There is a Christmas tradition that doesn’t get enough attention – ghost stories.
It’s a long standing tradition, here in the UK at least, that you’d stay up late to catch a tale of terror late on Christmas Eve. The likes of Christopher Lee and similarly fabulous story tellers would chill your bones for you into the small hours with delightful tales of ghostly shenanigans from the likes of M.R.James, amongst others.
Indeed it was James who popularised the idea of fireside ghost stories 100 or more years ago as he sat with a select bunch of ‘chit chat‘ chums at Cambridge University and regailled them with such delights as Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book.
So, in keeping with such tradition, here are 5 great spooky movies to enjoy over Christmas.
This is such a fantastic film that keeps you right on the edge of your seat throughout. You know that unwritten Hollywood rule of never killing children? Well, this lot didn’t appear to read the unwritten rules.
It’s such a fine and stylish film that centres around a doting father’s determination to present the perfect birthday party by dressing up as a clown. Great idea. Except for his choice of clown outfit.
What ticks the box for us here is the cool backstory; a bit of Old Norse legend, that creates that awesome sense of wonder and other-worldy ghostliness.
The original Carrie was a masterpiece and if you can’t get a hold of this one we’d certainly recommend defaulting back to that. But this version is definitely worth a watch.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays the title role with suitably disturbing naivety and the kind of innocence that sets up for the iconic climax.
Julianne Moore’s portrayal as Carrie’s mother is as you would expect from such an accomplished actor. Quite what Stephen King had eaten for lunch when he dreamed up this chilling tale is anyone’s guess. But it’s a thrilling tale that has stood the test of time.
Sure Carrie involves buckets of blood (literally) but it’s the unexplained element of the title character’s telekinetic powers and the fact that she should be born into such a devout Christian household. Just who was her father? How on Earth does a young girl develop / acquire such power? What might the abuse of such power lead to?
The Woman in Black (2012)
Daniel Radcliffe matures nicely into a fine actor, ditches the wand and steps up for some proper ghostly terror.
For those old enough to remember the original (and rather disturbing) TV adaptation of the famous story by Susan Lee, this is a fine remake that gets the nod over its excellent predecessor purely because of its availability.
There are countless scenes in which you’ll jump right out of your skin, do a loop-the-loop and hit the settee with a thud. If there’s one thing this story does to you, it’s get under your skin.
A highly recommended late night film that should give your dreams something of a shot in the arm.
The original TV adaptation is available on YouTube (below), but for how long is anyone’s guess.
The Others (2001)
Ghosts aplenty here with Nicole Kidman portraying a young woman (Grace Stewart) who is mother to two photosensitive children. Yup, the children can’t go outside.
To take adequate care of the housebound children Grace employs some staff to ensure that curtains are pulled to during the day and that things generally run smoothly.
As events unfold we learn a lot more about Grace, her immediate predicament (the story is set shortly after WWII) and the history of her staff.
The Others is a wonderful film with some very fine acting that will knock you about a bit in terms of its scares. But the real horror is in the ‘reveal’.
The sets and photography are just a delight with some suitably Hitchcockian tension and things going ‘bump in the night’.
Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968)
What better way to round off a list of spooky Christmas films than with one of M R James’ own stories; Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad. The title may well be adapted from a poem by Robert Burns (and who knows what that’s all about) but the story is uniquely James.
Michael Hordern is beautifully cast as the Cambridge academic who retreats to East Anglia in search of some relaxation and to enjoy some much needed wandering of the dunes and nearby graveyards. On his travels he happens upon a whistle with an enticing Latin inscription. So, of course, he translates the inscription and proceeds to blow said whistle…
Hordern’s performance is so perfect you can ignore the short run time and just let yourself be taken in by his bumbling, slightly eccentric but clearly brilliant persona. This is very much an English ghost story played by one of England’s finest Shakespearean stage actors.
The dramatisation was directed by renowned theatre and opera director Jonathan Miller and aired in 1968. It’s not so easy to find on a streaming service, it seems, but there is an upload to YouTube that should work just fine.
Happy Christmas, folks!