Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Spooky Christmas

One cold December night back in my childhood, I sat with my father and watched Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for the very first time. Many film versions of Dickens' classic have been produced since the invention of the film projector, but I believe that the presentation we watched that night was the one released in 1938. And why not? They knew how to do things right back in those days. 

The part of the film that fascinated me the most however, was not Ebenezer Scrooge's conversion from miser to benevolent humanitarian, but rather, the scenes during which he encountered the various ghosts. First, there was the ghost of his old employee Jacob Marley, who was wrapped in chains. I found that scene quite intriguing. The progression of encounters continued until Scrooge had finished with with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. For me, the whole affair culminated when this fourth and final spirit, took Scrooge to the local cemetery and showed him his own grave. Now that was downright spooky; and although I didn't think about it until much later, I realized that there was a Gothic and even creepy side to Christmas that needed exploring. 

These days, I have to confess to not really being a celebrant of the holiday. Instead, I observe it, meaning that I watch it from a distance. There are the fond memories the holiday invokes from my childhood days, but its religious and commercial aspects I'd rather avoid. It does encompass the darkest time of the year however, and that's a cause for celebration in its own right. So, after the passing of many years since that night in my childhood, I try to keep it spooky. 

In my piece entitled The Cellar: A True Story I relate a tale my father once told me about my great grandfather, who on one Christmas Eve, unknowingly predicted his own death, which incidentally occurred exactly one year later when the clock struck twelve midnight. That story always remains close to me as the holiday season deepens. 

For those of us in the northern hemisphere the trees are bare during this time of the year and for me, it's pure pleasure to go walking through the woods and the nearby cemeteries on a moon-lit night. There's just something about looking at the full moon through the tangled web of tree branches and the shadows cast by the grave markers that gives this time of year a creepy feel.. 

Then there's Gruss vom Krampus, the companion of Saint Nicolas, otherwise known as the  Christmas demon. He kidnaps and then punishes children who have been naughty instead of nice. Krampus figures primarily in the lore and legend of Central Europe. Krampusnacht occurs on December 6. I only learned about Krampus in recent years, but he helps present a spooky edge to an otherwise cheerful holiday season. Interestingly enough, a film entitled Krampus was released a couple of years ago--and just in time for Christmas! I found it quite enjoyable. Sure, a few parts of it were a bit on the silly side, but all in all I think it's a good film. 

A Christmas Horror Story, also a 2015 release, is a film that truly captures the darkness of the holiday, and in particular, Christmas Eve. During the opening credits and before the plot begins to unfold, the viewer is treated to a special rendition of The Carol of the Bells. It's a very well known seasonal piece, but this version is slightly off key; off key enough in that it sounds downright creepy while still being recognizable. The music begins quietly, but eventually builds to a wonderful crescendo complete with choir and heavy orchestration, thereby creating a very Gothic feel. Before the actual film opens at Santa's workshop by the North Pole, the viewer is already enthralled. 

I don't want to say too much about the production's content as I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who might be interested in watching it. Still, I will say that this film has it all. Yes, it certainly puts the viewer into the Christmas spirit, but it contains all the elements of classic horror while featuring four separate but somewhat related tales. Of course, there's Santa, but there are also zombies, ghosts, a dangerous changeling and yes, even Krampus. I can't speak for anyone else, but I've got to say that the film's ending rocked my world. A Christmas Horror Story has earned a place with my favorite horror movies of all time.

The holiday season and Christmas in particular, is a difficult time for some people, and I'm one of those. Most folks seem to embrace it; but there are those that do not. Still, most of us are deeply affected by it whether or not we're willing to admit it. As the special day approaches, now many of us sit in the dark of night reminiscing about how it was during our childhoods and earlier times? How many of us miss the company of those who used to celebrate with us but are no longer here to do so? As with Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghosts of Christmas past continue to haunt us no matter how much we might believe that we've moved on. So, perhaps we would do well to embrace these ghosts in ways that will do our Gothic hearts glad. This is a great time to walk a dark road in the moonlight, to embrace the darker legends, lore and stories that accompany this holiday, or to enjoy tales of sheer horror that fit so easily into the spirit of the season. I don't know about you, but I plan on keeping it spooky.

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