Long before film clubs and cinema even existed, ghost stories were told at Christmas time, when the nights are long and darkness falls early. In the days of gaslights and crackling fires, ghost stories were a way to bring people together, trading spooky experiences that the tellers claimed had happened to them. Sitting around a cosy fire throwing shadows on the walls, telling chilling tales of the supernatural used to be a staple winter pastime, as much a part of the Christmas season then as hearing your first onslaught of Slade and Wizzard in the shops is now.
It was thought that as the nights got darker, the veil between the living and dead was at its thinnest, culminating in Christmas Eve when ghosts and spirits would wander freely amongst the living. Instead of watching the “Eastenders” Christmas special, people would huddle closer together and thrill to bloodier, darker stories that always had some everyday quality, some seed of truth that made them even scarier.
The oral tradition of ghost stories told, retold and told again on dark winter nights gradually led to short stories in the popular periodicals. Charles Dickens and MR James were the most prolific writers of the Victorian era, with stories like “The Signalman” and “Oh, Whistle and I’ll come to you”.
Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allen Poe, WW Jacobs (“The Monkey’s Paw”) and Henry James wrote some chilling ghost stories; even if the writing style seems a bit dry and long winded nowadays, the tales themselves live on and can still scare the bejaysus out of you, especially when told on a dark night around a fire…or perhaps in the cavernous basement of an empty shop, full of shadowy corners populated only by headless dummies…
We are playing about with tradition this year – doing a different kind of midwinter film in December and telling our ghost stories on a November afternoon.
“Dead of Night” is a film about a group of people unexpectedly thrown together in an isolated country house telling each other their supernatural experiences. All very wholesome and innocent at first, but gradually a feeling of menace takes over…which is why, although it’s all very low key compared to 21st century horror and you won’t see any demons, ectoplasm or blood, the “British Horror Films” website has called it one of the most terrifying films ever made.
So be prepared to shudder. We recommend that you wrap up warm, and find a hand to hold in the dark; just make sure you know who it belongs to…!
This will be a special screening, projected on three reels of glorious 16mm, in the atmospheric surroundings of the old Woolworth’s shop on the Moor. We’ll see you there…if you dare…