…With Some Morbid Gifts And Stocking Stuffers, For The Horror Cognoscenti
Everybody loves Christmas. We all just love it in different ways. For some (most) of us, daring bloodthirsty shopping malls, nagging children, disapproving in-laws, and repetitive Christmas carols on some sort of sonic warfare death loop is the real Horror. I think I would rather face an axe-wielding Santa, than the vague, gnawing depression of not having the dough to buy the gifts you want, for loved ones.
Christmas is a loaded day for many of us, crawling with memories and heaped with expectations, like tinsel-wrapped presents beneath the tree. It can be depressing, stressful and frustrating, so it’s no wonder that it is a rich field to be mined by the horror industry. The proximity of terror to innocence, good will & cheer make it particularly unsettling.
Seeing as how nearly everybody gets some time off for the holidays, this could be a prime opportunity to get caught up with some of your grim fascinations. We all bond and relax in different ways, and a warm and cheery fire is as conducive to ghost stories as wassailing and roasting chestnuts.
I have taken the liberty of collating some festivities, from around the internet, to help get you through the next few days of Christmas parties and last minute stresses.
Originally Published: January, 1974
First up, for your consideration, is a classic issue from Warren Publishing institution Creepy Magazine. Issue #59 was a special Christmas-themed issue, with half of the stories being Yule related. It features stories by Bill Dubay, John Jacobson, Donald F. McGregor, Jack Butterworth, and Doug Moench, and art by Ramon Torrents, Adolfo Abellan, Martin Salvador, Rich Corben, Paul Neary and Tom Sutton. 2 of the 3 stories orbit the killer Santa Claus motif; well, one’s a killer, and one’s killing. It points out the obvious, that the idea of Santa Claus, some judgemental saint coming into your home at night, is inherently creepy. The other deals with a Druid curse.
The artwork is particularly strong, in this issue (dig that Sanjulian cover on the left!). The black-and-whites are frighteningly bold, in a square jawed Dick Tracy way, and Bless Us, Father, written by Bill Dubay with art by Rich Corben, is done in vibrant color, in a way cool ’70s blurry, watercolor fashion. Bless Us, Father is the most striking of the lot, (although the other Santa story, Not A Creature Was Stirring, by Donald F. McGregor, is startlingly gritty), with an experimental, artsy quality. It shows two intersecting stories, one the story of Randolph, who never gets to have a merry Christmas, especially since they locked him in that nasty place, and the other, of a New York city cop, far away from him family in San Fransisco. The stories are told simultaneously, with Randolph’s on the left and the Cop’s on the right. It just goes to show the possibilities of the comic media, and reading this issue has made me fall in love with the artform, all over again.
Getting into the ’70s, Creepy was becoming edgier, taking more chances. There’s still the campy, creepshow vibe they are best known for, that Tales From The Crypt flavor of cheap, short thrills, but the writing is more nuanced and controlled, using techniques like flashbacks and symbolism to explore the possibilities of what can be done in a 5 page comic. This is much appreciated, as reading the earliest issues of Creepy can be a real challenge, with their unrelenting linear narratives. People must’ve scared easier, in those days.
It’s a real treat to go through these old back issues, to see what they were fascinated with at the time, and to scope the vintage advertisements. This issue is full of black power and longhairs, UFOs and maniacs. Next month will be the 40th anniversary of this original airdate, so it is interesting to see what people were thinking about, and how the future has sprung from these funky roots.
Some kind soul has uploaded a scan of Issue #59 to archive.org, so here’s some fireside reading, as our first gift: download here
The quality will remind you of reading old comics with peanut-butter-and-jelly stained fingers. If you’re looking for a clearer copy, issue #59 has been collected in Creepy Archives Volume 12
Ghost Stories For Christmas: H. R. Wakefield
As I mentioned last week, the British have a tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. If you’ve already dug all that M. R. James, I’m providing some more spooks for your delectation. After all, the nights are long and dark, and you dare not risk leaving the ring of firelight.
H. Russell Wakefield was a little known master of the ghost tale, mainly active from 1928 to the 1940s. He mostly wrote short stories, some of which were anthologized by August Derleth‘s Arkham House, but much of his work has faded into obscurity. His music has a similar quaint British pastoralism of M. R. James, but where James was a Victorian, stuffy and proper, Wakefield had a hipper, jazz-age edge to his prose. It’s like F. Scott Fitzgerald retelling Henry James.
“Lucky’s Grove” is another Druidic tale, similar in it’s tree worship to “Spare That Tree” from Creepy 59, but far, far darker. It reminds us that not everything is what it sounds like. It starts off with some quaint and curious lore, and quickly gets satisfyingly deranged. This is like It’s A Wonderful Life meets The Amityville Horror.
And last but not least, I’ll leave you with one more podcast, and some music. The No Sleep podcast is compiled from stories from the /r/nosleep subreddit, where users submit original stories to creep you the heck out. The forum, and the podcast, are some of the most consistent places to find great horror on the interne. The No Sleep podcast just earned itself a Parsec award, for it’s excellence.
Season 3 Episode 15 is No Sleep’s Christmas episode. Only the first two stories are available for free streaming, but it’s only $1.50 for the whole episode, and the free episodes are more than worth checking out. The first story revolves around a family’s bizarre holiday traditions, and the second is a chilling, ethereal and romantic ghost story. Both take place around the Christmas time of year, and they will add a nice tingle to the cold night air.
Stream it here: http://www.thenosleeppodcast.com/?p=1360
Last, but not least, I give you something that has nothing whatsoever to do with horror. Simply, a solid mix of funky Christmas music, because the only thing I love as much as horror (not counting my girlfriend and my cat) is weird, old music, which is what I normally right about. This is a mix by Jan Kohlmeyer for the Paris DJs, as a promotion for an amazing new Christmas compilation, Santa’s Funk & Soul Christmas Party Vol. II. Listen here.
If you like this kind of thing, check out my Forestpunk blog over the next couple of days, where I will be providing more dark entertainment, for these holy days.
It is very much my pleasure, and an honor, to wish you all a Merry Christmas, to occupy the honored Christmas Eve slot. Horror reminds us, even if it’s only by contrast, what is important. Friends, family, bonding, warmth, light, even at the darkest of times. So from Amazing Stories, and Forestpunk, Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Blessings on all of you, far and wide, and good will & cheer to men. And women.