For all the glühwein and good cheer, mid-December also marks the darkest part of the year, when families around the world gather to watch their favorite holiday ghost story: A Christmas Carol. Easily the most famous spooky Yuletide movie, it is by no means the only one: Black Christmas was arguably the first American slasher movie; the mischievous creatures from Gremlins squealed their way into many hearts in 1984; and the Alpine Krampus has more credits to his name than Santa has reindeer. For generations, the heart of winter—not Halloween—was when we told unsettling stories around the fire, whether they featured the ghosts of our own pasts or Gryla the Icelandic ogre and her evil Yule cat. This week on Smarty Pants, writer and director Kier-La Janisse offers a primer on how these stories have found their way onto the screen, from annual BBC television specials to big-budget Hollywood bloodbaths.
Go beyond the episode:
- Kier-La Janisse’s Yuletide Terror, co-edited with Paul Corupe, is out of print, but her House of Psychotic Women, an “autobiographical topography of female neurosis in horror and exploitation films” was just released in an expanded edition
- Janisse’s documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a thorough history of folk horror, which makes its way to the holidays with movies like Krampus (2015) and Rare Exports (2010), and wintry tales like Marketa Lazarová (1967), The White Reindeer (1952), Hagazussa (2017), and November (2017)
- You can watch the newest episode of the BBC’s anthology series A Ghost Story for Christmas on Britbox. Discussed in this episode: The Stalls of Barchester (1971) and A Warning to the Curious (1972), both based on M. R. James stories of the same name, and Stigma (1977)
- New Santa slashers out this year: Violent Night and Christmas Bloody Christmas
- Forget Halloween: the original tropes of the slasher movie can be found in 1974’s Black Christmas (the original “The call is coming from inside the house!” movie), remade in 2019 sans Olivia Hussey
- Among TV specials, Janisse recommends the 1965 episode of The Avengers called “Too Many Christmas Trees” and the 1986 episode of Tales from the Darkside called “Seasons of Belief”
- Watch Elves (1989), not to be confused with Elf (2003) or the 2021 Netflix series Elves
- At Paste, Jim Vorel investigates the first real slasher film (which did not feature Santa)
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