Book Reviews

Book Review: ‘Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television’

Spectacular Optical has been on a roll lately. The Canadian publisher of psychotronic-related cinema works has previously wowed the cinephile community with the gender-centric Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema 0f Jean Rollin, and now they’ve done it again with a collection of genre-related essays, just in time for the holidays.

Boasting 24 chapters of informative horror studies, Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television brings to readers several established voices in the horror and film community, including Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA), former Fangoria editor Michael Gingold, and David Bertrand (Satanic Panic). Editors Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe have put together a compilation of deep dives on the season of goodwill and joy, carefully cadenced in their assembly with regards to the tone and gravity of each respective essay’s subject matter. In addition to Alisdair Wood’s stunning cover art and illustrations, the book is filled with color one-sheets, stills and press book content to add to the immersive reading experience, covering holiday genre media both well-traveled and obscure.

No book about holiday horror would be complete without a tip of the hat to its genre staples. Stephen Thrower’s “Ringing In The Changes: ‘Black Christmas’” journeys into the Canadian slasher forefather and its thematic tethers of coldness as the antithesis of the warm and fuzzy holiday film. Black Christmas’ cult classic brethren gets a moment in the spotlight with Gingold’s “Christmas Shocking: The Silent Night, Deadly Night Controversy,” an interesting look at the hyperbolic outrage that accompanied the 1984 release of Silent Night, Deadly Night, offering a take on the changing nature of media outrage.

If recent holiday films like Better Watch Out and Krampus are any indication, the timeless appeal of supernatural wintertime horror lends itself to countless revisions and interpretations of themes surrounding the holiday season. As such, Alexandra West’s look at Franck Khalfoun’s P2 takes a scholarly bent on the psychological thriller, as it flips the traditional “togetherness” and warmth of the average Christmas movie, ultimately accounting for the layered cinematography and camerawork as part of a gendered narrative that takes on female independence in contrast to the male gaze. Further into the book, those looking for a deeper excursion into the roots of their favorite Christmastime horror films will enjoy Bertrand’s piece, “Apocalypse Sinterklaas: Santa Claus’ Horror Roots in European Folklore.” Focusing on the overseas genre entries Rare Exports and Sint, he deploys a wealth of knowledge in Dark Ages-era mythology, the European film industry and pagan folklore to create an incisive dissection of two outstanding holiday genre films that are underseen by North American moviegoers.

The book’s essays provide plenty of variety when it comes to medium and scope; Dave Canfield’s “Silent Night, Holy Sh*t: Holy Terror and the Dark Side of the Nativity” shines a light on the subversive nature of Christmas horror narratives, with a focused spotlight on the structural and thematic perversion of the traditional family (the sanctity of which is a staple of mainstream holiday cinema), the immaculate conception and the prophesied Christchild. Amanda Reyes’ (Are You In The House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium) appreciative essay, “It’s The Most Cynical Time of the Year: Christmastime in Horror Anthology Television,” is an endearing ode to the holiday special in anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Taking on a macroscopic approach, “Why the Ghost Story at Christmas?” deconstructs the longstanding popularity of the holiday ghost story, which extends far past the chain-jangling Dickensian specters that we all know and love. According to the author Derek Johnston, this modern link to the old secular oral tradition “is fitting for a season of death and rebirth, of reflection and resolution, and returns from the dead.” Popshifter staple Leslie Hatton distills the concept in her own piece and considers A Christmas Carol and its enduring legacy as “the sturdy cornerstone of the Christmas horror canon.” The varied content continues with interviews with multiple players upon the holiday horror stage (including Paul Talbot, Gilmer McCormick and Jeff Randel), with the highlight being Janisse’s chat with screenwriter Fred Dekker on his episode of Tales From the Crypt, “And All Through the House.” As another popular holiday horror icon has risen to rival jolly, old and axe-wielding St. Nick, North American cinema has likewise risen to the occasion with horror films featuring said icon. Corupe’s essay “Horns For The Holidays: The Krampus Conquers North American Horror Films” is required reading for fans of both film and folklore alike.

Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror On Film And Television provides insights not only on genre cinema, but on origins and aspects of the holiday season itself. As always, horror is a societal reflection, warts and all; the disturbed sanctity of Western culture’s beloved holiday makes for stellar art, and — in the case of this book — a stellar read.

A.M. Stanley (@BookishPlinko) is a Video Nasties columnist at Daily Grindhouse. When she’s not staunchly defending Halloween 6, she is a contributor to Birth.Movies.Death., F This Movie, Diabolique Magazine and wherever they’ll let her talk about horror movies. Read more of her work at anyawrites.com.

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