Queen’s speech, presents under the tree, crackers, mistletoe and the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ghost stories are a Christmas tradition we can’t seem to do without.
For most people, the mention of Christmas and ghosts will immediately conjure visions of Scrooge being visited by Christmas Past, cobwebs hanging from his ghostly frame as he rattles his chains and entreats the miser to follow him back to his childhood.
Dickens not only popularised the idea of ghost stories at Christmas, but invented the idea of a White Christmas. I know, you thought we could lay the balme for that at Bing Crosby’s feet, right?
Not quite. Dickens spent much of his childhood in an England gripped by a mini ice age, and so White Christmases were very common, and gave him the atmosphere for his seasonal story. And it’s stuck ever since.
For me the tradition of the Christmas ghost story was set by the BBC in the 1970s. My childhood might not have had a mini ice age, but I got to watch, among others, Denholm Elliot in The Signalman (another Dickens story), Robert Hardy in The Stalls of Barchester and Peter Vaughn in A Warning To The Curious, both adapted from stories by MR James. These chilling short films were a particular Christmas treat for me, feeding my inner budding horror author.
I’m sure it helps feed the tradition that the days are short and the nights long, and the weather is usually pretty bad at this time of year. It might be many long years since we last saw snow on Christmas Day, but it’s usually damp, miserable and grey, enough to keep a person indoors, reaching for yet another glass of mulled wine, and feeding the imagination with dank and grisly happenings just outside the front door.
Ghosts don’t own Christmas though. Pure, good old fashioned horror has its day too.
America might have been the homeplace of Father Christmas’s birth, in the advertising department of the Coca-Cola company, but the good old USA is also the place where the image of Santa in his red suit has been deconstructed and rebuilt as a demonic psychopath. After all, red and white might be the emblem of Coca-Cola, but aren’t they also the colours of blood and death?
Christmas Evil (1980) takes this to the extreme as a psychopath dressed up as Santa gets to decide who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and of course slasher movie Black Christmas tips its hat in an ironic nod to Bing Crosby, as a group of sorority sisters are murdered during the Christmas break.
And those two Christmas themed horror movies are just the tip of the iceberg.
My favourite Christmas horror movie has to be Gremlins. Just like the mischevious little monsters themselves, Gremlins the movie is cute and nasty all at the same time, much like my image of Santa Claus really. How else can you view a man who breaks into your house, steals into your children’s bedrooms, but leaves them presents?
And seriously, Gremlins has to be the movie that does the greatest job of deconstructing the figure of Father Christmas, as we listen to Kate telling boyfriend Billy about the moment she simulteaneously found out that Santa is not real, and that her father had died.
You don’t get much more horrific than that.
So this Christmas Eve, why not snuggle down with a movie like Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009), (and do I really need to explain the concept behind that one?) or cuddle up with a good Christmas themed horror book. I would recommend Joe Hill’s N0S4R2, where you can visit Christmasland, presided over by the evil Charlie Manx, and where children never grow up, but for all the wrong reasons.