Christmas Ghost Stories – What the Dickens?

I am so sick of Charles Dickens. Admittedly, I can’t stand his works at the best of times. But Christmas is the worst of times for this tedious drivel. At this time of year, there is already an overabundance of those saccharine images of middle-class domestic perfection that he tried oh-so-hard to create. I don’t want my ghost stories with extra sugar as well.

 

Christmascarol1843_--_184

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit celebrate Christmas in an illustration from Stave Five of the original edition, 1843, by John Leech. This image is in the public domain.

 

The only acceptable Dickens’ story is the 1976 TV adaptation of The Signalman for the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas series. This is because it is so so much better than the original text.

I watched this film again last night, and I was once again impressed by how brilliantly filmed and adapted it is.

In adapting the text for the screen, Andrew Davies has improved the structure of the story. The change of ending from Dickens’ rather dry version (where the narrator only hears about the signalman’s demise) develops the dramatic climax of the story. Davies has also added several dream sequences, which add to the general tension and mounting fear that the piece creates. Importantly, they also raise questions about the role of the narrator of the story and the place he has in the events.

The introductory commentary by director Lawrence Gordon Clark also brings out valuable additional insights. The director’s view emphasises the role of the railways as an impersonal, automated, and systematic machinery of destruction, which ultimately links the industrial revolution to the Holocaust. This is a symbolism that Clark explores through the open mouth of the tunnel, the spectre and the narrator. Although Dickens had an understandable fear of train crashes, this is, I think, to read too much into Dickens’ text. However, this sense of inevitability, of the hand of fate that cannot be escaped, adds an important dimension to the BBC version of the story. It allows the railway to become a symbol of the impersonal and automated structures of society that transform the signalman from an individual to a cog in the wheel of society. This links to the more overtly Marxist themes that the production explores.

One meaning that Dickens may actually imply, but that is greatly enhanced in this production, is that of class-tension. Dickens was not an overt Marxist, but this 1970s interpretations brings the class conflict to the fore of the story. Clark’s direction foregrounds the sense of the signalman as an individual trapped by economic forces of history. The signalman is a man interested in philosophy, but who finds himself physically confined to the signal box and mentally confined to listening to the ringing of bells and changing the signals. This depiction of a sensitive man brought to the edge by economic necessity is beautifully captured in Denholm Elliott’s gripping and powerful performance.

Through this subtle shift of interpretation, the narrator’s character then becomes much more than a witness to the events. His platitudinous response to the signalman that a man can only ‘discharge his duty’ seems to convey the patronising attitudes of the middle-class towards the working-class. Not only does the narrator fail to help the signalman, there seems to be some suggestion that his actions help to bring about events; the symmetry of his screaming mouth and that of the spectre suggests a level of complicity.

Overall, this remarkable production is well-worth viewing if you get the chance. Although Dickens could never rival M.R. James’ status as master of the ghost story, the BBC production of The Signalman can still send a chill through your Christmas-holiday viewing.

Black Christmas

“Other movies use the pretense that evil can be defeated to attempt to surprise the audience with the possibility that it can’t. Black Christmas doesn’t bother pretending.” – Zach Hanlan

Fans of Christmas horror films will be interested to read a fascinating article over at the AV Club website here:

http://www.avclub.com/article/black-christmas-reminds-us-nothing-sacred-212652

In his excellent article, ‘Black Christmas Reminds Us That Nothing is Sacred’, Zach Hanlan examines the unusually dark tone of the 1974 film Black Christmas.

Black Christmas has been part of my seasonal Xmas viewing for several years now. It is truly in a league of its own, not only because it is one of the few decent Christmas horror films, but as a genuinely excellent film.

After reading this article, I had to immediately watch the film again. The article is that good. The film too, will not disappoint.

Christmas horror entertainment generally falls into two camps. Comedy that pokes fun at the festivities and BBC drama based on the Christmas ghost story tradition. Black Christmas refuses both of these categorisations. There is nothing fuzzy or cozy about this Christmas horror and it utilises nothing of the Christmas ghost story tradition. It is dark and relentlessly bleak.

And so this brings us back into the darkness of my own Christmas collection. After all the purpose of this blog is to promote my own work, so this is just a friendly reminder that Christmas Chills is still available from Amazon and it is still only 99p. Enjoy!

Christmas Chills

Christmas Chills

 

Well, it’s that time of year again. Halls are decked in sparkly decorations, trees are trimmed, and Christmas lights twinkle in the darkness.

If you are looking for an antidote to all this festive frivolity, then please check out my collection of Christmas horror tales.

Christmas Chills is available on Kindle Unlimited, and available to purchase for only 99p.

 

100 Doors to Madness

I have new flash fiction available in 100 Doors to Madness from Forgotten Tomb Press
and I am so thrilled that my story ‘The Light in the Window’ is included in the anthology.

I seem to have been so busy with the day job lately that I only seem to have time to write flash fiction these days, so it’s especially rewarding to be in this great antho!

You can purchase from Amazon or Createspace!

Techno-Goth Cthulhu

PermafrostCthulhu

It’s here! It’s here!

Techno-Goth Cthulhu is out now!

This is one publication that I have been really looking forward to. There are twelve brand-new stories in this anthology, and every one of them is fantastic!

It’s also got my FIRST LEAD STORY which I am so excited about. Yes, that’s right, The Dark Net is the first story in the antho. So much so that you can even read a little bit on the Amazon preview.

This anthology is paperback only, but it is totally, totally worth parting with your hard-earned cash for. So, what are you waiting for? Stick on some EBM and start reading…